FROM START TO FINNISH
A THREE-PART INSIDER’S VIEW OF THE RESCUE OF 63 FINNISH LAPPHUNDS FROM A NORTHERN CALIFORNIA HOARDER
BY JAN FLORES
PART I: THE RESCUE
FIRST NIGHT: January 21, 2014
At the time of the rescue (two years ago) I had been volunteering at a humane shelter where I had walked the dogs for about five years, working with dogs who have been turned in because they were unloved, unwanted, too much responsibility, sick, old, injured, ill-mannered, or simply because their people don’t want them anymore. I’d like to believe that taking them for walks, or just taking the time to pay attention to them, helped them to adjust to shelter life while they wait to be adopted.
I’d never participated in an animal rescue, but I had tortured myself (still do; it’s like an affliction) by educating myself about the horror of puppy mills, where dogs are forced to breed litter after litter while existing in squalor and neglect, crammed into crates and cages barely big enough for them to turn around in, never seeing—in many cases—the light of day; never receiving medical care; never feeling a touch from a human hand that won’t hurt them.
But I had always wanted to do more than send money to rescue groups. So when I received an email from the shelter in January about an upcoming rescue of (what we thought would be) 35 Finnish Lapphund dogs from a breeder/hoarder in Northern California, I immediately volunteered to help. We were told to be at the shelter by 7:00 PM, at which time assignments would be given out.
Typical Finnish Lapphund
I was excited as I drove to the shelter that night. All I knew was that our Behavior and Training Team had traveled to Redding (about four or five hours north) early that morning to rescue 35 Finnish Lapphunds. I had never heard of the breed so I had gone online to find out.
I learned that: over hundreds of years, Finnish Lapphunds evolved from hunters to herding dogs that are used in their native country not only to herd reindeer but to be companion dogs. Intelligent, alert, friendly and eager to learn, they are double-coated, which makes them intolerant of the heat. Because they still retain their herding instincts, they require daily exercise.
I couldn’t wait to meet them.
So there we were, waiting anxiously for the van and truck to arrive. Seven PM came and went, then 8:00, then 9:00. The staff member who had been assigned to organize the volunteers into groups—some to put out food and water, others to walk the dogs so they could stretch their legs and relieve themselves, still others to make sure that the individual kennels had beds and blankets—had given us our assignments. We were ready, but where were the rescuers?
We waited for a call, but cell service from what turned out to be a rather remote area was at first non-existent. At last, through some static, we learned that the original 35 dogs they had gone to rescue had swelled to 61. At first the owner had been unwilling to let the staff into her house, but when she finally relented, they understood why she had been so reluctant.
It was a nightmare.
In addition to piles and heaps and bags of garbage typical in a hoarding situation, they found small crates (see below) stacked on top of each other along the walls. The stacks, which in some cases reached almost to the ceiling, held dogs of all sizes, colors and ages. Some crates housed only one wretched occupant, but others were home to two or more. Conditions were so crowded the animals could barely move. The smell was overwhelming; all the dogs were in such poor shape that the rescuers quickly determined no one would be left behind. We were told to brace ourselves.
It was nearly 10:00 when the vehicles finally arrived. Because we had twice as many dogs as we had anticipated, chaos immediately ensued. Many of the volunteers forgot their assignments in the rush to get the dogs into the shelter as quickly as possible. After just one glimpse of the horror that greeted us, it was obvious that the first priority had to be freeing the dogs from cages with rusted bars, and prying open crates that had ragged holes in the sides and even the floors–evidence that, for some time, the imprisoned dogs had frantically tried to chew their way out.
One of the crates–filthy, with rust on the wire door. If you look closely, you can see two dogs inside.
In the hospital/clinic part of our shelter, we have five “wards” with six kennels each, plus more in the actual hospital section. It wasn’t enough. We had so many dogs that we had to double—and in some cases, triple—the number of dogs in each kennel.
Although we tried to be mindful of what they had been through, the noise level and all the activity was scaring the already-frightened dogs even more. Despite their filthy and confined quarters, many of them were afraid to come out and shrank to the back of their crates; others finally emerged and ran to the rear of their new kennels, curling into tight little balls, as if trying to make themselves invisible. Even though their new (temporary) homes were so much larger than what they had been accustomed to, they were obviously overwhelmed. It quickly became apparent that taking them outside for a walk wasn’t going to happen.
We decided that enough was enough for the night. They had clean quarters, fresh water and food, and beds with blankets. It was time to leave them alone.
Tomorrow we’d start sorting things out.
End PART I
Read PART II Wednesday 8/3/16
© Janis Flores