He was nameless, filthy and terrified.
Trapped inside a barn stall at a New Jersey puppy mill, the matted little poodle mix couldn’t do anything but sit with the other dogs for comfort.
The floors were piled high with waste and mud, and each one of the dogs was covered in it from head to toe. They had likely been suffering there their whole lives.
This was the scene rescuers walked into earlier this fall when authorities called for the seizure of over 130 dogs living on the property in Shamong. Numerous rescues, including Atlantic County Canines (ACC), stepped in to take the dogs. Unfortunately, over 40 dogs had already passed away — and were being stored in a freezer.
“The smell in the house was so bad people weren’t permitted inside without face masks,” Abi Conway, volunteer for the rescue, told The Dodo. “Think of a filthy, creepy horror movie set … that was this place.”
Kept in squalor and bred to support the owner’s puppy selling business, the majority of dogs had never been vaccinated, groomed or neutered. The breeder kept everything from small breeds, like Westies, to large breeds like Dobermans.
The eight small dogs ACC took in were all terribly matted — but especially the extremely filthy poodle mix, whom rescuers named Beaker.
“He was in such poor condition that he couldn’t even stand up or walk correctly,” Conway said. “It was just terrible.”
Caked in layers of dirt and waste, Beaker was so uncomfortable. The night he got to the rescue, staff started to lightly cut out the mats and wash the dirt off. Underneath was a coat of wispy, cream colored fur.
He instantly showed relief, and the other dogs did after their baths, too.
“They realized, ‘Hey, we can move now! We’re clean!’” Conway said. “They hadn’t even been professionally groomed yet, but just being washed made such a difference for them the first night. It was incredible.”
All eight dogs had clearly been through a lot, but Beaker and another dog named Kermit are the most timid of the bunch. The two are now settling into a loving foster home together, slowly learning that not all humans are bad.
“They’ll back away from you, and they will cower if you go to touch their head,” Conway said. “These are dogs who are going to need a lot of patience and understanding.”
Luckily, these pups found just the people to give them that. After lots of love and professional grooming sessions, the dogs are looking and feeling so much better. As the days go on, they’ll learn how to play, walk on a leash and enjoy tasty new treats they’ve never had before.
The breeder, Donna Roberts, has been arrested and charged with 130 counts of animal cruelty. Conway hopes that now the dogs will be given full justice, and that the breeder will be banned from owning animals in the future.
“She’s been in trouble off and on with the authorities for many years,” Conway explained. “She’s sold puppies online and in print ads under a host of assumed identities, and has also been in trouble repeatedly for selling animals who aren’t healthy or vaccinated. This is not at all her first run-in with the authorities over these issues, but hopefully it will be the last.”
As the dogs continue to recover, Conway can’t help but think back on how far they’ve already come — especially little Beaker and his friend Kermit.
“They are getting the kind of attention they need now, and it’s made such a difference,” Conway said. “Just to see them start learning how to be dogs before your very eyes is so humbling. It’s almost hard to put into words how satisfying that is.”