On Monday morning in San Miguel County, our Animal Rescue Team members were up with the sun, watching it rise over a picturesque New Mexico mesa as they met up with local authorities getting ready to serve a search-and-seizure warrant. But in stark contrast to the beautiful landscape, a chaotic, filthy scene greeted them as they began rescuing more than 60 dogs and puppies from an alleged cruelty situation on a residential property. The animals were living outdoors in freezing temperatures, in ramshackle pens with no apparent access to food or water. 

As team members approached the dogs to evaluate their condition and surroundings, they carefully avoided patches of ice and dangerous debris. Glass shards and rogue wires littered the property. Between the makeshift enclosures, overcrowded pens and buildup of waste, it was an all-too-typical site of animal cruelty and neglect.  

One puppy stands in an empty food and water bowl, gazing up toward rescuers.
Meredith Lee/The HSUS

A distressed female dog caught the attention of the team as she whined and paced around a shed inside one of the pens. HSUS rescuer Shalimar Oliver peeked into a shallow tunnel that had clearly been dug by one of the dogs. For a split second, Oliver was happy, thinking she had found a den of puppies she could now move to safety. But as she got closer, she realized she was looking at just one puppy, and that puppy was dead.

In another yard, team members stepped through filth and ice to reach a residence with a large porch, where they found pups they could still help. A small white snout poked out from beneath the porch, followed by another and then another. Finally, one bold puppy emerged and approached responders, while at least seven pairs of eyes peered out, watching inquisitively.  

Several puppies emerge from beneath a porch to observe rescuers.
Meredith Lee/The HSUS

Our responders focused on getting the animals out safely, working in teams through periodic snow showers in the afternoon to remove the dogs and puppies and transport them to a temporary shelter. Several of the dogs were pregnant, and none seemed to have been spayed or neutered.

Responders from RedRover are working with the HSUS team to care for the animals, and licensed veterinarians are advising on treatment plans. The 4th Judicial District Attorney in New Mexico has already filed charges against one defendant and is committed to investigating and prosecuting the case.

This operation highlights the value of our professional collaborations with law enforcement. Several members of our law enforcement training center were part of the rescue team and worked closely with the DA’s investigation unit to prepare for the deployment.

Residents of the communities in which we conduct rescue operations often suspect animals are being mistreated long before authorities are able to intervene. We want to act as quickly as possible when we believe animals are suffering, but in order to effectively resolve such situations, law enforcement must often be patient and deliberate, gathering the evidence to build a strong case. Only then can they authorize and make the arrangements for a rescue operation of this scale.

That’s where we come in. No one agency can do this all alone.

Now, this rescue mission will progress as so many of our animal rescue deployments do, as the team moves from the grim and bracing experience of bringing animals out of miserable circumstances to the work of improving their lives. Once the dogs have received thorough veterinary exams, we’ll gain a clearer picture of what it will take to prepare them for loving homes. That’s going to take a little more time, and meanwhile, the court process will determine their eventual custody. Many of them are suffering from a variety of conditions including parasites, severe heart murmurs, eye injuries and wounds but having helped to remove them from their desperate situation, our responders can take heart, as we too can, in the fact that these dogs’ fortunes have already turned around. In so many ways, their troubles are behind them, with a far better future in sight.