With 11 adoptions to report this week, March really has come in like a lion around here!
Our sleepy-eyed white bunny, Preston, was adopted this week. We may try to bring him back for our calendar shoot (Preston's people--if you're reading this--could we borrow him for a morning?).
Seven cats were adopted! Congratulations to Mia, Charlie (the Snowshoe), Muffin, Abigail, Dudley, Nathan, and Lawrence.
As for dogs, Aussie mix Kya will chase shadows at the dog park from now on. Southern Dachshund Hero has officially become a resident of Vermont, and gentle Shepherd-Lab mix Asa also found a new home.
Our featured adoptee this week went home a long time ago. But we recently had cause to revisit his story, and I've had a fantastic update from his family about the progress he's made.
Topaz was one of the 59 Labs rescued from the puppy mill/hoarding situation we helped bust back in July. We tend to talk about this case quite a lot, because for most of the five HSCC staff people who were involved, this was a first-time experience. And it's not the sort of experience you quickly forget.
To spare those who already know the story, I won't go into too much detail. But in brief, Bakersfield, Vermont resident Karen Maple had been breeding puppies in her backyard for a number of years and advertising them in local newspapers. The police had been fielding complaints about her operation for almost as long; but without strong evidence to obtain a search warrant, nothing could be done.
It was a child--a 15-year-old girl--of incredible courage and conviction who proved the dogs' guardian angel. Sallie Wilson had befriended Karen Maple's daughter, and began spending time at the Maple home. Upon witnessing the conditions the dogs were living in, she knew the situation was wrong, and decided something must be done. So she started to secretly take notes. She drew a chart depicting where each dog lived on the property, as well as the animals' names, history, body conditions--whatever she could glean from the Maple daughter. And then, knowingly sacrficing her friendship for the sake of these dogs (in my adolescent experience, friendship was everything), she turned her handwritten research into the Town Clerk. Who passed it on to the police. Who called in the Humane Society of the United States. Who contacted HSCC, Green Mountain Animal Defenders, and other local people and organizations who could help.
On Tuesday, July 26 the police made a surprise visit to the Maple household, where they found Karen Maple at home. She resisted arrest and attacked an officer, so they removed her from the scene. At that point, we animal welfare folks (who were waiting nearby until the property was secured) were called in to assess the situation. What we found was worse than many of us could have imagined. Over 70 dogs lived in absolute filth--as did the Maple family. Dogs were packed into tiny holding cells in dark sheds with no daylight or air circulation. Dogs lived in pens outside with no shelter, ankle deep in wet mud and feces. Dogs roamed in and out of the decaying house. A dozen dogs were locked into a tiny, airless back room inside the house. Three litters of puppies--very young--scrabbled around in plastic kiddy pools, their coats sticky with urine. Over-taxed mother dogs roamed from pool to pool, nursing whomever cried. None of the dogs had access to clean water or food. Most of the dogs were shockingly underweight, and suffered from eye problems. Some had other unattended medical issues going on, as well.
We were indelibly tattooed with the stench of the place, and our eyes burned with the ammonia-saturated air. We were able to remove 59 of the dogs according to the stipulations of the search warrant, which precluded dogs who seemed to be in reasonable health. We deeply regret having left 14 dogs behind.
(You can watch the HSUS' video of the rescue here.)
The rescued Labs were taken to an emergency shelter (a gorgeous horse barn with 30 empty stalls) in southern Vermont. There, an army of volunteers--overseen by Joanne Bourbeau, the Northeastern Regional Director of State Affairs for Vermont and New Hampshire for the HSUS--tended to the dogs for two months. Joanne recently told us that the price tag for that care--even with volunteer workers--was $60,000. In late September, Karen finally relinquished ownership of the seized dogs, and they were dispersed among several shelters and rescue organizations in Vermont. We received eight of the dogs.
Topaz was among our eight. A one-year-old lanky yellow Lab, he exhibited the same drastic undersocialization of his fellows. He was so terrified of stairs, for instance, that staff had to do an incredible amount of cheerleading just to get him to attempt a step at a time. And house training? Forget it. These dogs had received less than the bare minimum of care for most of their lives. In general, he was very hesitant to interact with people at all when he first arrived at our shelter.
Topaz was adopted in late November by a wonderful couple named Rob and Lori, who changed his name to a masculine "Tazz." Tazz couldn't have found a home more committed to his needs as a puppy mill case. By the time the couple enrolled Tazz in our training classes here at the shelter last January, he was an entirely different dog: outgoing, happy, confident, brave. The trainer, Holly, reports that Tazz picked things up very quickly, and seemed to greatly enjoy learning among fellow canine students. One of the first friends he made in class was a Great Pyrenees, who, Holly says, is very selective about his friends!
Tazz was such a good student that he was often called on to demonstrate new skills for the other dogs and their people. He was especially good at sit, stay, and coming when called.
Rob said that when Tazz first came home, he was terrified of the basement, which is at the bottom of a long staircase. Now, Tazz leads the way down! In fact, this timid, shrinking dog has become a real go-getter. He's fearless when it comes to chasing a ball, Rob says, crashing through brush into the unknown.
He's also very well-mannered in public. Rob and Lori have no problems when they take him into stores. From a dog who knew nothing of the world outside of four dark walls and a filthy floor, to a dog who embraces new experiences with happy anticipation of good things to come … it's like he's trying to make up for lost time!
On Wednesday, Feburary 22, HSCC CEO & President Tom Ayres, our Board Chair Helyn Kerr, and I traveled to Montpelier for Humane Lobby Day. Joanne Bourbeau had organized this day as a platform for the general public to urge the Vermont legislature to support a few bills on the table that seek more humane treatment of animals. Among them is a puppy merchant bill that would better regulate breeders who have a certain number of sexually intact dogs. Such legislation would prevent any future cases like the Bakersfield mill from developing. One of the most rewarding aspects of this day occurred at an afternoon press conference, when Tom tearfully presented Sallie Wilson--who was in attendance with her mother--with a Humane Hero Award for her bravery. She thanked her mother for supporting and encouraging her through weak moments in her fortitude. As camera bulbs flashed, the press threw questions at her, and Senators and Representatives shook her hand, we were duly impressed by Sallie's remarkable composure and poise.
Karen Maple will be prosecuted on at least 59 counts of animal cruelty later this month. We hope the trial will result in a relinquishment of the remaining Labs--who have since birthed more puppies. When that time comes, we'll help in whatever way we can.
In a case so long in reaching resolution, we're grateful to see resolution in the lives of individual dogs, such as Tazz's. All of the dogs have been adopted, by the way.
We thank this family for taking in a hurt being and refusing to see the damage as irreparable. Far from living life as a broken rescue dog, Tazz has proven that only his former living situation was broken. He is entirely whole.
That's the good news this week!