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After July seizure, all but 3 of 170-plus puppy mill dogs in permanent homes

FNS Photo by Dave Wallis Brenda Olson-Wray adopted her dog, Cass, formerly known as M-73 of the Wheatland puppy mill dogs, in July while working as a volunteer in getting the dogs rehabilitated.

MOORHEAD, Minn. — In a sea of 170-plus puppy mill dogs, so many they had to be identified by a number instead of a name, Brenda Olson-Wray tried to give love to every one of them.

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Olson-Wray, along with other volunteers, made the drive twice every day to the Casselton veterinary clinic where the Shih Tzu, Maltese and Yorkie mixes, dirty and matted, were taken by Cass County sheriff’s deputies after being seized from a breeder near Wheatland in the sweltering heat last July.

“By the time we left we all stunk — ‘cause the dogs all stunk,” she said.

The matted fur left some of them immobile. As the matts fell away under the hands of groomers, the dogs could finally seek out affection from helping hands.

Olson-Wray didn’t care about the smell. But after seeing the animals come out of their shells after the neglect at the hands of their breeder, Darcy Darrell Smith, 51, she would have to pull over sometimes on the way home.

“A lot of days I would drive back from there — there were a lot of tears,” she said. “My heart needs some healing.”

The nonprofit Olson-Wray works with — 4 Luv of Dog — eventually found homes for nearly all of the seized pooches, though the group is again swamped with unwanted dogs.

Smith, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of animal neglect, will be sentenced Monday in Cass County District Court.

Olson-Wray is one of what she estimates is about a dozen volunteers with 4 Luv of Dog who have made a Wheatland dog part of their permanent household.

She took to M-73 — or Cass, as he’s known today.

The second-biggest of the Wheatland dogs, Cass is the one Olson-Wray brought home in late July, about the time Smith waived his legal rights in court to the dogs and the puppies they were carrying.

“My friends say, ‘Oh, look — Cass’s legs are home,’” she said. That’s because Olson-Wray picks up Cass and carries him the minute she comes in the door.

All but three other Wheatland rescues have found permanent homes with people, mostly locals, who filled out applications to take them.

A few were returned by some of those families, who cited behavioral issues, said 4 Luv of Dog rescue volunteer Ashley Setter. But a long waiting list for would-be Wheatland dog owners gave those dogs another chance, and it took only about three months to find adoptive homes for most of them.

Some of the owners sent the rescue organization Christmas cards of their formerly bedraggled, now-spoiled pets, Setter said. The three Wheatland dogs still with the rescue remain shy and timid.

Overall, the nonprofit had 64 dogs available for adoption as of Friday.

But for all of its heroic efforts with the Wheatland puppy mill, six months later the rescue group is once again drowning in dogs.

“There are a lot of people who want to get rid of dogs, who don’t want to take care of them over the holidays,” said Setter, who’s also a dog foster “parent.”

She said crowding at the shelter isn’t only because of pet owners who unloaded their dogs before holiday travel plans. There also are fewer people applying to foster dogs because of the same reasons.

To help ease the crunch, Setter has six dogs living at her house.

“In the crazy dog world, that’s pretty usual,” she said. “We usually take in more fosters than we should have, but you do what you have to do to save the dogs.”

The longer the dogs sit at the shelters, the harder it is on them, Setter said. Some dogs don’t respond well to isolation, developing behavioral problems that make placement difficult.

But if the Wheatland dogs — untrained and unsocialized as they were — can find homes, Setter and Olson-Wray hope the others can too, albeit without the benefit of headlines.

“I think any dog’s adoptable,” Olson-Wray said.