They were carried out one at a time, getting a clear view of a world normally filtered through evenly spaced wires of a cage.
Placed into pens no more than 10 feet across — and larger than any space they’d seen in most of their lives — the 27 dogs explored their new world. A week earlier, all had been in puppy mills.
Most of those not wrestling with one another sought human comfort, sticking tiny noses through the pen as tongues darted toward reaching fingers.
But a few shied away from the dozen workers and volunteers there to greet, hold and soothe dogs that, until now, had existed only to breed.
National Mill Dog Rescue, based in Colorado Springs, received the dogs last week from breeders in Oklahoma and Missouri who no longer wanted them because of age, health or inability to breed, said Theresa Strader, the rescue’s founder.
The dogs left Colorado Springs on Monday for Phoenix, arriving at the Arizona Animal Welfare League and SPCA on Tuesday morning. Staff workers and volunteers placed the dogs in one of five pens set up for their arrival.
Many seemed in good shape as they played, but the practiced eye of animal caregivers picked out problems as the dogs were carried in one by one.
Matted fur and fleas were among the minor problems.
Many would need major dental work, including having their teeth pulled. Others were underweight, including a handful that had recently given birth.
AAWL first volunteered to take puppy-mill refugees when Mill Dog Rescue reached out to the shelter this year. The experience was so rewarding, said AAWL President and Chief Executive Officer Judith Gardner, that she did not hesitate to offer services again when the rescue group needed to place the recently acquired dogs.
After an hour passed and the dogs seemed comfortable in their new setting, the work commenced.
They were weighed, vaccinated and placed in kennels, each having two or three roommates for company.
And each dog received a name, one that would be spoken aloud rather than written in a ledger and forgotten.
“Breeders have to name every dog, but it’s probably the first and last time that name is ever used,” Gardner said. “Names at that point just aren’t important.”
Twenty-seven names awaited, written on Mylar collars of blue and pink. After weighing, workers randomly drew one of the collars and snapped it on the dog, followed by a nylon collar, its first.
Adoption counselor Nicol Bermudez cradled a tiny Pomeranian mix that had sired who knows how many pups over his six years.
Once placed in a pen, the 5-pound dog leaned against the wire, almost afraid to move. As others played, he remained still, venturing away from the fence only to sniff the ground and take a tentative lick of water.
An hour later he was weighed, vaccinated and christened “Kevin.” A closer look revealed lower canine teeth that veered to the side, giving him a permanent scowl. But it was his lack of appetite — Mill Dog Rescue volunteers reported he had not eaten in two days — that landed Kevin on the examining table.
AAWL veterinarian Claudia Channing reached into the dog’s mouth and removed a clump of wet, matted fur, which likely accumulated as he chewed his hind quarters to relieve a flea-caused itch.
Now that her view was clear, Channing did not like what she saw. Most, if not all, of Kevin’s teeth had to come out. Dental problems are common among puppy-mill dogs, Channing said, as they tend to chew on their cages.
Ninety minutes after they arrived, the 27 dogs were processed and in kennels.
Each will receive necessary medical care and, depending on their health and behavior, will be up for adoption in a week or two — longer for those who need more time to adjust, said AAWL Chief Operating Officer Patti DuBois.
“In our first set of puppy-mill dogs, some where ready to go to a home in a few days,” DuBois said. “But some needed a month in foster care, they were so fearful.”
Since its inception in 2007, National Mill Dog Rescue has taken in 8,139 dogs, finding them homes throughout the nation, Strader, the group’s founder, said.
She said she’s worked with more than 100 professional breeders, persuading them to surrender — rather than destroy — dogs that no longer make business sense to keep. These include canines that are sick, injured or past their viable breeding years (6 years old in most cases).
Breeders will contact Strader when they have dogs that have become unnecessary.
Puppy mills are mass breeding facilities where dogs are kept in cages and rarely allowed to exercise or socialize.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are more than 10,000 puppy mills in the country, keeping 176,000 dogs for breeding.
Each year, an estimated 2.15 million pups originate from licensed and unlicensed breeders, according to HSUS estimates.
Such overwhelming numbers can’t tether Strader’s passion for rescuing puppy-mill castoffs.
“Each dog saved is another success story,” she said. “I will do anything it takes to find each dog a loving home.”
One of those dogs was Kevin.
After receiving IV fluids and a shot of B-12, Kevin was feeling much better. He dug into a bowl of canned food until a worker pulled it away, fearing Kevin would overdo it.
“He’s still got six or seven years ahead of him,” said Channing, the veterinarian. “Plenty of time for a good life.”
If you are interested in adopting one of the puppy-mill dogs, call the Arizona Animal Welfare League and SPCA at 602-273-6852. The dogs will not be available for a week or longer, but you may ask to be placed on a waiting list. To see the shelter’s other adoptable pets, visit aawl.org.