This spring, as COVID-19 cases multiplied across the nation, the Northern Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals faced the challenge of finding homes for more than 100 dogs that came from the same property in Churchill County.
The canines were corgi, schipperke, pug, terrier, and Pomeranian mixes. The Fallon Animal Welfare group couldn’t handle a pack that large. They were small dogs, but in the middle of a pandemic, getting them adopted could be a big problem.
The pups lived outdoors on a farm and weren’t used to being indoors or around people they didn’t know. They would have to be checked out by a veterinarian and become “socialized” by working with their keepers while in the shelter. Prospective adopters would have to pick an animal online rather than in person.
“The dogs had been well cared for, (but) their guardian was in over her head,” explained Laura Van Antwerp, SPCA communications manager. She said the property owner wasn’t a dog “hoarder” who collected the animals. She had started out with a few mixed-breed pups. None were spayed or neutered. Nature took its course.
“Because none of the dogs were fixed, the population had grown dramatically,” Van Antwerp said. The property owner’s days were spent caring for the animals who roamed around the farm and gathered together at feeding times. It was a barking, yapping, affectionate menagerie, but the woman was getting overwhelmed. She needed help, but feared for the fate of her pets.
SPCA makes a promise
“In talking to (the property owner), we could sense she was hesitant to let them go. Would we make sure they didn’t get euthanized? Would they all be OK? We promised her not only would they be happy and healthy, but we would make sure each and every dog went home to a wonderful, loving family.” — Laura Van Antwerp, SPCA communications manager.
Each week during the summer, staffers from the Fallon Animal Welfare Group brought five to 10 dogs to the Reno shelter. Because of Covid-19, resources were tight, the SPCA couldn’t care for more than just a few at a time.
“While the dogs were sweet and friendly, many were extremely fearful, anxious, and under-socialized,” Van Antwerp said. “So our team went above and beyond to help them build confidence and feel loved.”
One-by-one, the animals’ portraits were posted on the internet. Prospective adopters shopped for their new family members with the clicks of a mouse.
By autumn, the more than 100 dogs became more than 100 happy endings.
Pensive pup adopts a family
“It took three different tries to get a puppy,” said Dobnei Remington of Reno, who searched the SPCA website in June. “We knew we wanted a small dog and we applied as fast as we could, but the puppies were adopted fast.”
The family already had two larger dogs, but Remington wanted her two children to “have the puppy experience.” Her patience paid off. On their third try, the family adopted Millie, a schipperke who looks like a little black corgi. They picked up the two-month-old pup without telling the children.
“When we got home, the children went wild; they just adored her,” Remington said. Based on the dog’s behavior in the shelter, staff members warned the family that the pup would be shy, timid and nervous. Yet, Millie acclimated quickly to her new surroundings. These days, the puppy wrestles with the family cat, who is about her size, and then cuddles up to nap with the feline. The larger dogs accepted their new sister right away.
Hadley, 4, hugs Millie gently. Preston, 8, noticed that Millie has different barks for different situations. As Remington spoke during a recent phone interview, Preston and Millie could be heard in the background carrying on a conversation in fluent dog talk. “Millie was never really timid with us,” Preston said. “She fit right in.”
Older dogs also fared well
Maria Agurto and her husband, Joe Ireland, also got the older pup they wanted. They adopted Bumi, 4, another schipperke mix, during the summer. Bumi was nervous in his new home at first, but he adapted over time.
“These dogs were raised outside, so they didn’t know how to act inside a home,” Agurto said. “Working it out was a little hard at first, but we have another rescue dog that was very similar.” The couple was warned that the animal might be afraid to be held and petted. “He was withdrawn,” Agurto said. “But now he is very cuddly, very sweet.”
She said it took weeks to get Bumi house trained, but it was worth the effort. “It doesn’t happen overnight with a rescue dog,” she said. “You need to be very patient. He’s learning and we can already tell he’s a great dog.”
Society needs community support
VanAntwerp said challenges like the 100-dog rescue come up frequently in Nevada, but few shelters can handle such situations. As a no-kill facility, the Northern Nevada SPCA is committed to finding forever homes for all the creatures in its care.
“It was a bit harder for us this time due to the (pandemic) restrictions,” she said. “The property owner lives in a rural area where affordable spay and neuter surgeries are not accessible. It’s also a reason why we promote spaying and neutering pets, as well as offering affordable services because when people can’t afford it this is the type of thing that happens.”
She said the SPCA is asking residents to donate to help the society continue its work, particularly before “Giving Tuesday,” Dec. 1, when all donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar.