It was 9:00am Monday as we gathered for a morning strategy meeting at the Allegan Shelter. Just a few days before we had been notified Animal Control was planning to seize 40-60 Shih Tzus from a failed breeding operation. All of the dogs, we were told, would be brought to our shelter. So we had spent the weekend preparing, setting up spare kennel crates in the intake garage and planning a triage system to assess their medical needs. We figured we’d have just enough crates if we could double up some of the dogs. Sunday afternoon we contacted Becky McGeehee, a licensed vet tech at Mac’s Landing, and asked for her help with the triage. Fortunately both she and Dr. Hogarth were available and arrived bright and early Monday morning to take part in the planning.
But by mid morning our carefully laid plans had gone to hell. Our Office Administrator, Julie Kowal, was assisting Animal Control on site and was relaying information back to us. Almost immediately they realized that Animal Control estimates were off, there were more than 100 dogs on site. But since almost all were running loose within the house, they could not get an accurate count.
Our first reaction was to panic. Where would we house the dogs ? We barely had enough makeshift space for the original estimate of 60, but now with over a hundred we were in trouble, and it was going to get worse. By 1:00pm the count was 150 dogs and still climbing.
We were going to get hit with an unimaginable number of dogs and we knew there was nothing we could do about it. All our primary plans were now inadequate, and without 48 hours notice, none of the emergency services from HSUS, PetSmart Charities, or PetCo could help. We were alone…. or were we ?
While still waiting for the first wave of dogs to arrive, we called NewsChannel 3 in Grand Rapids with the single message “Hi, I’m calling from the Allegan County Animal Shelter. We are about to get hit with 200 dogs .. we need help!”.
Around 2:00pm the first wave of dogs arrived. Our tiny crew of 12 got to work. Each dog was photographed with a number, then assessed for health and injuries. It was shocking, the degree to which those souls were caked in feces and soaked in urine exceeded anything I’d seen in four years of shelter work. I remember thinking “how are we going to even make a dent in 200 dogs?”
And still.. it got worse. Around 3:30 the last of the trailers loaded with dogs arrived. Julie hopped out and gave us the final count.. 352 dogs, 12 cats, and 2 birds. “Are you kidding, I said ?” I looked around and counted just 32 dogs that had been assessed , heh.. 320 left to go. All I could do was chuckle.. at some point “bad” ceased to describe the situation.
And then… the tide shifted. I don’t know exactly when, but at some point I looked around and realized our tiny crew of 12 had swelled to perhaps 30. The media had got our message out and help was arriving. Dr. Connel, Dr. Main, and Dr. Adams had arrived and setup three more triage stations. The dogs were moving through more quickly. County Facility Services arrived and opened the old shelter building and began assembling old kennel panels into large makeshift pens. Volunteers had formed a line with dogs waiting for their turn in triage, others relocated dogs from trailers and trucks into the makeshift pens. And the Allegan Pizza Hut arrived with a dozen pizzas and soda.. what a blessing….
Volunteers continued to arrive into the evening. Dr. Connel’s wife and vet techs arrived, as did Dr. Main’s, and it seems like the entire staff from Mac’s Landing arrived to lend a hand after they closed up the clinic for the day.
I think it was around 8:45pm that the last of the dogs was brought through triage. A cheer went up from the crowd of some 80 volunteers. People laughed, others cried, it was truly inspiring.
But the task was far from over. We still had 352 dogs to feed and clean up after, plus our regular shelter residents of 70+ cats and dogs. My mind was swimming with thoughts of how we were going to keep the kennels clean and feed them. And the filth! Good grief, the majority of the dogs were encrusted with feces and soaked with urine. I had visions of grooming dogs for weeks.
Around 2:30am an exhausted shelter staff and volunteers closed up and headed home. What a day.
We returned bright and early the next morning. Two images from that Tuesday morning stay with me still. The vision of a sea of cars and volunteers in our parking lot as I arrived shortly before 8am, and the mountain of soiled blankets and towels which greeted me as I entered our intake room. Our tiny laundry room was completely buried.
The quality and sheer number of volunteers that arrived that morning was beyond anything I could have expected. Many stepped up to the plate and handled incoming calls and provided crowd control. We were told incoming calls that Tuesday topped 800 and overwhelmed the county phone system. Other volunteers helped organize mountains of donated food and cleaning supplies, arranged for laundry services, and pitched in on cleaning detail. They kept our overflow pens of 350 dogs spotless for days.. I never would have believed it possible, but they did it.
Then the groomers started arriving. From all over the state, one after another, groomers arrived carrying their own tables, equipment and supplies. As I walked through the shelter that day there was not a single room or hallway where groomers where not clipping, shaving, and bathing. By 5pm Tuesday, the last of the dogs were groomed and bathed. They transformed those poor filth encrusted souls into recognizable, future family, pets.
It was stunning to see how far those dogs came in just 24 hours. If you have not already done so, take a few minutes to view the video presentation we prepared at http://youtu.be/3qRDISFdIsY.
Help continued to arrive all week from our shelter network partners. Thirty two shelters and private rescues across Michigan and as far away as Houghton took dogs into their organization to continue medical treatment and to find homes for them. In the following weeks we heard reports of medical expenses topping $1,000 for some, with ailments ranging from dental disease to heart worm.
By Friday, just four days after the ordeal began, just thirty eight of the dogs remained, the others were on their way to new homes. The thirty eight which remained behind were all our shelter dare keep given our space restrictions. But in the weeks that followed, our adoption team sifted through an amazing 1,400+ applications to find homes for each.
At the end of it all almost 400 dogs and cats moved in and out of the Allegan Shelter that week, not a soul was lost, disease was kept in check, and we made many many new friends who continue to come out weekly to lend a hand.
It was an inspiring week, one that I doubt any of us will every witness again.