September 22, 2011
"V" is for Victory for Vermont Dogs
HSUS gains legal custody and closes temporary shelter; many dogs already adopted by caregivers, area residents
Editor's Note: As of Oct. 25, 2011, 53 out of 59 Labs have been placed in permanent homes—a wonderful testament to the efforts of our volunteers and Emergency Services Placement Partners that took dogs into their facilities for adoption.
As of On Friday, Sept. 9, humane advocates were thrilled to learn that The HSUS had gained custody of more than 50 dogs seized by the state of Vermont on July 26th. On the day of a civil forfeiture hearing to determine custody of the animals, the owner voluntarily surrendered the dogs.
The HSUS had been caring for the dogs at a temporary shelter in West Halifax, Vt. for nearly seven weeks.
Vermont Senior State Director Joanne Bourbeau was jubilant about the news: "Quite naturally, we had all become very attached to each and every one of these dogs. To be able to finally release them for adoption into loving homes was the best news we could have received."
Criminal charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty will be filed against the former owner of the dogs.
The news had some shelter residents jumping for joy.
The high life
Clover, one of more than 50 Labrador dogs being cared for at the temporary shelter in West Halifax, Vt., showed her enthusiasm—and typical Lab energy—by doing a victory dance of sorts. Joanne Bourbeau
Back in July, when the emaciated dogs first arrived at the shelter, many were suffering from dehydration and untreated wounds. Some of the dogs had been living in windowless wooden boxes.
As they adjusted to regular feedings, comfort and care, many dogs began to show a more energetic side, leaping high into the air to greet caregivers as if on four-legged coils. One dog was even named “Popcorn!”
Not all of the dogs had a spring in their step.
The gray whiskers on three females used for breeding belied their short lives. Although just a few years old, these dogs were prematurely aged by rounds of continuous breeding and whelping of litters—litters sold in parking lots, through classified ads, and over the Internet.
Locals lean in, learn fast
Some area residents who got involved in volunteering at the temporary shelter were stunned by the condition of the dogs and what they learned about puppy mills.
Sue Ann Gentile, of West Wardsboro, Vt., couldn't believe that a person was allowed to have so many dogs and let them live in such squalor.
"I never want to see dogs in that situation again," she said, but as for volunteering to care for them, "I would do it again in a heartbeat."
On Monday, after hearing the good news about the dogs, Sue Ann accompanied a friend to the shelter to adopt a puppy, and recruited two more friends to adopt dogs, including a gentle, older dog named Hunter.
Coping and caring for others
Joel Berg and his wife Andrea took time out from cleaning up the damage Irene caused to their business—a popular boutique called Pickwell's Barn in nearby Wilmington, Vermont—to help care for the dogs.
Wilmington's downtown area, located just 15 minutes from both the HSUS's Vermont office and the home of senior state director Joanne Bourbeau, was decimated in the space of minutes during one of the largest and costliest floods to ravage the Green Mountain State.
"I was shocked when Joel told us that he was coming back to the emergency animal shelter to walk dogs," admitted Bourbeau. "Even after everything they've lost, they're still eager to donate their time to another cause—to help animals in need. We have had incredible support from the community for our animal relief efforts."
When it looked as if the local Red Cross shelter would not allow pets—it typically does not—Bourbeau arranged to make space at the temporary shelter in West Halifax for pets belonging to area residents evacuated from Irene.
A lot of help from some friends
For almost seven weeks, scores of volunteers juggled jobs and travel obstacles to handle the daily routine of feeding, walking, scooping up after dogs, changing bedding, scrubbing floors—and starting all over again. After Irene, six cats and a dog were also being cared for at the shelter.
As the day shift ended for some volunteers, the evening shift was just beginning for others.
Debra Theriault, a Jacksonville resident and dog trainer, managed an evening enrichment program throughout the entire 7–week period to socialize the dogs and help them adapt to people. Working with a host of evening volunteers, Theriault taught the dogs to sit and not to jump when people entered their kennels. "The ease and patience with which Debra treated each dog amazed me," says Bourbeau. "She gave up all of her free evenings to the care of these dogs, knowing that the extra time would make them more adoptable." Kim Prohaska served as Debra’s right-hand, and also spent a great deal of her free time to help at the barn.
Debra's husband Jack Aaron worked the morning shift, coordinating the first (and eagerly anticipated) feeding of the day.
Cathy Davis, who loaned her barn for the entire operation—including housing for the dogs and command central for The HSUS team—visited nearly every day, and knew all of the dogs by name.
Pamela Krausz, who made the trip to Halifax weekly (a 2-hour drive one-way), was a master at organizing and replenishing supplies. Pamela, who manages her own low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic in Middlesex, Vt. (Vermont Companion Animal Neutering or VT-CAN), ended up adopting two very special dogs—Isabelle and Lily.
“I’m not sure what I would have done without my stalwart volunteers like Debra, Kim and Pamela. They dove in and assumed leadership positions that truly made a difference in the health and behavior of each one of these animals.”
An acrobatic routine turns strangely calm, then quiet
On Monday, Sept. 12th, the last of the dogs were moved out of the shelter. The routine of the past weeks—a routine that had been in turns suspenseful, noisy, acrobatic, serene, and punctuated by the comic antics of bucket loads (literally) of puppies—had come to a close. Many of the shelter dogs had been joyfully claimed as new family members; others await excellent chances at finding loving homes.
The elegant stalls of the horse barn used to shelter the dogs are empty and the barn is strangely quiet now.
If only Vermont's remaining puppy mills were this quiet.
The HSUS wishes to thank Cathy Davis for her generous donation of housing for the dogs, as well as PetSmart Charities for donating food and supplies for the rescued dogs.
What you can do
» Find out where to adopt one of these dogs
» Learn more about puppy mills and what you can do
» Catch up on the latest news from our Animal Rescue Team