Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Montana English Shepherd Update

The English shepherd hoarder/puppymiller in Ballantine, MT has been raided:


Billings Gazette

NESR is getting updates several times a day from the authorities.

We hope to have a team on the ground in Montana shortly. NESR hopes to cover the costs of sending our volunteers into the Great White North. (Full disclosure: the intention is that I will be one of them.) So show some love.

The pugs are AWOL since the first raid a few weeks ago. An accurate body count on the deceased animals will probably have to wait until thaw.

Guys, I wish I could tell you more, but if I did, I'd have to kill you. Sorry.

So let's talk about rescuing neglected English shepherds, in general terms.
Here's a picture of Zippy, who I fostered in 2005, taken the day I went to evaluate six dogs, and bring one back to foster:

Zippy was seven months old and weighed 13.5 pounds.

That is not a typo. Thirteen pounds, eight ounces. Seven months old.

The vet estimated her "normal" weight for that age to be about 35 pounds. Of course it wasn't just that she was skeletal -- she and her littermates were stunted. Basically, even their skeletons were emaciated. The emaciated adult dogs dumped with them showed how weird that would eventually look.

Zippy and five relatives came from the same kind of festering hole as the Montana dogs. An ersatz "breeder" who thought she would make a profit, but ended up a hoarder of sorts, with stunted, sick, starving animals running semi-feral and somehow reproducing more of the same.

Six of them ended up at a rural dog pound. Their loving owner was in the habit of periodically dropping off the worst, most unsellable dogs.* She knew what morning each week they cranked up the gas chamber, and always brought in dogs just before closing the night before. Owner turn-ins don't get three days of legally-mandated grace.

See, she didn't want them to get adopted. Figured it might cut into her sales of English shepherds -- done mostly out the back of a truck at the local livestock auction -- if the pound adopted any of them out. Certainly wasn't going to pay a vet to kill them for her, and was too cowardly to kill them herself.

Fortunately for Zippy and her relatives, the pound staff had had it with that crap. They contacted NESR, and held the dogs over, giving us a week to get them out.

All of them walked out alive. All of them thrived in foster. All of them were adopted. All of the adoptions were successful.

Thing about Zippy -- unhandled, unsocialized, unfed, and product of probably five generations of first-degree incestuous unions (first degree = parent/offspring and brother/sister) -- thing about Zippy is, she has one of the best temperaments of any dog I've ever known. Can you say bounce back?

Bombproof. Fantastic dog social skills. Outgoing. And cheerful. OhmyDog, Zippy is cheerful. There's always a pony under there in Zippy-world.

I guess when you were born in Hell, normal life is Heaven every day.

I had Zippy only a couple of months -- fed her, vetted her, trained and socialized her. She slid into my pack like they'd been holding a slot for her. Unlike some of the real rehab projects I take in, Zippy didn't need much specialized work -- Zippy didn't need a trainer. She needed to get on with her life.

One day I had an epiphany. Thought of a client who was broken up over a failed adoption -- a local shelter let this family take a dog who they were totally unprepared to deal with, and then acted affronted when they admitted they were out of their depth and returned her. (If you must know -- adolescent American bulldog, stone deaf, who had been taught exactly one skill in her year and a half on earth -- to seriously bite feet as a "game." The highest level of "project dog" for a professional or serious hobbyist looking for a challenge. Adopted to a family of warm nurturer-types with no large-dog experience, no training experience, a fragile elderly small terrier, a young child, and a couple older cats.)

So I brought Zippy by, and that was it. Here was a dog that my clients could "save," who required nothing more than good food, good medical care, love, exercise, a little training.

Here's Zippy a few weeks after she settled in to her forever home:

She's playing with her foster-brother, Moe. He loves to go visit Zippy. She gets him.

Zippy is damned funny-looking. Has several health problems that stem from her genetics and her early neglect. But she is a survivor. And she brings joy to her family every day.

If the authorities are as good as their word, if the prosecution succeeds in its quest, if the threat of parvo can be contained, if, if, IF ... then there will be hundreds of English shepherds vying for the Zippy role. Dogs who can be stellar pets, loyal farm dogs, stolid working partners -- who knows?

(Update on Gary, my current neglect-case foster: We've suddenly got four applications in to adopt him. I'm doing phone interviews on those, and hope to have him in a forever home soon. But we will sure miss him. He's a pleasant, low-key, amiable fellow who is just going to bloom given half a chance.)

* It's for this reason I put "hoarder" in scare quotes. Classically, the obsessive-compulsive hoarder never willingly gives anything up. It's the same for the person who hoards magazines as it is for the one who has 112 cats. But there's this weird nexus between puppymiller and hoarder that I've seen in several situations. These individuals continue to try to sell pups, but they are, well, less organized than a functional puppymiller. There is more desperation and less cost/benefit calculation at work in the neglect of the animals.


  1. I have been following the story of these Montana dogs. I feel so badly for them. poor dogs. I hope they get a second chance at life.

  2. Thankful to hear the Shepherds have someone looking out for them but still curious about the Pugs. Where they be? Their legs are short and they can't hardly breathe so I don't think they could have gotten far...

  3. Here's another post on the situation...


    Patti S.

  4. Patti, that's a closed list, so we mere mortals cannot view the discussion.

    I will not speculate on the winter migration of the Montana pug herd.

    I expect the authorities are asking the exact same question, rather pointedly.

    I rather doubt they've all dispersed down to Yellowstone for elk-hunting in the deep snow.

  5. It's a Flickr discussion, so if you have a free Flickr account, you can visit the site.

    The discussion is an update of the rescue by one of the volunteers in charge of the kenneling area for the dogs. From the discussion:

    "After all of the dogs I was in charge of were settled into their stalls, the silence was deafening. No barking, no growling, nothing. Just silence. With 189 dogs it was eerie."

    Patti S.

  6. Nope -- it's an invitation-only flatcoat discussion board -- YOU can see it when you log in to Flickr because you are a member.

  7. Since I am the author of the post to Flickr, here it is.

    Not sure if this story has hit the national news yet, but I am betting it will in a day or so. Since I work for the local sheriff's office and I know dogs, I was volunteered to help with the seizure of 189 dogs from a dog hoarder. I won't go into the legal aspect of it, but will share what I was put in the middle of.

    I was stationed at the drop off spot, where the dogs that were being brought in were checked by vets, microchipped, rabies vaccinated and then segregated into areas; Okay to be kenneled, sick, injured, too young and pregnant. I was in charge of the kenneling area. Me and my volunteers had to transport the dogs from the staging area down to a horse barn where they had to be released into stalls. Usually between 2-5 dogs per stall. These dogs have, more than likely, never had a human touch. They had no idea what a dog cookie was or even a leash. Most were malnurished. They were scared to death. Their huge pleading eyes met mine so many times, I was almost brought to tears just looking at them. I just had to keep working and only think of them being in a better place with fresh water, food and shelter. The 20 below weather we had last week they had to endure outside before we could get a warrant to seize them.

    The dogs we were handling were English Shepherds. Very sweet looking dogs. Only a couple of them seemed aggressive, the rest were just scared. I can't even imagine what is going through their heads. First they are taken from their group at their home, then they are put into a crate, driven in a horse trailer, taken out, examined by the vet, given 2 shots, poked and proded, put back into that crate, driven down a hill, put into a horse stall and then taken out of the crate. Where food and water awaits. The journey wasn't fun, but I am betting they liked the destination.

    After all of the dogs I was in charge of were settled into their stalls, the silence was deafening. No barking, no growling, nothing. Just silence. With 189 dogs it was eerie.

    So, after a 13 hour exhausting day, I finally crawled into bed last night and cried myself to sleep. Izzy on top of me, not moving a muscle, Navarre on my feet, Cedar next to the bed on his orthopedic bed and Magi in her crate. I got my pay for helping those poor fuzzy souls when I came home and Izzy cleaned my face and cleaned my face and cleaned my face. It just put everything in perspective for me. So, now I want every single one of you to give your dogs a hug and tell them how very lucky they are!

  8. Bless you Jill.

    I hope to see you and thank you in person soon.

    The reports that are coming back, that the dogs are mostly not overtly aggressive, are very heartening and bode well for their futures.

    I had heard elsewhere about the silence, the dogs just collapsing to sleep, out of the wind, with food in their bellies. I can assure you that "silence" is not at the top of the repertoire for this breed.

    Please, please tell me that you thoroughly decontaminated yourself, changed clothes, and took all necessary measures to protect your own dogs from anything that these poor beings may be incubating.

  9. Thank you Jill for the update!

    (jan form NESR)

  10. Thanks so much for the insider view Jill. Our hearts go out to these dogs and I know many of us long to help, to let these animals know that there are better days ahead. I was encouraged by your account.

  11. Thank you so much for the update, Jill and for all that you and the volunteers are doing for these dogs. There is a very passionate community of English Shepherd owners that are desperate about this situation! Because we are a small breed club and an even smaller rescue group, we are marshaling all the resources we have to help in the best way we can. Heather is one of our very best resources and we are so fortunate that she is willing and able to go to Montana. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who is on the ground watching over these dogs.

  12. Don't worry, I made sure that I removed the shoes I was wearing in the field, put them in a bag before I even got into my van. I stopped at my parents' house and took a shower and washed my clothes in bleach. I have 4 dogs at home one of which was just diagnosed with liver cancer, so I was not going to take anything home to them.

    I really hope this so-called owner relinquishes her rights to those dogs so we can start finding them homes. From the initial fiasco they went through before I got them, they were scared, but for the most part, not aggressive. I think a lot of socialization will do wonders for them. I have a good feeling about most of these guys. A very patient person could make these dogs a very happy home. In my opinion.

    As one of my team held a puppy about 8 weeks old in her arms, my heart just went out to her. Her tear filled brown eyes, just said it all. She, of course, was sent back up to the staging area as I was not going to leave her with older dogs.

  13. I just finished a post on hoarding. Tufts has some very in-depth resources on the affliction including how one morphs from rescuer or breeder to hoarder.

    Sadly, the controlling breeder to hoarder type seems to be the most problematic to deal with -- and recidivism in all types is nearly 100%...

  14. Heather,

    Thanks for providing a place for information about the Montana Dogs. Most of us ES folks are waiting to lend whatever hand is needed in the upcoming months.

    Jill, I don't know how to say thank you except to say, Thank you.

    Kyt Eubanks

  15. Thank you Heather, Jill and everyone who is keeping this story updated and working hands-on or otherwise to help these dogs... thank you - thank you

    Sandi in NC and Ayla (NESR grad)

  16. Here is an updated news article about Kapsa and what the deputies found when they searched the property.

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