In November, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals helped Hendry County law enforcement care for more than 100 dogs seized from an unlicensed, substandard puppy mill in Clewiston, 100 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale. The dogs were found in crowded, filthy cages, with no access to clean drinking water or food and suffering from everything from skin and eye diseases to severe dental issues.
The puppy-mill owners, Beatriz Perez and Alexei Fernandez, were arrested on cruelty-related charges. The dogs, considered evidence, were taken to an undisclosed location, where the ASPCA treated them. Staff from the Humane Society of Broward County and Texas Humane Heroes came in to help. It was Thanksgiving weekend.
“Several of the dogs were heartworm-positive from living outside and being bitten by mosquitoes,” says Cherie Wachter, a spokesperson for the Humane Society of Broward County. “Some of the dogs were shy and, considering what they’ve been through, longed for human affection.”
By mid-December, the rescued dogs were ready to be adopted. They were dispersed to animal shelters across Florida. The Humane Society of Broward took in 21 dogs ranging from 1 to 8 years old. A Beagle mix and her 6-day-old puppies are spending time in a temporary foster home until they are old enough to be adopted. The 14 other dogs — Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers — were put on the adoption floor on December 18. They had been spayed and neutered, treated for heartworm disease, and socialized.
“Honestly, they all got adopted within two days,” Wachter says. “Most were young and little, and by Christmas, they had all found homes.”
Dean, a man from Tennessee, saw photos of Kody, an 8-year-old Pomeranian rescued from the puppy mill, on the Humane Society of Broward County’s Facebook page. He had been following the story and decided he would adopt Kody, even though he was older, heartworm positive, and bitten severely by mosquitoes. He drove more than 800 miles to Fort Lauderdale with his two grandchildren to adopt Kody.
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“Have you ever heard of anyone driving all that way to adopt an older dog?” Wachter says. “It was such a nice thing to do. He says he likes to take in older dogs that might not be adopted.”
Wachter explains that older dogs are kept at the puppy mills for breeding purposes. The majority of the puppies from the puppy mill in Clewiston were being sold to pet stores in Miami. Florida is one of only a handful of states that has no laws regulating animal breeding. Animal-rights activists argue this only perpetuates puppy-mill cruelty.
“See, to these breeders [preventative] heartworm pills are considered an expense,” Wachter explains. “These breeders were not interested in the animal’s safety. They wanted to keep costs low, and most of these dogs were heartworm-positive.”
The beagle-mix puppies will be put on the adoption floor in February. However, Wachter stresses that there are always dogs and cats at the Broward Humane Society that still need homes.