“I’m no longer going to mourn the life that they have missed, I’m going to be proud to be a part of what’s next,” Courtney Underwood told PEOPLE of the 83 dogs she helped rescue with Alabama’s Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) from a filthy puppy mill operation last week.
Mourning was saved for July 2. That was the day Underwood, the Director of Marketing and Outreach at GBHS, other GBHS rescuers and Trussville police officers entered a Trussville, Alabama, home, after receiving a tip from a concerned citizen, and were confronted with “heart-wrenching” conditions.
Expecting to discover a hoarding situation, Underwood and the other rescuers were shocked and disturbed to find a dirty and inhumane puppy mill operating inside the home.
“Many of the animals, some of which are in the late stages of pregnancy, were crammed two to three in a wire cage. Dogs were together in stacked inadequate, wire-bottom cages and crates caked in excrement and filth. Most of the dogs are suffering from abscessed teeth and gum infections, along with other illnesses,” GBHS shared in statement about the rescue. “The stench permeating the grounds was so bad, officers had to cover their mouths and noses. All of the dogs’ fur was so matted with dirt and waste that volunteer groomers had no choice last Tuesday but to shave the dogs in order to treat skin irritations caused by them standing in their own urine and feces for extended periods of time.”
The canines were of various ages — with some just a few days old — and breeds, including Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Schnauzers, Boston terriers, Yorkies, Pekingese and Shih Tzus.
The dozens of dogs where immediately rushed to GBHS, where veterinarians, vet students from Auburn University and vet techs were standing by to provide exams, heartworm treatment, flea and tick medication and other medical care.
GBHS plans to continue looking after all of the canines until they are healed and in forever homes. Right now the focus is on treating the dogs’ dental issues, helping the canines who arrived pregnant through their births and finding foster homes for all 83 of the dogs until they are healthy and happy enough to be adopted out to pet parents.
For many of the dogs, some happiness is already here.
“I went from seeing them at their lowest point on Monday night to spending the entire day Tuesday working alongside a team of general volunteers and volunteer groomers to bathe and groom every single one of them. I watched as they got to run around in the grass and bask in the sun. They got cuddled and kissed and carried around like infants,” Underwood said of how the dogs’ lives have changed already.
Unfortunately, it is hard to forget the dark past, that “lowest point” Underwood mentioned.
“In this case it appears breeding money was more important than the health and well-being of the animals. And that is the very definition of a puppy mill operation,” Allison Black Cornelius, Chief Executive Officer of GBHS, said in a statement.
GBHS plans to support the passing of a bill to protect against puppy mills now more than ever.
As for the owners who were selling these dogs from their home, they aren’t facing charges since they voluntarily surrendered the dogs and agreed to pay a $25 surrender fee for each dog rescued. If they do not actually pay the fees, they could face charges, according to GBHS.
Underwood hopes that this rescue helps clear up some misconceptions about puppy mills.
“A puppy mill can be right next door to you. In your neighbor’s backyard, basement or garage. When they are busted it is the nonprofit shelters and tax payers that foot the bill,” she said. “A puppy mill is any breeder that puts profit over the animal’s health and well-being.”
If you do choose to buy a dog over adopting one, only purchase a pooch from a reputable breeder that you have extensively researched.
“Support puppy mill legislation with your money, your time, and your vote. These laws regulate breeders and provide some kind of ‘seal of approval’ or licensing that assures consumers they are dealing with an inspected breeder,” Underwood advised. “Responsible breeders do not have a problem with being inspected, it culls the bad guys out and elevates good breeders giving them a competitive advantage. Ask yourself why any responsible breeder would be opposed to inspections of their kennels and practices?”
As for the 83 dogs pulled from this Alabama puppy mill, you can help by donating to GBHS, which relies on grants and donations to cover their rescues, medical care and supplies. Those looking to welcome another dog into their lives can also keep an eye out for these pups on GBHS’s adoption page, or help foster them now. The dogs have received exams, medical treatments and grooming sessions; the shelter is planning on spaying and neutering all of the canines and then putting them up for adoption once they are healthy and comfortable enough to move to a forever home.