For 103 dogs, including five litters of puppies, suffering in unimaginable conditions, the determination of eight organizations that came together in June and rescued them was the difference between life and death.
A grim scene awaited teams from the Dumb Friends League, the Costilla County Sheriff’s office, Adams County Animal Services, Ark Valley Humane, Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, Noah’s Ark Animal Welfare Organization, Park County Animal Control, and Summit County Animal Control and Shelter when they arrived at the house outside of Mesita, Colorado.
For seven intense hours on-site, teams rescued starving dogs, injured and sick dogs, aggressive dogs, dogs with no socialization and dogs in filthy metal cages that were too small for their size out in the hot summer heat, as well as found two deceased dogs.
Animal welfare organizations across the state helped care for the dogs, including 47 brought to the League. Let’s learn more about these dogs once they arrived at the League.
First stop, Transfers
When the dogs arrived at the League, several intake and evaluation staff were on hand to complete the initial process, including collaring, microchip scanning, deworming, vaccinating and a rinse (bath). (Vaccinations and rinses are necessary to protect the League’s existing animal population from possible contagion.)
Initial behavior was noted for the dogs, and their general health was assessed. Animals with urgent medical needs were seen by a veterinarian immediately. “During the intake of these dogs,” said Becky Healy, transfer coordinator, “they showed signs of severe stress and aggression at times. Safety equipment, such as catchpoles, was used to handle the dogs, to help alleviate their anxiety and keep our staff at a safe distance. Since this was such a stressful day for the dogs (and the people), we let them settle for 72 hours before assessing their behavior needs.”
The evaluation team assessed each dog, noting behavior and sociability while completing a general health check. In instances where the evaluation team could not handle the dog or the dog was too fearful, they were placed on behavior review for the Behavior team to start working with them, and dogs that cleared their evaluation and behavior reviews went up for adoption.
On to the Behavior team
“Situations like this are among the most heartbreaking for me,” said Avery Spear, behavior supervisor. “These dogs tend to have significant socialization deficits, resulting from a lack of exposure and experience during critical stages of their development. These deficits are often irreversible and, even in best-case scenarios, and they will likely result in permanent personality traits that can be very challenging.”
The majority of the adult dogs struggled to walk on a leash, were fearful, barked uncontrollably and quivered in their kennels. They were in rough shape due to the circumstances they lived.
The Behavior team got to work to determine whether they felt that each dog’s behavior could be safely managed and whether or not they could experience a relatively good quality of life in a home environment. “If the answer to both of those things is yes,” said Spear, “we’ll try to place them, which is a challenging due to their ongoing needs.”
The League’s Behavior program is not designed to affect permanent changes in these situations. Sometimes only minimal progress is made during sessions, but the team needs a reason to believe the dogs can be put in safe environments and engage in appropriate behavior to have a good quality of life to determine if they are candidates for adoption.
Finding new homes
Dogs from these types of cases can have a host of behavior challenges that require a patient owner. And, the behaviors can be daunting. Dogs can be fearful in new situations, especially when meeting people, aren’t housetrained, and many don’t know how to walk on a leash.
Our Adoptions team was (and is always) transparent with potential owners about where the dogs came from, what we know about their histories and our recommendations to set them up for success. Make no mistake, though. These dogs required patient owners who were willing to devote time and practice positive reinforcement training techniques with the goal of the dog experiencing a reduction in their stress and becoming a part of the family. (As part of the adoption process, owners received educational material to help manage expectations and offer suggestions and tips.)
By the numbers
We know animals are so much more than numbers. Of course, numbers represent a part of the whole and give us a tangible way to see this case, but each one represents how the League addressed the medical and behavioral needs of all of the animals in our care.
The Mesita case saw 47 dogs arrive at the League. A break-down includes:
Puppies between the ages of 7 to 15 weeks: 22
Dead on arrival: 3
Adults older than 1-year old: 25
Euthanized*: 14 Adopted: 6 Transferred: 5
- = Some of our more difficult dogs were transferred to New Hope Cattle Dog Rescue for placement. This group specializes in the breed and has worked with these sorts of cases in the past.
**= The League is a Socially Conscious Animal Shelter, and we believe it is not acceptable to house a known dangerous animal who cannot be safely placed in the community. These dogs had significant and irreparable socialization deficits with an abundance of concern over the safety and the dog’s ability to experience a good quality of life.
The Mesita case is heartbreaking, and the reality is that because of an unscrupulous breeder, 103 dogs needlessly suffered. However, on that June day, all of these dogs were given the opportunity for better lives. And, while not every dog could be rehabilitated, the eight organizations that came together removed them from despicable conditions, stopped the cycle of inbreeding (through spay/neuter procedures) and saved a generation of puppies.
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