January 5, 2012 11:02:00 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
It's been a difficult month for the neglected herd of dogs and the volunteers who rescued them from a residence on Firetower Road in Macon and took them to a makeshift shelter for medical treatment and eventual adoption.
As Lydia Sattler, state director for the Humane Society, sped toward Noxubee County on Wednesday afternoon, she thought back to the rescue and the brown dog she hasn't been able to forget.
It was bitterly cold that December day when the dog was rescued from what her saviors described as deplorable conditions. It wasn't much, the garbage-strewn property, but it was all she had known for far too long. Her teats were grossly stretched, hanging low beneath her belly -- the byproduct of too many puppies and too much use.
But she was better off than her companions when she and 107 other dogs were seized from the home of Elaine Jewell, a former animal rescue worker whose property became overrun at times with more than 200 dogs.
Most of the dogs suffered varying degrees of skin ailments, almost hairless and nearly blinded by mange. Many had fleas, ticks and other parasites. Mississippi State University veterinarians did what they could for them, from tests to vaccinations.
Fourteen of the dogs had to be euthanized, Sattler said. Some had never been touched, and they snapped and bit out of a fear so strong that rescuers didn't feel they could ever be properly socialized. Others were in such poor physical condition and would require such extensive medical treatment that it was the kindest thing to do.
It was a pretty low number considering the scope of the rescue, Sattler said.
The brown dog was not among them. And so Sattler found herself headed to Macon to take the dog with the ever-wagging tail, the dog that had immediately stolen her heart, to a new home. It isn't permanent. It's a foster home. But it's a place where she can recuperate after the latest chapter in her story -- motherhood. Another litter of puppies. Three altogether, two black and one black and white.
The puppies were born in the shelter where the dogs were taken following their rescue. As Sattler drove, another dog was in labor there, perhaps already pushing more mewling pups out into the world. She and her puppies will also be taken to a foster home to recover.
Learning to play
The puppies are lucky. They'll have a life their mothers possibly never enjoyed. Over the past month, workers such as Jackie Beckstead, a responder with the Humane Society's Cruelty Response Team, have tried to teach the dogs a totally new trick -- how to play with toys.
"We have a huge area we call a playpen, where they get to play and get less fearful," Beckstead said. "It's been really wonderful to see them coming around and being dogs. They don't know how to fetch; they don't know what a toy is."
The dogs that are too afraid are given special attention, with workers sitting in their pens with treats and talking to them each day. In time, trust is built, Sattler said. And once trust is built, they can finally join their mates in the playpen.
"I'm just happy to be here," Beckstead said. "It's heartwarming to see them go from that to this."
Moving to shelters
By next week, the majority of the rescued dogs will be transported to shelters in Florida and Chicago.
The Humane Society will give $500 to shelters taking 10 dogs, $750 to shelters taking 15 and $1,000 to shelters taking 20. The money will be used for advertising through whatever means necessary to find them new forever homes.
When the last dog is placed, the volunteers -- many of whom stayed in Macon over the holidays to care for the animals -- will return to their own homes.
Reflecting on the experience, Sattler said she had a lot of respect for the people who gave up so much of their time to participate in what she called one of the largest canine rescues Mississippi animal rights activists have seen in recent years.
"There are great people taking care of the animals," she said. "Everything's gone pretty smoothly."
As for Jewell, she is not expected to face any criminal charges, and she willingly relinquished the animals to the Humane Society, Sattler said. Jewell was allowed to keep four small dogs, and she will be monitored on a monthly basis to make certain she doesn't begin collecting animals again.
As for the 108 dogs who called her property home, the new chapter of their lives is just beginning -- the waiting.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.