02/12/09 — Dogs hit the road, headed for new lives

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Dogs hit the road, headed for new lives

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on February 12, 2009 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Animal Control Director Justin Scally says goodbye to one of the more than 280 dogs that are being shipped out to new homes, most in Florida, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

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Consie VonGontard of the Tampa Bay, Fla. SPCA, gets ready to load up the first of a group of dogs taken from a Grantham puppy mill last week that will be sent to Florida for recovery and adoption.

The white metal door clattered as volunteers shoved it out of the way and sunlight streamed into the dusty Wayne County fairgrounds barn, revealing tables full of paperwork, piles of empty boxes and nearly 300 dogs.

More, if you counted the unborn puppies.

An undercurrent of excitement danced in the unseasonably warm air Wednesday morning, and the volunteers, tired from working gruelling 10- to 12-hour days for almost a week straight, had a new spring in their step and smiles on their faces.

The dogs themselves -- groomed, fed and cuddled -- seemed happier than they were just a few days ago, perhaps in part because of the gentle breeze ruffling their fur or because of the anticipation of a new beginning. The Maltese, Chihuahuas, Poodles, Shih-tzus and other small breed pups bounced in their cages with an altogether different kind of impatience, as if they knew something special was happening.

Today, they were going home.

But home for these dogs is no longer the buildings at Thornton Kennels, where they were unable to see the sky or even walk on the ground.

Wayne County isn't home anymore, either, now that the county has signed ownership of the dogs over to the Humane Society of the United States.

Home is Richmond, Va., and Tampa Bay, Fla. It's Norfolk, Va., and Washington, D.C.

Although the dogs' journey began on Westbrook Church Road, their paths forked Wednesday in more than a dozen directions as animal welfare societies from across the country pulled their vans and trucks onto the fairgrounds gravel and started loading up.

None of the dogs will stay in Goldsboro, officials decided, although many will be at rescues within driving distance. The county animal shelter already has its hands full with homeless dogs unconnected with the puppy mill, said Justin Scally, director of animal control.

"That would be on top of the 150 dogs we get every week," he said.

All of the organizations receiving the pups were vetted by the HSUS as good temporary shelters, places where the animals can rest and recouperate while workers get them ready to be offered for adoption.

"They meet our criteria," said Kathleen Summers, deputy director of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign at the HSUS.

A full listing of the shelters and societies taking the dogs will be published on the HSUS Web site sometime later this week, Ms. Summers said.

And the dogs will be up for adoption, although "some of them sooner than others," said Connie Brooks, director of operations for the Tampa Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The Tampa Bay SPCA took on 74 of the dogs, and drove non-stop overnight to make it to Goldsboro by Wednesday morning.

"We're eager to help, and able to transport the dogs," Ms. Brooks said. "It's in an area of the country where a lot of people are interested in adopting small dogs."

The rescued dogs, especially the older ones, will present challenges unique to their situation, she said.

"This is not a matter of just getting a cute little dog. They're not housetrained. They're not used to living in houses," Ms. Brooks said. "That's one of the biggest issues."

Housetraining them might take weeks, months or even years.

"Rome wasn't built in a day," she said. "And some of them may never be housetrained."

The daunting prospect didn't dissuade the society from responding to the HSUS call for help, and they have experience working with similar cases.

"We helped in a Tennessee puppy mill raid. The community response was overwhelming," Ms. Brooks said. "Even if they do have long-term medical problems, there will be someone willing to adopt them."

The Tampa Bay SPCA has an excellent track record of placing dogs taken from puppy mills.

"We have never had to euthanize one dog from any puppy mill," she said.

As the newly arrived rescue workers coaxed the dogs out of their crates and into transport carriers, they seemed to pick up the tail-wagging vibes, too.

"I'm so excited to be here. This is wonderful," said Suzanne Swims, shelter director of the Norfolk, Virginia SPCA.

The Norfolk group gave up their day off to drive down and pick up the dogs, she said.

The pups are likely headed for a life of luxury, a stark contrast to their prior existence.

"Most of these dogs are going to be sitting on an older lady's lap. They'll never see a pen another day in their life," she said.

And the shelter's veterinarian was on call to tackle the dogs' health problems the minute they arrive.

"She's waiting for us right now," Ms. Swims said.

Although they faced long car rides, the dogs would be riding in style in specially insulated vans with interior heating and air conditioning. And if they became frightened or lonely, the volunteers would provide company.

"We might throw Jeremy in there with them," Ms. Swims said.

"That'll probably happen," agreed Norfolk SPCA volunteer Jeremy Holder.

The rescues will continue to arrive through Thursday morning to whisk the dogs away. Whether they take only a few, or a few dozen, all will take on the responsibility, lifting it from the shoulders of the volunteers who have cared for the pups around the clock since last Friday.

"It's heartwarming," Scally said. "We're excited about this. It's a start of a new beginning for these dogs."

But it won't be until the last dog leaves the fairgrounds, and the barn door is latched shut, that the volunteers who flocked to Goldsboro from all over America will take one last look around the place where so many lives intersected for a common purpose.

They will gather their things, and then they, too, will begin to find their way home.