By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)
When the Humane Society of the United States asked local animal shelters for help caring for 180 neglected animals rescued from an Arkansas breeding mill, officials at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria jumped at the chance.
Arkansas lawmen shut down the breeders in February after discovering more than 120 dogs — along with horses, rabbits, exotic birds and even turtles — living in deplorable conditions. Housed in excrement-laden cages, many suffered from dental ailments, matted fur, malnutrition or a combination of all three when they arrived in Alexandria.
Since taking custody of 10 dogs and four rabbits, Deirdre Hyde, animal care manager at the animal welfare league, said the local shelter has become a whirlwind of activity, from medical and dental procedures to grooming.
“Their fur was severely matted in some cases — their health was just ignored,” she said. “And we had to do teeth cleanings and we also did some extractions.”
Now shelter workers and volunteers are scheduling spay/neuter procedures and beginning the difficult process of making the animals psychologically ready for adoption, said Abbie Hubbard, the league’s behavioral and special needs manager.
“When they came in they ranged from the social and curious ones, who were interested in people, but others were more fearful, cowering in their kennels,” Hubbard said. “We have to show them that people are good and do good things for them, but that takes time.”
Since the shelter already has a full workload with its usual array of canines, volunteers have been crucial in helping the influx of dogs heal. Local veterinarians have offered their time while area businesses, like South Lawn Pet Spa and Whole Dogz, have pitched in with free grooming services.
The shelter’s also benefited, of course, from the generosity of local dog lovers.
“Adopting is, obviously, one way of supporting [our efforts],” Hubbard said. “But when people heard [we were taking these animals], they made monetary donations and people brought in supplies for us.”
James and Tara Best, owners of the Busy Bee Pets breeding mill in Arkansas, pleaded no contest last month to 10 of 186 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. They were sentenced to one year of probation and a combined $4,000 in fines.
Local shelter officials expect the rescued animals will be ready for adoption as early as April 10. But given the past neglect, adoptees might need more work and care than your average rescue, Hubbard warned.
“It’s a slow process, and a lot of that process is better done in a home setting,” she said. “But people in this community are always really accepting of animals from puppy mills.”