I volunteer with an incredible group, United Animal Nations (UAN.org) that rescues animals in crisis – natural disasters, hoarding situations and puppy mills. On August 31, my sister Jeanne and I deployed to the small town of Baker, MT (pop. 1700) to assist with a dog rescue from a hoarding situation. The first evening, all of the volunteers gathered for a dinner to get acquainted. It was an amazing feeling to be in a room of 20 strangers, yet knowing we all already had something in common and a mission to fulfill.
A man who lives as a loner 25 miles out of town acquired 3 dogs eight years ago. Now, he has 100 dogs. Four of the dogs lived outdoors, 12 lived in a cramped outdoor shed and the remaining 84 dogs all lived inside his 900 square foot farmhouse. They had never been outside and had never seen a vet. The cramped conditions were deplorable, with 6 inches of dried, compacted feces making up the floors of the home. The smell of urine was the worst that HSUS had ever experienced. The man slept on a dirty blanket on the floor. The house had no electricity, no insulation, no phone and the man had no car. He never left. Dogs filled the attic – even in the rafters, basement and main floor – and having created a pack mentality did not cross over into other parts of the house.
Neighbors brought in food for the man and his dogs. A friend of one of these neighbors saw the property and dogs and reported it to the authorities. The local sheriff was supportive and called upon UAN and HSUS for help. They brought in about 20 volunteers and staff to take control of the situation and rescue the dogs. UAN volunteers set up a temporary shelter at the local fairgrounds, consisting of 80 kennels, supply stations and an emergency vet hospital with 3 tables for 3 vets. While set up was happening, HSUS and a few of the UAN volunteers went to the property, chased down and caught the dogs one by one, documented their circumstance, condition and description and loaded them onto a very large animal rescue rig. It took two trips and 14 hours to obtain all of the dogs and get them to a safe place.
When the first truckload of dogs arrived, there was silence in the room. We were all imagining what we were about to see and knowing that these dogs lives had just been changed was bitter sweet. More sweet than bitter of course, but knowing how stressed the dogs were was hard. The dogs did not know what was going on or what our intentions were so they were extremely frightened. We felt their fear. But, we also knew that their lives had just changed for the better and that their futures were bright.
When the truck door opened, we were overcome with the silence of the dogs and the overwhelming stench that flowed into the room. One by one, quietly and quickly, we transferred the dogs from the truck to their new clean kennels that were equipped with fresh food and water. Most of the dogs were incredibly nervous and cautious – some tried to escape (a few did and had to be rounded up again) some were so happy to see us and just wanted a belly rub. One dog was so stressed that she suffered seizures (a lifetime of no health care contributed to her seizures). Over the next couple of hours the dogs began to relax into their new digs, started barking and making some noise!
The next day each dog was carefully handled and taken in to see the vet for a physical exam, receive their vaccinations, de-wormer, flea and tick repellant and their micro chip. Their nails were clipped and large clumps of feces were cut from their fur. Skin abrasions and infections were noted and treated. Amazingly, not one dog was underweight or dehydrated. The man who kept these dogs in such horrid conditions did love these dogs. They were well fed and watered. He knew he had a problem and gave up the dogs willingly.
By day three the dogs were relaxing and most were not so frightened. I think they knew we were there to help them. On day 4, the dogs were loaded back into the massive rig and dispersed to animal shelters in Montana and Colorado. Four of the dogs now reside at the local women’s prison. The women will socialize and rehabilitate the dogs so they can eventually find good homes. Some of the dogs went to a Montana shelter and the rest went to 3-4 different shelters in Colorado.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit with 5 of the dogs after I got home. They were residing at Longmont Humane Society, a place I volunteer at as well. There, they will receive health care and very patiently applied rehabilitation and socializing. Eventually they will be adopted out to good homes.
I left this deployment with a huge respect for United Animal Nations and The Humane Society of the United States. Their skillful execution of this deployment, their respect and love for the dogs was easily visible all along the way. They also felt compassion for the man who owned the dogs and left him with fresh food and bed linens and a call to social services for further assistance. And, I am humbled by the bravery of the dogs and their own emotional efforts to enter into a better life.