The Washington Animal Rescue League is welcoming 39 dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Kentucky to its Northwest D.C. facility, and all of them are looking for a good home.
The puppies -- miniature pinschers, schnauzers, westies and other mostly small breeds -- are part of a larger group of 136 canines that were removed earlier this week from a commercial dog breeding facility in Rowan County, Ky.
Pam Townson, spokesperson for Washington Animal Rescue League, says the owner of the mill pleaded guilty earlier this month to two counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and was forced to forfeit ownership of the dogs.
"The ASPCA let us know -- we partner with them on a lot of puppy mill rescues -- and they asked if we would take in some of the animals," Townson said as she stood outside the shelter with the puppies Tuesday.
The pups, who appeared cautious and excited at the same time, arrived in carriers loaded in the back of a semi-tractor trailer. As the unloading began, they were met by WARL's president, Dr. Gary Weitzman, who is immediately consumed with their welfare. (Weitzman is also a contributor to WAMU 88.5's program The Animal House.)
"Frankly, they've been through hell," he said. "That’s just the short answer. Many have been in hog crates, chicken wire crates, they've never touched the ground, they've never been petted, and in most cases have never had medical care."
But that will change, starting now, Weitzman added. First, the dogs were evaluated, vaccinated, and given a quick bath in a yellowish disinfectant that smells a lot like sulfur.
As trying as this might be for all involved, Weitzman said getting the animals physically conditioned and healthy enough for adoption is just part of the challenge.
"…But even harder, in a lot of cases, is to get animals who have never been a pet to learn how to be that," he said. "So we have about 10 trainers and behaviorists that work one-on-one with these dogs to get them to learn how to be dogs again."
Still, there is hope for any dog that has been rescued, which can often be seen in their wagging tails and playfulness, Weitzman said the day before the pups arrived. "In spite of the horror these dogs have been through, and lack of love or attention or compassion, they recover so quickly and in a lot of cases become dogs again," he says. "It's really amazing. They're afraid, but they come up and wag their tail and want to play. They've really forgiven us for what humanity has done to them pretty quickly."
Soon, all 39 dogs were relatively comfortable in their new, presumably temporary, digs. Following a full evaluation, all will be available for adoption and a move to a newer, more permanent home.