- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) - When local police seized 42 dogs and cats destined for a Wisconsin puppy mill on April 25, the Western Hills Humane Society wasn’t sure where they’d put all the animals. But, thanks to a little help from their friends, nearly all of the critters have been adopted.

The Humane Society’s second annual Open House this Saturday will re-unite the toy-breed dogs and their new “Chihuahua parents,” and celebrate a community that came together to support the organization.

In what Spearfish Animal Control Officer Tate Hayford described as the worst case of animal abuse he had ever seen, Spearfish police discovered the animals late on April 25 crammed into an SUV in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store. When officers inspected the Chevy Trailblazer, they found 36 dogs and six cats held in several 3-foot-by-2-foot kennels. The conditions were so cramped that some of the dogs weren’t able to lie down.

Police later arrested a Wisconsin woman on suspicion of animal neglect and mistreatment. The woman told authorities she and her husband had been transporting the animals from Washington State to Wisconsin. Lawrence County Assistant State’s Attorney Kari Nordstrom told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1N8ra2j ) that multiple misdemeanor charges against the woman eventually were dismissed.

The seizure taxed the facilities and staff of the Western Hills Humane Society, which issued a public plea for supplies, food, donations and volunteers soon after the animals arrived at its Spearfish facilities. Compounding the situation was the fact three of the small-breed dogs were pregnant and soon delivered 17 more puppies to the equation.

All told, the seizure cost the Humane Society more than $5,000, which includes the costs of having each of the animals spayed or neutered, society Co-Director Brenda Hendricks said Monday.

But, of the 49 dogs and six cats, only one dog remains housed at the Humane Society, Hendricks said.

“He’s very hesitant of trusting humans and he still won’t let us hold him,” she said. “But he’s happy and this is probably the best he’s had it in his life.”

While the puppies born since the seizure got a great start at the society shelter, the puppy mill dogs presented greater challenges, Hendricks said.

“The puppies that were born in our care were great, but taking an adult dog from a puppy mill is a different thing,” she said. “All of them had to be potty trained. But some learned to walk on a leash. Others found out what grass was for the first time.”

Angela Winchester, an airman and family services flight chief at Ellsworth Air Force Base, was one of those who stepped forward to help save the seized dogs.

When Winchester lost her beloved 14-year-old Shih Tzu, Cola, to cancer last January, she wasn’t sure she would ever bring another dog into her Rapid Valley home.

But then after reading about the Spearfish police seizure of 36 toy-breed dogs and six cats last spring, a tiny little Lhasa apso named Simba turned her heart.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring another dog into my life, but I did want to make a donation,” Winchester said. “The whole thing was if I was going to adopt a dog, the dog had to want me.”

While examining all the potential adoptees in the shelter, the vast majority of which were Chihuahuas, Winchester said, a small Lhasa apso eyed her from its kennel, stuck its tiny paw through the bars and let out a little bark.

“I spent two and a half hours with her,” she said, giggling. “I think she adopted me.”

Winchester plans to attend Saturday’s open house in Spearfish, knowing Simba “will be the star of the show.”

Saturday’s open house will give Humane Society staff and volunteers the opportunity to thank the Spearfish community for its ongoing support, and those who adopted the animals the chance to meet each other.

“These dogs would have started another puppy mill in Wisconsin,” Hendricks said. “But this community really came together for us with so many contributions, food, supplies and monetary donations. This is our chance to take a deep breath and celebrate that it did turn out so well.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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