Sushi was an excitable and energetic puppy. He’d need the right home, thought Morgan Rivera, one that could handle his high energy levels. Rivera—coordinator of transport and placement with the HSUS—was in Florida helping to assess what Sushi and 41 other dogs would need to thrive after a rough start in life.
Investigators from the Daytona Beach Police Department seized the 42 dogs, including 18 puppies, from an alleged dogfighting ring in Daytona Beach, Florida, in February. The dogs suffered from health issues that included emaciation, ringworm and intestinal parasites, says Rivera. Some had significant scarring; one had a missing ear. According to news reports, many had been confined to chains or kennels without access to food or water. Three people were charged with felony cruelty to animals and animal fighting, among other crimes.
As the criminal cases progressed, the dogs went to the Halifax Humane Society in Florida. With expert care and medical treatment, they soon improved: The ringworm began to disappear, and the dogs gained weight. Two puppies who arrived near death from severe anemia survived after receiving emergency blood transfusions, according to news reports.
The next step? Ensuring the dogs were ready for adoption. With dozens needing evaluation and behavior assessments, the Halifax Humane Society reached out to the HSUS for help. Enter Rivera.
When she met the dogs, Rivera noted that many were friendly and loved attention. She says this is common among dogfighting survivors: “Dogfighting is a piece of their past but not their whole life.”
Rivera started her assessments by playing with the dogs and observing their personalities and interests. She then slowly introduced them to other dogs and gauged their reactions. If a dog performed poorly, she tried again with a new dog with a different personality.
“If it doesn’t go well the first time, we’re going to make the effort to find a better match for that dog,” says Rivera.
After the assessments, the dogs went to HSUS Shelter and Rescue Partners for adoption. Rivera provided partners with details to help find the right family for each dog. Many have already found homes—including Sushi, who is thriving with his new family and channeling his energy into water sports.
Although some adopters might hesitate before considering dogs used in fighting, Rivera knows firsthand how loving these animals can be.
“I have shared my home with multiple dogs from fighting cases, and they have been the best dogs I’ve ever had,” she says. “Dogs live their lives looking forward. They don’t dwell on the past. I hope we can do the same and look at how bright their future is.”