Early in the morning of Sunday, April 26, 2015, Western Hills Humane Society received a phone call from police informing the shelter that they had confiscated 36 toy breed dogs and six cats from a Trailblazer in the Spearfish Walmart parking lot.
It was assumed and later confirmed that the animals were traveling from one puppy mill in Washington state to start another in Wisconsin. WHHS staff and volunteers arrived to find the animals scared and covered in their own feces as they had been traveling in cages in tight quarters.
All animals were bathed, given quick health checks, and separated according to sex and age. The youngest twelve animals, those assumed to be pregnant, and several others of concern were placed in foster homes.
It was Wednesday of that same week before the owner of the animals, as part of a plea agreement with authorities, formally surrendered them to Western Hills Humane Society.
Upon the surrender, veterinarians could now begin to tend to the animals. All were health-checked by a vet tech, vaccinations were started, microchips inserted, and spay/neuter dates for the adults were set. It was determined that there were three pregnant females in the group who would remain in foster care until they had given birth and their babies weaned. Many of these dogs who had lived in cages most of their lives were leery of humans and scared of their new surroundings. Despite this, only one appeared to have fear based aggression.
On Friday, May 1, 2015, news of the seizure hits the papers and WHHS was flooded with donations and visitors. It is estimated that a couple hundred people came through the facility on just Friday and Saturday of that week. None of the toy breeds were available for adoption at this point, as they still needed to be spayed and neutered, but over 100 applications for adoption were turned into WHHS. In the following week, four news stations visited WHHS for on-air coverage on the nightly news (two with follow-up stories in the upcoming weeks), and both the Black Hills Pioneer and the Rapid City Journal ran front-page and follow-up stories. A total of 13 news stories ran covering the situation.
As a result, applications continued to flow in. WHHS directors began the task of approving these applications- all animals adopted from WHHS begin with a lengthy packet of paperwork and most adoptions take several visits and checks with references, etc. In addition, most of the dogs were not potty-trained and any prospective owners needed to understand and be familiar with both toy breeds and/or rescued puppy mill dogs.
The decision was made that all puppies that were too young to be spayed and neutered would remain as property of WHHS until their alterations were complete. Those approved to adopt served as foster parents until the puppy was ready for adoption and cooperated with WHHS on their vaccination schedule.
May 18, 2015 – May 30, 2015: more puppies! The first of the pregnant mothers gave birth. Within the next two weeks, all of the mothers had their litters. In all, 18 puppies were born in WHHS care. By mid-July, these newest puppies were weaned and ready to move on to their permanent foster-to-adopt homes and the original puppies that came in with the seizure were old enough to be altered. As soon as they were altered, adoptions became final.
By the end of July, only four puppies and two adults remained in the constant care of WHHS. The male cat and all four kittens that were rescued in the seizure had also been adopted, and the mother cat was spayed and moved into our Cattery to await a forever home with the 30 other cats that live in there.
The puppies that were in foster-to-adopt care will be vaccinated on schedule through WHHS and spayed/neutered before their adoptions become final. An end date of all adoptions being finalized by Christmas is anticipated for the April 26th seizure.
Milton, the last of the Chihuahuas, never got over his fear-based aggression and was transferred to a puppy mill rescue in Denver on November 2nd. They will keep us updated on his progress and we believe this is his best chance for rehabilitation and to secure him a happy future.
It is only through the generosity and support of the City of Spearfish and the surrounding areas that Western Hills Humane Society was successful in securing a positive future for these animals who were destined for a life of breeding and kennels.