.....A True Story

by Vicki Rodenberg DeGruy, Wisconsin Chow Chow Rescue

I'll never forget the tags in their ears. Cattle tags, meant to be permanent, had been punched through the right ears of 100 adult dogs. The dogs had no names, just numbers - the numbers on the tags.

Less than an hour from the site of our 1989 national Chow Chow specialty show, there was a puppy mill. Most of the dogs were small breeds: Pekingese, Pomeranians, Pugs, Yorkies, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzu, Silky Terriers, Scotties, Cairns, Schnauzers, "Poo-mixes" ("Pekeapoos", "Cockapoos", etc.), Miniature Pinschers, Shelties, American Eskimos, West Highland White Terriers and more. All had been raised in a dark barn. Cages with wire floors, stacked to the ceiling. Two or more adults to a cage. The breeder owned two pet stores in another city and also sold to pet brokers. She had been in business over five years. She often acquired her breeding stock from pet owners who were giving away their dogs.

On April 1st, 1991, the kennel was closed by the Jefferson County Humane Society. After years of unsuccessful court battles, the shelter gave up trying to fight it. They scratched up enough money and bought the dogs outright.

Jefferson County, Wisconsin, is a rural, farm area. There are no major cities, just small towns. The Humane Society sits in the middle of nowhere, used to dealing with average numbers of strays. Although they had made this decision, they weren't prepared to cope with all those dogs, almost 200 of them. They picked up the phone and called for help. One of their first calls was to Wisconsin Chow Rescue, sponsored by the Wisconsin Chow Chow Club, Inc. We were told there were 7 adult Chows and two four week old puppies. Three of us went up to evaluate and salvage what Chows we could.

Word spread fast. When we got there, the place was crawling with people eager to adopt the kennel's many little puppies. Two television stations were filming the chaos. The shelter was overwhelmed, busy trying to scrub dirty babies and save the dying ones. They had already done the dirtiest work. For three days, they had been hauling dogs in from the mill, euthanizing the nasty-tempered and the medically hopeless.

Considering what we had long known about this breeder, the scene at the shelter wasn't surprising. The dogs were filthy and sick, matted with dirt and feces. Toenails grown completely around, piercing into little feet. Most of the dogs sat very still in their crates, almost catatonic with dazed expressions. But it was the ear tags that we didn't expect.

It was grim. The three adult Chow males had been destroyed already. They were unapproachable and a shelter worker was bitten. The mill's owner told them that the Chows had never had leads on before. Of the four remaining adult females, we felt only two might be adoptable and those two were "iffy". Knowing what they had been through, how confused and afraid they were, made the evaluations harder. How much of the dogs' reactions to us was simply unsocialized fear? Could they be rehabilitated? Between the three of us, we had over 60 years of Chow experience but it didn't seem like enough to answer those questions.

We were under pressure. TV cameras were on us anxious to broadcast a happy ending. We had been the first "rescue" group to arrive. They thought we were heroes come to save the day. It was a hard and painful decision. Would they know just how much it hurt us not to be able to help all of them? How could we expect the TV people to understand we could not take the pretty blue because her hysterics were caused by heredity and not temporary confusion?

The decisions made, we focused on the next task - getting the frightened girls into the truck. One Chow puppy had died before the shelter could get it, the other sat too quietly near her dam in the kennel run. She was adorable, the crowd's darling, the star of the 10 o'clock news that night. She sat in our laps all the way home, never moving, so very tiny. Her gums were white from anemia. The next day, my vet was unusually somber. The puppy's blood was so thin and watery, he couldn't get a white cell count. After worming, boosting her with electrolytes and vitamins, he set her survival chances at 50-50.

After the shock of the ear tags, the other shock for us was the overall quality of the dogs. These adult Chow females were some of the nicest we had ever rescued. Some of the breeds, especially the Pekes, Pugs and Shelties were close to show quality. How in God's name did this breeder get them? Their registration papers are unavailable to us, so we'll never be able to track down the sources.

Just a few days later, there will be some happy endings. Because of the TV coverage and publicity, most of the dogs will be placed in a short time. They will finally be beloved companions, the kind of lives they deserve. The two Chow females will be here for awhile, recuperating and being socialized. One of them, the puppy's dam, shows promise. The other will take some work. Our phones have been ringing off the hook. Everyone wants the little puppy they saw on TV. They don't ask about the adults.

Our puppy is improving already, gums have a little color and she has some spark again. She is beginning to act like a puppy her age should. The vet said she's not out of the woods yet but we're optimistic. She wants to live. We'll name her "Lucky".

We think alot about the Chows that didn't make it. When I went back to the shelter the day after we took the girls, the two we left behind were gone. I didn't have to ask where they were. In some ways, they're lucky, too. In God's kennel, dogs don't wear ear tags.


originally published in CHOW LIFE magazine, 1991
Vicki DeGruy, all rights reserved.


Read about "Lucky's" Happy Ending