Loretta emitted a huge yawn. Why not? She was exhausted and now bundled in Connie’s arms with three brothers. This four and a half week old puppy and her siblings had been separated from their mother for only a couple of days. They had been rescued from unspeakably crowded and filthy conditions by the Bend Police and brought to the Shelter at the Humane Society of Central Oregon. On July 5th four of the nine in the litter—Loretta, Waylon, Willy, and Hank—had come to our house for foster care.
If you can imagine, there were 22 dogs in a van parked at Bend’s Wal-Mart that Tuesday, June 17. In the late afternoon a woman called the police after hearing the barking and smelling the stench coming from the van. When the police arrived they found a mom with nine three-day-old puppies, four two-month old puppies, and seven young adults, surviving on top of each other in the closed van. The dogs all seemed to be a mix of Border Collie, Spaniel and German Shepherd.
Once on the scene, the police made a tactical decision to allow the man in the van to keep one of the dogs in order to get a release for all the rest of the dogs. One of the officers said, "We felt he was able to care properly for one of the animals and let him keep it." Be that as it may, the decision enabled the Humane Society of Central Oregon to have full and permanent control of them immediately.
The staff received the dogs around 7 p.m. and worked late into the night examining and cleaning them up.
Humane Society workers say while the dogs had plenty of food, they were living on top of each other in their own feces.
And they say it's a miracle that along with the hot temperatures, the dogs are okay.
"When you hear 21 dogs living in a van, you think these guys aren't going to be in great shape," said Karen Szymanski. "But medically, they all seem to be fairly healthy and their temperaments are friendly."
Police say Henderson was living in the van with them, and probably selling the puppies out of his van to Wal-Mart customers.
The mother and nine newborns went to the home of Judy Niedzwiecke, Foster Care Coordinator for the HSCO. She planned to keep the puppies with the mother until time to wean them, but that didn’t work out. The mother was so aggressive that she was a risk to the people and animals around her, including her own puppies. Karen Szymanski, manager of the HSCO, said that she thought the mother had been so traumatized by the experience in the van that she was "protecting the puppies with every ounce of her body." The only option was to separate the two-and-a-half-week-old puppies from the mother. Karen took the mother back to the Shelter and Judy took on the nine puppies until she could distribute some of them to foster care givers.
On July 5th four of the puppies came to our house. Connie is the foster care giver in our family; I just help her when we have puppies. When the puppies came she was also caring for ten kittens. My job was to be with the puppies for their three feedings a day, play with them, and clean up after them in the yard. They were so frantic that I wondered if they, like their mother, had been marked by their experience in the van. At first, they seemed uneasy with human contact and yowled at the top of their lungs. But within a few days they began to calm down, except of course when it was nearing mealtime.
On July 13 Lori, another care giver, took Waylon and Hank, leaving Loretta and Willy with us, so that more personal attention could be given to each puppy. The puppies loved rolling and tumbling with each other in the grass shaded by tall aspen trees in our yard. Loretta began to seek me out to hold her. I wondered if that would happen with Willy. On July 28, the day before the puppies were to be taken to the Shelter for spay and neuter then adoption, Willy came to me and wanted up into my lap. He sat there as if to tell me that he was ready for serious contact with humans. I realize that this is my projection; I don’t know what’s in the minds of these little creatures, how they were shaped by their first days in the van and their separation from their mother. But they were over eight weeks old and it was time for them to be put up for adoption. Loretta and Willy were ready.
I didn’t go with Connie when she took them to the Shelter. I didn’t want to embarrass her by crying when we said goodbye like I did when we took the American Eskimo puppies back. I knew that we couldn’t keep Loretta and Willy; we have two dogs of our own and three cats. But it is hard for me to let these little ones go just as they have begun to trust me.
When Connie came back she had good news. The puppies’ mother has become a loving and gentle dog again, one that can be adopted. It didn’t happen by accident. Karen Szymanski spent a lot of time with the mother. I went down to the Shelter today to talk with Karen about what she did. She said that she spent as much time with the dog as she could, even coming with her boyfriend on her days off to work with her. She confessed that she was getting too attached and so had to pull back. Karen is surrounded by animals in crisis and yet she gave extra time and attention to this mother who had been traumatized by horrible conditions. Now, the mom is also ready to be adopted.
My hat is off to the staff and volunteers at the Shelter; they love animals, all of which arrive at their door in crisis. They have to make hard decisions and work long hours. My hat is also off to the foster care givers who love animals and prepare them to be good pets for others.
I saw a bumper sticker on a car in front of me today that said something like, "Being kind to animals will make our whole world a better place." There are a lot of things that we can do to make the world better. I believe being kind to animals is one of them. Do you?