The scene was as grim as it gets: dozens of dogs confined to dilapidated hutches, leaking in the pouring rain, and dozens more—nearly 140 in all—crammed into filthy campers and a single mobile home. They cowered in groups, big dogs and small, some nearly hairless from skin conditions, others without obvious access to food or water.

The wagging tails and curious faces hinted at a new chapter in the dogs’ stories, so different from the one of neglect and abuse that had marked their lives so far: one of hope. As our Animal Rescue Team arrived at this five-acre Florida property in late February, they brought compassion, a gentle touch and the start of something new.

Thanks to a caring network of shelter and rescue partners throughout the state, the dogs found themselves in expert hands. Cleaned up, given medical attention and readied for adoption, all they needed was the right family to find them. 

Here we’re catching up with three dogs from the rescue, all adopted from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. All three were heartworm positive, but that didn’t stop their loving adopters from welcoming these deserving dogs with cuddles, attention, and the time and space they needed to settle in to their new lives. Now, at last, these dogs can turn the page for good on their grim pasts.

Dog outside living in severe neglect, rescued by HSUS
BEFORE: Cashie cowers on the Florida property where our rescue and response team found him.
Meredith Lee
Beagle dog at doggie daycare, running outside.
AFTER: Even at doggie daycare, Cashie is all smiles.
The Lodge Pet Resort

Bright-eyed boy

NAME: Cash (Cashie to his friends)
AGE/BREED: 3-year-old beagle mix
NEW FAMILY: Adopters Melissa and Mark Millican and their kids, Matthew and Madeline; a feline sister, Winnie
BAD HABIT: Eating paper
FAVORITE TOYS AND ACTIVITIES: Tennis balls; Nylabones; walking and running at a nearby park

CASHIE’S STORY: When Cashie the beagle mix first joined the Millican family in March—sick with heartworm, his old life not so far behind him—Melissa Millican thought she could see pain in his eyes. And he never quite let his guard down. Millican noticed it especially at night: It was almost as if he slept with his eyes open, she says. “Not so much anymore, but he did for a long time.” She thinks he had nightmares, too, waking up the entire family with plaintive beagle howls. Those too have mostly stopped. After nearly six months in his new home, it seems as though Cashie’s finally settled in.

Sounder sleep isn’t the only sign of his contentment. Cashie startled easily, and he used to wolf down his food. As he’s grown used to life with his family, he seems calmer and he eats more slowly. “He still finishes it all in the one meal, but he’s not gobbling it down in like 30 seconds flat,” says Millican. She can’t blame him; Cashie probably didn’t get regular meals in his previous life. With the Millicans, he gets healthy food, a warm bed and lots of love.

Beagle dog and man laying on couch, snuggling.
Cashie snuggles with his favorite person, Mark Millican.
Melissa Millican

Calm Cashie fits in perfectly with the Millicans’ chill life. He snoozes next to the kids as they read, only occasionally getting a bit naughty by nibbling a book. He coexists with the cat, ever hopeful that she’ll indulge him with a bit of play. But Millican’s husband, Mark, is Cashie’s favorite person. Millican calls him the “dog whisperer” because Cashie took to him instantly and prefers to be by his side. 

After a few hiccups with his heartworm treatment and a bout of hookworm, Cashie’s on the mend and ready to fully embrace life. With bed rest behind him (part of his heartworm recovery), Millican says his personality is starting to come out. “He’s still a very chill dog, but he started acting more like a puppy again.” He enjoys running in the park and playing with toys, loving on his family and getting love in return. And those eyes, the ones that seemed so dull when he first came home? Millican says they’re much clearer and brighter, these days.

Beagle dog in cage.
BEFORE: Rescuers found Buddy living in a small outdoor structure.
Beagle dog sitting in car with his new family.
AFTER: Buddy enjoys a car ride with adopters Becca and Michael Parsons.
Michael Parsons

Retired to the ‘burbs

NAME: Buddy
AGE/BREED: 5-year-old hound mix
NEW FAMILY: Adopters Becca and Michael Parsons
FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Going for car rides
DISLIKES: Swimming pools; exuberant young puppies (he’s an old soul); loud noises

BUDDY’S STORY: Newlyweds Becca and Michael Parsons were waiting for the perfect time to adopt a dog, but work and travel obligations kept getting in the way. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Confined to their home in March, the couple decided the time was right. Enter Buddy.

At first, his adopters weren’t a fan of Buddy’s name, which came with him from the shelter. They tried others: Teddy, Copper, Toby. But Michael Parsons says nothing seemed to fit the sweet and loving hound mix who hops rather than runs and lets out a loud, excited yawn rather than a bark. “We’re like, ‘Nope, nope, no.’ He’s just a genuine Buddy.” 

Beagle dog sleeping in dog bed.
Buddy waits for pets in his cushy bed.
Michael Parsons

Initially shy around strangers, time and patience are helping, says Parsons. “It used to be, ‘Give me three hours and I will stop shaking.’ Now it’s, ‘Give me about 45 minutes, I’ll stop sniffing around and then I’ll come and see you and eat your treats that you have in your hand. And then I’ll lay by your side.’ ”

Though heartworm-positive, Buddy handled the treatment—medication and lots of rest—like a champ, thanks to his gentle, calm demeanor. Restrictions on socializing made it easier to maintain a chill environment, and although the couple missed their busy social life, working from home during the pandemic gave them ample opportunities to spoil their new dog. “Buddy’s kind of been in his dream world,” says Parsons.

That new world is full of comforts: regular meals and ample treats. Snuggles on soft carpets, which he much prefers to hardwood floors. Walks, where Parsons notices Buddy’s lust for life. “The way that his ears flop, it’s almost like he’s got a pep in his step and a beat. And it’s like his back hips are moving side to side,” he says. On one walk, a neighbor congratulated Buddy on his new home, telling him, “You’ve retired to the ‘burbs! You’ve made it! You can now live freely!” It’s become Buddy’s motto, says Parsons. He’s retired to the ‘burbs, and he’s there to stay.

Dogs outside living in severe neglect, rescued by HSUS
BEFORE: Buster (front) was found in a dank structure on the Florida property.
Meredith Lee
Beagle dog outside for a walk.
AFTER: Long walks—with lots of opportunities to investigate new scents—are one of Buster's favorite activities.
Emily Groves

The happiest hound

NAME: Buster
AGE/BREED: 4-year-old hound mix
NEW FAMILY: Adopters Emily Groves and Phillip Jorge; a canine sister, Sadie
BAD HABIT: Butting into other people’s personal space
FAVORITE TOYS AND ACTIVITIES: A (now quite battered) stuffed lamb; sniffing the same spot for minutes on end; running laps inside the house
DISLIKES: Getting in the car (he requires someone to carry him in)

BUSTER’S STORY: Emily Groves likes to say that Buster chose her. She and fiancé Phillip Jorge met Buster at the Tampa Bay Humane Society, and as their allotted meet-and-greet time ended, the otherwise-shy hound mix jumped right into Groves’ lap. “I was like, ‘That’s it! We have to take him home!’ ” says Groves.

Beagle dog sleeping on carpet.
Buster snoozes away in his new home.
Emily Groves

“Home” includes Groves, Jorge and 7-year-old miniature schnauzer Sadie—a calming influence on the more energetic Buster. “It’s kind of like having a small puppy in an adult dog’s body,” Groves says of Buster. Sadie bosses him around, showing him what is and isn’t allowed—and helping him understand the concept of personal space. “He just genuinely doesn’t know his size,” says Groves. His propensity for snuggling came in handy, though, as Buster went through heartworm treatment and needed to remain calm. “He will do everything he can to be on top of me, so I just kind of held him all the time,” says Groves.  

Since adopting him in March, Groves and Jorge have seen Buster through his heartworm treatment—and the worst of his anxiety. It took Buster a while to get comfortable with Jorge. “Any time a male comes into the house, anyone who is loud, it really shakes him up and he gets a little submissive,” says Groves. With time—and plenty of treats—Buster warms up to newcomers, as he’s done with Jorge’s dad and brother. Groves says that seeing Buster’s “firsts”—first taste of treats, first trip to the beach—makes handling his challenges worthwhile. “It’s been kind of fun to watch it through his eyes, where he’s hesitant to do something at first then all of a sudden loves it,” she says.

Groves has been learning new things, too. She’s never shared her home with a hound, so Buster’s howling surprised her—as did his sniffing. “I’ve never seen a dog get so focused on one thing and forget everything else around him if he picks up a trail,” she says. Now that Buster’s heartworm treatment is over and he’s cleared for regular activity, he’s getting plenty of sniffing time on long exploratory walks. Groves happily indulges him on those walks, which likely weren’t a part of his previous life. “There’s a huge world out there, and he gets to be part of it.” 

Since the February rescue, five people have been arrested and charged with 145 counts each of animal cruelty, including 49 felony charges.

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