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Crunchtime Allies: HSUS and Pets Alive Team Up for Puppy Mill Rescue

Spay/neuter clinic offers last-minute shelter to 120 dogs rescued from Indiana mill

This article, originally published in All Animals magazine, is part of our "Hometown Heroes" series profiling animal shelters and rescue groups

  • United Animal Nations

by Arna Cohen

Two days before Thanksgiving in 2010, a plan was coming together: Within a week, the HSUS Animal Rescue Team and local authorities would swoop down on an Indiana puppy mill. Personnel from around the country were gathering, equipment was arriving, and final details were being nailed down. But a crucial piece of the effort was still missing—the team hadn’t found a suitable place to set up a temporary shelter for the scores of dogs needing rescue.

In Bloomington, HSUS Indiana state director Anne Sterling drove past the big garage doors of the Pets Alive Spay/Neuter Clinic and wondered what was behind them. She asked to meet with the clinic’s then-director, James McNamara.

“After swearing me to about eight kinds of secrecy, she explained to me what was going on,” says McNamara. “We went all over the building to see if it would meet their needs. It was far from ideal, but … we were able to make it work.” He also offered the clinic’s vans and volunteered to shuttle the dogs from the breeding kennel to The HSUS’s rescue rig, which couldn’t negotiate the hilly terrain surrounding the mill.

Over the course of the rescue, 122 dogs flowed through the temporary shelter, receiving veterinary checkups and emergency care. HSUS staff then transported them to be adopted through agencies in its Emergency Services Placement Partners program. McNamara, impressed by the rescuers’ organization and efficiency, describes it as “three days of … animal welfare shock and awe … a sight to behold.”

While Pets Alive had never before participated in this type of rescue operation, large numbers were nothing new for a clinic that averages 200 to 250 surgeries a week. Serving 16 counties in south central Indiana, the nonprofit facility has spayed and neutered more than 47,000 cats and dogs in six years of operation—with a small staff consisting of two full-time veterinarians, five veterinary technicians, two administrators, and one driver.

“They were very open and flexible, willing to roll with the punches, which is what you have to be willing to do if you agree to something like this,” says Sterling.

Even while the drama of the rescue unfolded in their midst, dedicated clinic staff continued their normal business, sterilizing 183 pets and earning admiration from the HSUS team. When McNamara heaped praise on the rescuers, “we felt the same about them,” says The HSUS’s Michelle Cascio. “They’re doing their own amazing work but then also going above and beyond and allowing us to set up our emergency shelter there.”

Hometown Hero: Pets Alive, Bloomington, Indiana

Serving the masses: Pets Alive provides low-cost spaying and neutering for owned pets and 19 shelters and rescue groups in a 90-mile radius. With his rescued dog for company, transport driver Nathan Scholten hits the road every weekday morning, often before dawn, to pick up animals from partnering agencies; in the afternoon he repeats the trek, delivering pets who are ready for adoption.

Magnificent milestone: The clinic will reach the 50,000-spay/neuter mark this summer, including 8,492 cats and dogs sterilized in 2010, plus 971 in February of this year in observance of The HSUS’s Spay Day campaign. “They’re one of the strongest low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinics that we have in the state,” says HSUS Indiana state director Anne Sterling. “We’re very lucky to have them.”

Mission possible: Spay/neuter is key to reducing the number of animals entering shelters, says interim director Melissa Kusturin, who learned this lesson while working as a shelter director. “We cannot build our way out of it. … You cannot euthanize your way out of it … [or] adopt your way out of it.”

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