Puppy mill victims from Nebraska arrive at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Best Friends works with the Nebraska Humane Society after state officials shut down a bad breeder to help the dogs from this puppy mill.
By Kelli Ohrtman

Best Friends animal care and adoptions workers walked the aisles of the kennel, sizing up toy breed dogs who either froze in their tracks or panicked when approached. Led by representatives of the Nebraska Humane Society (NHS), Best Friends staff was on a mission to help some of the dogs recently rescued from a Nebraska puppy mill.

"This one actually has bitten me a few times," said Denise Gurss, NHS director of animal behavior, pointing at a scruffy little black dog struggling to get into a kennel in the corner of his run to escape the staring people.

Two other little, terrier-type dogs circled nervously and took turns stuffing themselves into the open crate to hide. Things weren’t going to be easy for the little dogs but no matter what, life would be infinitely better than where they came from.

Neglectful breeder forced to shut down

Two weeks earlier, a state inspector and the Dawson County Attorney finally confronted a Nebraska breeder who’d been keeping the dogs in horrific conditions. Things were so bad at his property, with hundreds of dogs living in tiny, filthy cages, that they gave him two choices: surrender his dogs on the spot or face prosecution for animal cruelty and neglect. He chose to give up his breeding dogs.

When Judy Varner, chief executive officer at NHS, got a call from county officials asking whether the shelter would be able to accept the 173 surrendered dogs, she replied, "Absolutely."

Shelter staff kicked into high gear preparing for the new arrivals. A day later, six truckloads of scared little dogs arrived.

Rescued little dogs

At one point in the whirlwind of media attention surrounding the rescue, Best Friends put in a call to the shelter to learn more. It seemed the NHS had things under control in record time; lining up foster homes, partnering with rescue groups and having staff taking individual dogs into their offices. Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Bichons, poodles, Yorkies and mixes of all of the above were starting to come out of their shells. Each day a few more would have a breakthrough tail wag, allow themselves to be petted or take a bit of food from human fingers. Most were improving by leaps and bounds.

But not all were.

Most traumatized mill pups

In talking with shelter staff, Best Friends learned that there were still ten to 20 dogs that were so traumatized, so unsocialized, that they couldn’t be touched or handled. Since the shelter had taken on such a large (but precious!) burden, it was decided that Best Friends could help with those dogs who were going to take longer to learn about life outside a puppy mill.

"Nebraska Humane has done a very good deed – not just for the dogs, but for all of us who are working to shut down these miserable establishments," said Best Friends president Michael Mountain. "NHS staff has put in the extra time and work to make life better for the dogs – no small feat for an already-busy shelter. We’re delighted we could play a small part in this rescue."

Now Best Friends has ten new very special residents, including the biting, scruffy little terrier. His foster mom is Sherry Woodard, animal behavior consultant at Best Friends. He’s already been neutered, groomed and loved under her care.

Kristi Littrell, Best Friends adoption coordinator said, "When they told us this dog was the one who has bitten people and redirects, right away I thought ‘that one’s Sherry’s!’"

Finally the dogs are getting what every dog deserves: a clean, safe place to live and to be loved, valued and wanted.

Learn more about puppy mills

Photo by Best Friends staff

Ending Puppy Mills