Local rescues take in 18 dogs from Central Valley puppy mill
On Aug. 21, a woman in Tracy died in a car accident. When her granddaughter came in to make funeral arrangements and settle her grandmother’s estate, she was horrified to discover 107 animals, most of which were dogs, on the property. The dogs were being used for breeding, producing multiple litters per year in poor conditions.
“She stepped in the back and just fell apart. Not only losing her grandmother, but she came home and realized this was a nightmare in the making,” said Colleen Combs, co-founder and executive director of Green Dog Rescue in Windsor. “So she contacted a couple of her friends who knew rescue groups, and they contacted our network of rescue groups and asked if we could get there ASAP. It’s in Tracy, so it took us a couple of hours to get there, but we mobilized within half an hour and were out there in about three hours total from the time we heard about it to the time we got there.”
According to Combs, there were seven horses on site, and the rest were dogs, being kept paired up male and female for breeding purposes. Pregnant females and mothers with pups were kept in stacked crates, while the outdoor pens of breeding pairs were filthy dirt pens without beds, bowls, shelter or clean water.
Sebastopol’s Shirley Zindler, who runs Dogwood Animal Rescue, a foster-based rescue which places rescued animals with foster families all over Sonoma County, also raced to the scene.
“It’s pretty hard for one person to keep up with that number of dogs,” said Zindler, who worked for 30 years as an animal control officer before doing rescue work fulltime. “By the time you have that many, you’re dropping a lot of balls. It’s the nature of puppy mills.”
While the primary focus of the operation seemed to be dachshunds, other breeds being produced included Chihuahuas, German shepherds, Labradors, Boston terriers, Yorkshire terriers, “doodles” (poodle mixes) and pit bulls. Multiple rescue groups converged on the site, many of them breed specific rescues. Green Dog took in 15 dogs, a female Chihuahua, a female German shepherd and the rest dachshunds. Dogwood Rescue took three dachshunds, including a puppy, one pregnant mother and another female that had clearly been bred.
Given that all the dogs were in breeding pairs, Combs feared that all of the females that Green Dog took in would be pregnant, but after visiting the veterinarian, she was relieved to find that was not the case.
“We could only assume we had pregnant females, so we took them all to the vet yesterday. There were three of them that we thought were expecting, and we thought we were going to need fosters for these babies; they all got ultrasounds and nobody is pregnant. So that is why they are all getting spayed today,” she said. “Thankfully we’re not going to need the fosters after all.”
All of the dogs have some level of health issues from their lack of appropriate care. One so far has tested positive for heartworm, and those tests are still pending on others.
“Some of them are pretty thin, emaciated; one is missing an eye and, really, their diet and the dentals — all of their teeth are horrid,” Combs said. “Even the ones that are only a year and half old, they have some teeth that are rotten and having to have some of those pulled because they’ve just been eating off of the dirt, and there’s just no nutrition there. The food they were giving them was just not quality food and that’s showing up. And then fleas and ticks were really bad so we’re also doing tick-borne disease tests on them like Lyme’s disease and Leptospirosis and things like that. So once we get all the blood work results back, we’ll know who needs more extensive care or antibiotics, who is clear, but all of them have had to have dentals so that’s pricy, but our vet is working with us.”
Combs estimates that veterinarian care costs, including the spaying and neutering, will run about $1,200 per dog.
“Multiply that by 15, and its gets a little whew,” she said.
Green Dog Rescue is hoping to get donations of either quality dog food (Blue Buffalo, Taste of the Wild or the Kirkland from Costco) or monetary donations to Green Dog or their veterinarian to offset care costs. Dogwood would take similar donations.
Behaviorally the dogs are having to learn about a world they’ve never been a part of until now.
“The biggest behavioral issues we’re seeing at this point is, they are so shut down. They don’t know what grass is, they don’t know what affection is, they don’t know what a warm bed is, they don’t even know how to eat out of a bowl,” Combs said. “This made us cry. We put their bowls down for them to eat dinner, and every one of them dumped their bowls out to eat off the ground, because they don’t know how to eat out of a bowl. It’s just sad.”
“All of the things we do for our dogs day today that you think should just be a given. These people are making money off of these dogs; this is a business, and you can’t treat them with even a bit of dignity? Not a warm bed, a blanket, not a decent bowl, a clean bit of water? It’s just really sad; they are just puppy machines,” she finished.
Zindler placed the dachshund puppy she rescued with one of Dogwood’s foster families, and she’s taking care of the two female dachshunds at her home. One of the female dogs is shy and reserved, but the other one, a long-haired dachshund that is pregnant, is remarkably social.
“She’s a real love — and so friendly,” Zindler said. “It’s hard to believe she came out of such a difficult situation.”
Because the owner of the facility is deceased, there will be no criminal charges, however Combs said a “business partner” emerged and took some of the dogs from the property and has tried to get hold of certain dogs taken in by the various rescues, including one at Green Dog.
“She demanded one that we have, and I said, ‘I’ll be happy to deal with you directly, and if you want to provide me your phone number and address, I’ll be happy to talk with you, and oh by the way, he is now neutered. So sorry, but I would love to report you to the AKC,’” Combs said, referencing the American Kennel Club’s inspection system which can penalize unscrupulous breeders with fines, suspensions and loss of registration privileges.
Depending on the final outcomes of the medical exams and tests, some of the dogs at Green Dog could be ready to find their new homes as soon as Sept. 5, but Combs added they will be screening applications carefully to make the best match possible for each dog.
“One of things that I’m looking for is, yes, I want a loving, kind home but I also want a home that understands that they can’t just coddle this dog through it. Sometimes you’ve got to push the bird out of the nest a little bit,” she said. “I worked with one of them the other day and just to put their feet on the grass they were like, ‘oh no no no.’ Instead of picking that dog up, I put myself four feet away from that dog so that they had to come to me, which meant they had to get used to the grass. It’s not cruel, not mean, but simply ‘you’ve got learn to experience this and if that means walking to me to get on my lap, perfect, you’re walking on it. You survived.’”
“They’re not familiar with leashes, collars and often everybody goes into this with ‘Oh they’re going to be so grateful. They’re going to be so happy they have the best bed now’ but, they don’t care. They never had it or experienced it, so I don’t want people to get into the trap of the dog is going to be grateful, because these dogs don’t understand that,” she continued. “I want somebody who’s willing to sit down and say, ‘We’re going let them experience the grass’ and when they do make that five feet, not shout ‘Oh good job,’ because that’s too excited and they think, ‘Oh yikes what did I do?’ They’ve got to keep it neutral and monotone and let them come out of their shell and blossom and experience this environment and then that other stuff will all come later — the excitement, the fun, that will all come later.”
Like Combs, Zindler carefully screens potential adopters. Because of the demand for purebred dachshunds, she expects it will be easy to place the three dogs she rescued, especially the puppy (for whom there is already a waiting list), as well as the puppies the pregnant mom is about to deliver. But Zindler is in no hurry.
“They all need some time to recover,” she said.