Friday, April 30, 2010

Hallelujah, the door is closed on another puppy mill

Submitted by UAN Emergency Services Manager Janell Matthies

We shut the doors for the final time at the Nashville temporary shelter at noon on Tuesday. As I looked at the empty warehouse, it just amazed me at all that happened there during the past five days. You wouldn’t even know it to look at it. The futures of 223 animals were changed forever and the people who made that happen can be proud of themselves for a job exceptionally well done.

We ran the gamut of emotions – excitement, anticipation, exhaustion, frustration and sadness at the condition of the animals, satisfaction at watching their dramatic improvement while in our care, and finally exhilaration as they all went out the door to rescue groups, adopters and brighter lives.

One dog in particular will always stand out for many of us. He had one of the worst genetic deformities I have ever come across. His front legs were stuck out straight to the side with no mobility whatsoever. He caught the attention of the field team right away, and we made sure he was tended to immediately when he arrived at the shelter. Since he only had the use of his back legs, he would sort of hop around, landing on his shoulders and face. We were concerned about leaving a water bowl in his kennel so HSUS staff and UAN volunteers took turns being responsible for syringe feeding him water at regular intervals.

The amazing thing about this puppy (who we named Hallelujah since it looked like he was at a Billy Graham revival) was his spirit. When we put him in his kennel he would follow whoever was walking by, bouncing along with them in the hopes of getting some attention. This, along with his mewing and funny singing sounds, made it so he was never in his kennel for more than ten minutes at a time. He was always being held in someone’s lap, turned over to the next person who sat down for a break, and held in the arms of staff and volunteers as we walked around doing our work.

And all this time, his tail was going a million miles a minute. Even if he was starting to fall asleep in a lap, his tail would start to wag furiously if someone walked by. It didn’t matter if that person even acknowledged or looked at him, the tail would still go into a wild blur. “Yay, someone is walking by!” “Yippee, someone else is walking by!” “Oh this is the best day in my life, they just looked at me!” It didn’t take much to make Hallelujah happy. When we put him on the ground he would hop, hop, hop, hop over to the nearest person and roll over for belly rubs. He was a constant source of amusement and kept us smiling all day, every day.

Although many of us felt frustration that this poor pup had such a hard time getting around, we couldn’t help but be inspired by him. If he could keep such a positive attitude with such a major impediment, we could do anything.

He is now in foster care with one of our very supportive rescue groups, “A Place to Bark” in Tennessee. HSUS has a sponsor who will help with veterinary costs and getting him a cart so he can get around easier. Hallelujah’s future is bright, all thanks to the White County Sheriff’s Office, HSUS and UAN.

Oh, one final note. Hallelujah is not a puppy as we had assumed. He is nine years old!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Saving a life, UAN style

In a previous blog post, EARS volunteer Debbie Ferguson wrote about a tiny long-haired Chihuahua rescued from the Sparta, Tennessee, puppy mill who was not doing very well. The little dog was unresponsive, wasn’t eating or even moving to go to the bathroom, and had an extremely low heart rate. The veterinarians thought the problem might be neurological or stress related, but they wanted to see if her condition would improve.

EARS volunteer Julie Rathburn of Mobile, Alabama was enlisted to sit with the little girl, now being called Bella, and keep her quiet and relaxed. Little did Julie know, she was about to form an intense bond and save a life.

Julie basically monitored the little Chihuahua round the clock. She stayed awake through the night to make sure Bella ate and drank regularly, and so the vet could administer shots of steroids every few hours. Even during the day while Julie was working in other parts of the emergency shelter, she checked on Bella every five to ten minutes.

After 24 hours, Bella remained listless and unresponsive. But The HSUS personnel in charge didn’t think Bella was suffering, so they decided to wait another day and hope for improvement.

What a difference a day – and Julie’s magic touch -- made. On Day Three after the rescue, Bella began scooting around her cage and moved away from her bed to go potty. Her eyes followed Julie around whenever she was near. Bella was clearly on the mend.

A local rescue group agreed to take responsibility for Bella, then signed her over to her caregiver and savior, Julie. Exhausted from her round-the-clock care of Bella, Julie left the emergency shelter a day ahead of schedule to bring Bella to the comfort of her own home.

Well, we just heard from Julie, and Bella has improved dramatically just in just the few days she has been in Mobile! She is walking, eating, drinking and even wagging her tail.

“Bella is now doing absolutely everything that a dog is supposed to do extremely well -- that is, except bark,” Julie said. “But that is okay with me.”

UAN Emergency Services Manager Janell Matthies credited Julie’s resolve with saving little Bella’s life.

“A lot of us were afraid there was no hope for this dog,” said Janell. “But Julie found the hope and determination and made her become a real dog again.”

Bella still has some issues that need attention -- including luxating patellas, which are common in small dogs who are inbred. But one thing is for sure – the love and attention she received from Julie Rathbun and all of the other UAN and HSUS volunteers and staff has given this girl a chance to live a much better life than the one she had in the puppy mill.

To learn more about puppy mills and what you can do to put hem out of business, please visit

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dancing for joy

This little poodle was so happy to be rescued from the puppy mill in Sparta, Tennessee, he was dancing for joy!

And here is another fun video of the dancing poodle, plus other dogs arriving at the temporary shelter after being rescued from the puppy mill. Video courtesy The Humane Society of the United States.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hope in our hearts

Submitted by EARS volunteer Debbie Ferguson of Kildeer, Illinois

Well, things are winding down considerably here in Nashville. Today 65 more of the rescued puppy mill dogs were picked up and transported to three different shelters, and another 20 have been spoken for to be picked up on Tuesday. Tomorrow, all the remaining dogs will be taken to The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. Many of these dogs have behavioral or physical problems and this organization has the personnel and expertise to handle and rehabilitate them. So today has been a “down day,” comparatively speaking, and it gave me the time to talk to a few of UAN’s Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers and hear about their favorite dogs.

Jennifer Sanford of Douglasville, Georgia fell in love with a sweet and gentle white Labrador retriever called Buster, one of the few large dogs found at the seizure site. Buster was one of the most relaxed and friendly dogs we encountered and I know he will find a great, loving home very quickly.

Melissa Richards, President of New Leash on Life, a Tennessee shelter, fell in love with so many dogs that she ended up taking 37 of them to her shelter, many of them special needs dogs. We are grateful for her dedication to caring for these animals beyond her UAN deployment.

Amanda Newsom of Athens, Georgia was taken with a very shy and tiny mixed breed with a terrible tooth and mouth infection. Despite the pain caused by his infections, his demeanor was nothing but sweet the entire time. With proper medication and some TLC he should end up in a great home and be pain-free soon.

Reagan Fairbairn of Nashville was so drawn to a blind poodle that she talked Melissa into taking him to her shelter so she could continue to work with him. The little guy was easily spooked since he was unaware of people coming toward him until he was touched, but soon he knew Reagan's voice and would come to the edge of the cage to be held by her.

Like many of us, Deloris Parker, of Olive Branch, Mississippi, fell for a little yellow Lab puppy who, with his little black sibling, loved to give kisses to everyone. They both left today, heading for a shelter and soon a new forever home.
So with almost 100 dogs now gone, our volunteers have even had time to take a break now and then and soak up some of the sun that finally came our way. It seems so quiet, even with the large number of dogs remaining, and we are actually starting to be able to hear the individual voices of the dogs and to experience their individual personalities.
There were so many amazing dogs that captured our hearts. The tiny puppy, smaller than a soda can, and the nine-year-old dog whose front legs were so deformed she was unable to use them at all and basically bounced to get from place to place. A painfully shy Pekingese mix, also with leg deformities, broke my heart after his lifetime kennel mate was taken to a shelter that was unable to take him.
Even the crazy Tasmanian devil dogs calmed down and allowed themselves to be held once they were finally captured and held by The HSUS animal handler extraordinaire, Rowdy Shaw. You can see the fear leaving them more and more every hour, and you can see them responding to our voices and coming closer and closer to the edge of their cages to get some love. Though it has only been three days, we have all bonded, humans and dogs, and our lives will be forever changed by this experience.
The UAN volunteers are all exhausted and ready to get home to our existing families. But we leave with hope in our hearts that more people will see and hear about the plight of these and other puppy mill dogs like them, and that they will get involved and help create change. (To find out how you can help, read more about puppy mills on the UAN Web site.)
This is my last post, as a previous commitment forces me to return to Chicago today, so I thank UAN and all of the UAN volunteers for allowing me to share these stories, photos and videos. I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with a great group of dogs. Until next time…

Saturday, April 24, 2010

221 ways to steal our hearts

Submitted by EARS volunteer Debbie Ferguson of Kildeer, Illinois

Hello again from Nashville, Tennessee, where we are housing the 221 dogs and 2 cats rescued from a puppy mill in Sparta, Tennessee yesterday.

As usual on seizure day of a rescue, yesterday was a long day, but though we were all dog-tired (no pun intended), we went home happy that these lovely animals were now safe, warm, fed and in a clean environment, and would soon be going on to even better conditions as they find loving families who will adopt them and give them normal lives.

All of UAN’s Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers worked hard to ensure a happy outcome, though we did not all do the same tasks. About half of us went along and assisted in the seizure while the other half stayed at the shelter to clean, put together cages, line them with paper, acquire the necessary supplies, set up the medical station, and prepare for the arrival of the dogs. These are all crucial to the smooth operation of an emergency shelter, and the work is very physical and stressful. We thank the UAN volunteers and those from other organizations for their very important contribution.

The five of us who went to the seizure site and assisted in the rescue had previously only worked on shelter setup, so we were a bit unnerved, but excited, about this new responsibility. We all agreed it was a great experience, though difficult at times. We ran the gamut of emotions during the day, from confusion and disbelief to pity, rage and sadness. And when we finally arrived back at the shelter, we saw those same emotions on the faces of the volunteers who had stayed behind as they unloaded the animals from the truck.

Though they had worked hard all day to build the shelter, they put it into fourth gear to get the dogs unloaded and fed and watered as soon as possible. In the end, we all saw and felt the same emotions and it made me realize on thing – that we are all necessary and all of our jobs are equally important. So thanks to all of the volunteers who created a terrific environment for the dogs to arrive to and to those who assisted in the seizure.

On a sad note, this morning we really got a good look at the dogs and began to see the many medical problems that the vast majority of them are suffering from. There are many with neurological disorders, deformities such as shortened or missing limbs, cataracts and blindness, and terrible dental problems. A great number of dogs are unable to be handled by the volunteers. I don’t think I have ever seen a teacup poodle turn into a Tasmanian devil, but there were several that took on all of those characteristics with their frenzied spinning and shrieking barks and growls. I am hopeful they will all come around as they realize we are here to help them. They are some of the tiniest and cutest dogs I have ever seen, and they are still dirty and ungroomed. So I can imagine that once they are cleaned up and socialized, they will be impossible to resist.

One little dog in particular has captured the hearts and souls of everyone. She is a tiny little long-haired Chihuahua-mix weighing about four pounds who appears to be suffering from neurological damage. When she was brought to the intake veterinarian for her quick physical exam, she was unreactive and her heartbeat was barely there. The vet rushed her into the HSUS transport truck office and worked with her for almost an hour until she seemed to somewhat stabilize. But the vet was fearful of leaving her alone because when she became agitated she would become frantic and could possibly injure herself more, so UAN volunteer Julie Rathbun sat with her for a while to keep her still. As it turned out, Julie sat holding her for more than two hours, talking to her and stroking her the entire time. The tiny dog just lay in her arms looking up at her with her big, dark eyes.

When the decision was made to move her to a veterinarian immediately for testing and observation, Julie was the obvious choice to transport her. The tiny dog stayed overnight at the hospital and returned to the shelter late this afternoon, having become stabilized. She is still not out of the woods, but Julie has already fallen hard for her and has decided that if there is any chance for a good quality of life, even a short one, she is taking the little girl home with her. We are all pulling for both of them and I will update you when I hear more.

On a happy note, 30 dogs were sent out today for temporary care and fostering at a local shelter and we hope to have the remaining dogs transferred to other shelters by Monday.

All in all, the dogs are a noisy joy and getting more and more excited about meeting and interacting with people with each passing hour. They steal our hearts with their beauty, resilience and ability to survive in such an environment. We humans can learn a lot from them.

More tomorrow…

Tennessee puppy mill video

This video shows conditions at the Sparta, Tennessee puppy mill when rescuers from United Animal Nations, The Humane Society of the United States, White County Sheriff's Department and White County Humane Society arrived on site.

Video taken by EARS volunteer Debbie Ferguson.

Scenes from a puppy mill

These photos taken by EARS volunteer Debbie Ferguson show what life was like for the 221 dogs at the Sparta, Tennessee puppy mill.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Relief, joy and hope for 221 puppy mill dogs

Submitted by EARS volunteer Debbie Ferguson of Kildeer, Illinois

Hello to all from Sparta, Tennessee, just 90 minutes from the Tennessee horse rescue UAN’s EARS volunteers participated in a few short months ago. This rescue is quite different from that one however, as we are not dealing with horses weighing 800+ pounds, but rather tiny dogs, most in the five- to ten- pound range, primarily poodles and terriers. UAN was asked to assist in this puppy mill rescue by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the White County Sheriff’s Office.

Five UAN volunteers met with The HSUS team in Nashville at 5:30 this morning to debrief, and then headed for Sparta, while the other UAN team members stayed in Nashville to set up the temporary shelter.

As the team members exited their cars and walked toward the small home, the smell of feces and urine was emanating from within, and the barking of the dogs could be heard almost immediately. Several shy but friendly dogs were loose on the property, and there was also barking coming from two small structures set up behind the house.

Upon entering the house, the stench was so strong that the volunteers were forced to wear masks. Feces and urine covered the floor and the countertops could not be seen because of the clutter covering them. Cages were lined up around the room, most with multiple dogs in them, and there were anywhere from 10 to 20 dogs loose in each of the seven rooms of the house. The dogs were dirty, matted and very scared of the new faces and voices entering their over-crowded home. As The HSUS team began to round them up, it was clear the dogs had never been on leashes and that they had little to no social contact.

Some pushed themselves into corners trying to hide, while others very aggressively attempted to protect themselves and their home with a fierceness I never would have dreamed possible of a toy or teacup poodle. But many were carried out by the UAN and White County volunteer handlers and were tagged, checked for health issues and taken to crates for transfer to the shelter.

UAN volunteers Annemarie Kech of Flowery Branch, Georgia; Julie Rathbun of Mobile, Alabama; Jennifer Anford of Atlanta, Georgia; Mindy Watts of Nashville, Tennessee and Ryan Alford of White House, Tennessee worked tirelessly alongside The HSUS team to get the dogs out of the miserable conditions they were living in as quickly as possible.

As I write this, the dogs are being brought into the emergency shelter and placed into cages where they will receive food, water, and soon, love. Considering the traumatic day they have endured, they are unusually calm and quiet, and some are wagging their tails already.

As difficult as these rescues can be, and as much as they bring many of us to tears, there is a huge sense of relief, joy and hope when the animals acclimate to their new surroundings and learn to receive love. I will post more about the individual dogs, along with their photos, on tomorrow’s blog.

You can read more about the rescue of 221 puppy mill dogs on the UAN Web site.

Photos from top to bottom: A crate full of rescued poodles; EARS volunteer Ryan Alford of White House, Tennessee carries a rescued dog to safety; EARS volunteer Julie Rathbun of Mobile, Alabama carries a rescued dog to the transport truck bound for the emergency shelter.