When the ASPCA was asked to assist with an animal cruelty case involving nearly 300 Caucasian Shepherds in Nye County, Nevada, last August, Nevadans immediately took notice.
It wasn’t just the cruelty that stood out, but the size of the dogs. This breed can grow to over 100 lb. and stand over two feet tall.
Ed R. and his wife, Sydney, learned on social media that some dogs were available for adoption at the Nevada Humane Society (NHS) in Reno. Two days before Thanksgiving, they adopted the last pup available, whom they named Rambo “because he is going to be so big,” Ed says.
Similarly, Karen B. and her husband, Blair, weren’t looking for a giant male puppy but fell for Mashy, one of a litter of pups dubbed the “potato” dogs.
“I’m thinking he’s going to be a whopper,” says Karen, who re-named the puppy Quinn.
Jennifer and Tom F.’s pup, Curly Fry, now called Cowboy, is also growing fast.
“I know he’s going to be large,” Jennifer says.
In this rescue case, everything seemed larger than life.
Coping with a Challenging Environment
Dr. Laurie Millward, Senior Director of Veterinary Services for the ASPCA Cruelty Recovery Center (CRC) in Ohio, was the first veterinarian from the ASPCA to arrive at the temporary shelter location in Pahrump, Nevada, on September 1.
“This was one of the more challenging cases of my career on many different levels,” Dr. Millward says. “Learning to work in 115-degree temperatures, doing field medicine in that heat and meeting the needs of such a large population of dogs was a huge undertaking.”
Most of the dogs exhibited signs of heat stress, living in outdoor kennels and with heavy coats of long hair.
“We gave them fluids, cooled their paws, covered their kennels with mesh to protect them from direct sun and installed sprinklers with a gentle mist to cool them during the hottest times,” says Dr. Millward.
Caring for the caregivers was also a priority.
“We had to care for ourselves so that we could care for them,” Dr. Millward says, noting that responders were careful about staying hydrated and ensuring they adhered to scheduled breaks. “We shifted our work hours to start earlier to avoid the hottest times during the late afternoon.”
Fighting to Survive
When the ASPCA’s Terry Mills, Director of Blood Sports Investigations, and Kyle Held, Director of Investigations, arrived, they removed dogs from their pens and handled them during their forensic exams.
“Veterinarians singled out 19 dogs in poor condition,” says Terry. “Theirs were some of the worst cases I’ve ever seen in a large population of dogs. We observed missing limbs, untreated injuries that were life-threatening and infections. Some were aggressive, making them difficult to handle.”
Dr. Millward described dogs that were underweight and dehydrated, with wounds, skin infections, parasites and severely matted hair. Some suffered from canine parvovirus; others had eyelid issues and hip dysplasia. They ranged in age from newborns to 10 years.
The dogs also suffered behaviorally.
“Fighting among dogs is common when the animals are housed in cramped spaces and competing for resources,” says Dr. Crista Coppola, Senior Director of Animal Behavior at the CRC, where many dogs were later transported for ongoing behavioral and medical treatment and eventual placement.
“Many dogs were also fearful, likely due to a lack of socialization,” she adds. “Some fled when we approached, desperate to get away from us, while others cowered and flattened themselves to the ground, trembling violently.”
‘Heartbreaking and Horrifying’
Leigh Anne Wilson, Director of Investigations for the ASPCA Legal Advocacy and Investigations team and the case’s lead investigator says it’s one of the most brutal cases she’s ever worked on.
“The sheer quantity of dogs, the conditions they were in—was heartbreaking and horrifying at the same time,” she says.
Leigh Anne arrived after the Nye County Sheriff’s Office moved the dogs to a temporary shelter. Animal cruelty charges were filed, and the criminal case, still active, is being prosecuted by the Nye County District Attorney’s Office.
“We knew there were going to be a lot of dogs—large breed dogs—and large breeds have large litters,” says Leigh Anne. “We also knew they’d be challenging from a medical and behavior perspective, as they had likely been suffering for a prolonged time.”
Teresa Ladner, Senior Director of Investigations for the ASPCA, is a retired FBI agent supervisor and served as the Incident Commander for this case.
“Because of my FBI experience, I can compartmentalize,” says Teresa. “But as I walked the yard, it brought tears to my eyes, seeing the conditions of these dogs.”
A Team Effort
The massive case required assistance from 13 partner responders and response partner organizations, including Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Dumb Friends League (CO), Florida SARC; Horry County (SC) Police Department, Helping Paws Across Borders, Humane Society of Boulder Valley, Kentucky Humane Society, Massachusetts SPCA, Nevada Humane Society, Oregon Humane Society, South Carolina’s Saint Frances Animal Center, San Diego Humane and Washington State Animal Response Team.
From September 1 to November 15, 256 responders—up to 40 a day—worked more than 17,000 hours on the case. Their roles included sheltering operations, medical, logistics, behavior, relocation and placement, safety and compliance, incident command and operations, forensics, media and resources. The ASPCA also provided legal assistance. Teams rotated in and out for one to two weeks at a time.
Finding New Homes
Nevada Humane Society was one of seven placement partners providing adoption support, taking in 16 dogs from the case, most of them eight-to 10-week-old puppies.
“They all found homes the same day they were made available,” says Nikki Moylan, Marketing Coordinator at NHS. “It was amazing.”
Most of the dogs were eventually placed for adoption by the ASPCA Centralized Placement team, which works with shelters and rescues nationwide to find homes for animals from cruelty, neglect or disaster cases, and for animals the ASPCA has rehabilitated.
“Through our Placement Partners, we match available animals with shelters and rescues with the resources to give each animal the best chance at adoption. We then follow through to ensure both the partner and the animal have the support they need,” says Jessica Rushin, Director of Placement Partnerships. “We couldn’t do our work without their help.”
Other organizations placing dogs from this case include CHA Animal Shelter in Columbus, OH; Columbus (OH) Humane; Geauga (OH) Rescue Village; Humane Society of Boulder Valley; Roanoke (VA) Valley SPCA; and Toledo (OH) Humane.
These placements represent a new chapter in the lives of the people and the pets they adopted.
Ed and Sydney’s dog Rambo is now a companion to the couple’s 11-year-old boxer, Willie.
“They play quite a bit,” says Ed, adding that Rambo is affectionate and gets along with the couple’s several cats. “Rambo’s part of the family. Standing flat-footed, he can see over the kitchen counter. He’s growing like a weed and is over 90 lb.”
At 80 lb., Quinn is also in a happy home.
“I saw him on the news and fell in love with his black muzzle and four white paws,” Karen says. “I knew he was meant to be ours. Now he’s a big, silly love bug.”
Karen takes Quinn to her bookkeeping and accounting job, where he loves meeting customers and other dogs. At home, he socializes with the family’s dogs, cats and goats. He’s also enrolled in obedience training.
“He may not be at all what we wanted, but he’s everything we needed,” Karen says.
Amanda A. and her husband, Ryan, weren’t surprised when NHS called, asking Amanda to foster four puppies from the case, including Cowboy.
The fosters were seven to eight weeks old and not yet socialized, but they soon got to know the couple’s two dogs and the family’s goats, chickens, cats and two teenagers. A real estate agent in Tahoe, Amanda gets her fosters in front of fellow agents and clients to find them homes.
“I like to get adopters lined up,” says Amanda, who introduced Cowboy to Jennifer F., a real estate colleague whose dog died in July. Jennifer adopted Cowboy two days after she met him.
Amanda will never forget her “potato” pups.
“Fostering isn’t so much for me or us,” she says. “It’s for them.”
A Lasting Impression
Those who worked on the case won’t soon forget it.
For Leigh Anne, the greatest satisfaction is seeing the dogs at their best after seeing them at their worst.
“It’s night and day,” she says. “Even Russet, the mother of the ‘potato’ litter, was timid but now plays with other dogs and has come out of her shell. It’s remarkable.”
Dr. Coppola adds that it’s heartening to see many formerly fearful dogs learning to enjoy interaction with people.
Dr. Millward will remember this case for the dedication and resilience of the people and teams who worked on it. Despite the challenging emotional and environmental components, no one complained, and some responders returned multiple times.
“Every single person made a difference,” says Dr. Millward. “This experience will forever be one of the most meaningful things I’ve done in my career, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.”
Other dogs from this case are still available for adoption in Columbus, Ohio, and Asheville, North Carolina. Adopt one today to give them the second chance they deserve!
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