COMMENTARY | As someone who “works” (read: volunteers) at a local animal shelter on a weekly basis, I’d never imagined I would see this situation hit my own area. A puppy mill is something you hear about on the news and more often than not, it’s several hundred miles away, if not thousands of miles away. Until Wednesday, I had no idea what kind of devastation really went on in a puppy mill situation.
Many people are wondering how this is even possible. How can a situation escalate so quickly and get so out of hand? It’s actually easier than you think. On Monday, when the dogs were originally seized and brought into the Allegan County Animal Shelter, it was estimated that there were approximately 350 dogs. By Wednesday, less than 48 hours later, the population had increased to 390 dogs. In less than 2 days, 40 new puppies appeared.
By the time our crew had arrived that day, the dogs had been shaved down and were getting ready for bathing. The first portion of my morning was spent in a large building where more than 100 dogs were being held. The view was overwhelming. Dogs were divided up into the pens based on gender to help prevent them from continuing to breed.
As an animal rescue worker with just a few years in the business, I haven’t “seen it all” but I’ve certainly seen my fair share. There is nothing as heartbreaking as walking into a building filled to the brim with neglected dogs who not only look awful, but smell. These are dogs whose fur has been stained yellow, brown or in some instances, red; all from feces, urine or blood from chewing on themselves in an attempt to self groom. Every time I see a photo, video or news report of the situation, that smell comes back to me.
When we first entered the building, every single dog started barking. It was loud enough that not only could you not hear over it, but you certainly couldn’t yell over it. Despite this, I would later realize that these dogs were happy to see us. They were excited. That became even more clear once we started feeding, petting and cleaning up. In fact, by the time every pen had been fed and volunteers were working on getting things cleaned up, there was not a peep from those dogs. It was surprisingly peaceful — smelly but peaceful.
I spent less than two hours with the dogs before it was brought to my attention that I was needed elsewhere. At my own shelter, I do a good deal of computer work, such as updating PetFinder, so I was relocated to another building for computer-related tasks: answering emails, keeping the public updated, taking down names of other organizations that wanted to help and so forth.
At this point, it came to my attention how many people truly wanted to help. Emails were coming from all over the United States. People as far as Los Angeles, Miami and New York were all asking how they could help, where they could donate money and how they could go about adopting one of these poor dogs. To know so many people across the country were reaching out to my small corner of the world was an amazing feeling. I read email after email of beloved pets, pets passing away and people looking to add some love to their home by rescuing a dog in need.
Sometimes, as an animal rescue worker, you feel like the world doesn’t care. Working at this puppy mill situation reminded me that there are always people who truly love animals. There are always people who are willing to drive across the state or across the country to adopt a dog in need, to bring supplies or just to help out. That’s the kind of thing that makes an animal rescue worker’s day.
We were only there from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., but it was clear throughout the day that not only was there hope, but there was improvement. The situation was improving, slowly but surely.
Click here to donate to the Allegan County Animal Shelter.
For more information on adoption, please fill out an application here.