Little dogs like these are often seen in darling sweaters or pink collars that read "Princess." But the 30 animals rescued Oct. 9 from an eastern El Paso County address were far from pampered.
When the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, with help from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, raided the backyard puppy mill, they found puppies and puppy parents living in deplorable conditions. Humane Society executive director Dr. Wes Metzler says there was "fecal matter everywhere." The society charged the owner of the mill, Michelle Hiatt of Peyton, with animal cruelty, but nevertheless left eight dogs in her care. The case has yet to reach District Attorney John Newsome's desk.
Since the bust, the Humane Society has been looking for new homes for the dogs, which have received veterinary care from the Animal Hospital of Falcon. Representatives at the veterinary office declined to comment on the dogs' condition, citing legal action. But a visit to the Humane Society Tuesday revealed freshly cleaned pooches, many of them cocker spaniels, some shaved down. One was recovering from Giardia.
Dan Anderson, a volunteer for Mill Dog Rescue Network, saw the dogs right after they were rescued, when he brought his own pet to the animal hospital for care. He remembers a mass of filthy animals that reminded him a lot of the dogs he helps save from larger, commercial puppy mills.
"These dogs don't have names," Anderson says of the rescued canines. "They're objects, and they don't get veterinary care; they don't get humane treatment."
Both Anderson and Metzler say they've seen dogs in much worse condition. The local Humane Society does a large-scale animal rescue several times a year. Sometimes it's a puppy mill. Other times it's an individual hoarding animals for pets often as many as 50 or 60 and not caring for them properly.
Metzler says he doesn't encounter too many irresponsible backyard breeders. But then again, the Humane Society rarely ventures into eastern El Paso County, where there are no limits on how many pets a person can own. The Humane Society found this backyard mill after following up on several tips from concerned citizens.
Theresa Strader, the Black Forest-based founder of Mill Dog Rescue Network, says her organization knows of other small mills in the county, many with about 100 dogs.
"These guys are out here, and there's plenty of them," she says. "And the dogs are in horrible shape."
This particular batch of rescued dogs included some very cute puppies that Metzler expected to be adopted quickly. The older dogs are also adoptable and haven't shown any aggressive tendencies, though Metzler notes they are "not as socialized as the normal family pet."
Anderson, who has taken in mill dogs himself, says a little skittishness shouldn't discourage anyone wanting to adopt one of the pooches.
"Their ability to forgive is beyond the comprehension," he says. "I'm confident from my experience that those will make lovely pets."
As of Tuesday, 15 dogs had already been adopted, 10 remained up for adoption, two pregnant dogs were staying in foster care, and the rest were looking for new homes with the help of breed-specific rescue groups. To learn more about adoption, call the Humane Society at 473-1741.