“A lot of them have that dead gloom in their eyes. Everybody here knows we can turn this around.”
VERNON — Amid the smell of years-old feces and the sound of dozens of wailing dogs, volunteers and representatives from rescue groups across the country gathered at a property in Vernon on Monday to begin gathering almost 80 Great Pyrenees dogs from a horrific hoarding case.
The rescue groups, which traveled from as far away as Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee, assisted Freeport-based Alaqua Animal Refuge in removing the dogs, which were willed to Alaqua when their owner passed away last week.
The dogs were living in filthy conditions inside and outside the home. Urine and feces were piled up in various rooms of the house, the air conditioning hadn’t worked in years and the dogs, many of whom had never had contact with humans before, recoiled at the touch of people's hands. Many of them were malnourished, had hip issues, were missing teeth or suffered other dire medical needs.
“(The owner) did love her dogs. It was more of a breeder mentality,” Alaqua founder Laurie Hood said. “A lot of them have that dead gloom in their eyes. Everybody here knows we can turn this around.”
Hood and the 10 other animal rescue organizations met at the 35-acre rural property early Monday morning and began the arduous task of rounding up, vetting and removing the dogs from the home.
Jan Dukes, director of operations of Big Fluffy Dog Rescue in Nashville, Tennessee, said she had been keeping in touch with Hood ever since she found out about the dogs’ situation.
“I think we’re all kind of banging our heads against the wall saying, ‘How did it get like this?’ ” Dukes said. “When Laurie reached out, we all kind of put our heads together and, well, here we are.”
The 45 volunteers divided up into teams of handlers, medical assistants, “floaters” and transporters to remove the dogs from the property. Some of the dogs were difficult to find because they ran away from people and had dug tunnels under the home.
After being rounded up, the dogs were given quick emergency vetting services from Alaqua’s veterinarians and were distributed to different rescue organizations.
Representatives from the Big Bend Disaster Animal Response Team, based out of Tallahassee, were on hand with a horse trailer to help carry some of the dogs. President Haven Cook said it was one of the worst animal hoarding cases she had seen.
“It’s sad, and I wish they had been able to resolve the situation while the owner was still alive,” Cook said. “But, on the other hand, there are a lot of homes for these dogs. They are wanted.”
Melissa Forberg, an animal handler with the Florida State Animal Response Coalition, said the dogs were timid and not aggressive. She hoped with proper care they would be re-homed to families in the near future.
“This is pretty significant, not only because of the number of dogs but also the size of the dogs,” she said. “There aren’t as many placements for the giant breeds. These guys require special food, many of them have hip issues, they’re going to need medical intervention and they will definitely need socialization.”
By the end of the day, volunteers had successfully rescued 72 dogs and 15 cats from the property. Alaqua Animal Refuge took in 17 dogs and 10 cats, and will care for them until they are ready to be adopted. Hood wasn't sure when the animals would be healthy enough for new homes, but she was happy with the first step toward that goal.
“Today is just off the charts incredible,” Hood said. “It is such an honor to work with so many passionate people who love these animals and love this breed.”