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Natalie Helm, a vet tech at Casselton (N.D.) Veterinary Service plays with a few of the 174 dogs that were seized from Wheatland, N.D. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Dogs’ health improving a week after seizure from ND breeder

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CASSELTON, N.D. – Animal rescue volunteers say they’re starting to take applications for foster homes for the now-174 dogs seized last week from a Wheatland puppy mill, in what prosecutors characterized Wednesday as life-threatening conditions.

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“Had the dogs been left there, whether they would have survived or not, I can’t say,” said Cass County prosecutor Leah Viste at a news conference at Casselton Veterinary Service, which is housing and treating the seized dogs. “The days were hot and getting hotter. They were kept in a single-wide trailer.”

Sheriff’s deputies on July 10 seized 168 dogs from a breeder, Darcy Smith, who had been supplying at least some area pet stores, including Pets R’ Inn in West Acres. The dogs, including a litter of six puppies born to one dog in the past week, are under quarantine at the veterinary office for two weeks because there aren’t complete records of shots for the animals.

Viste said the news conference was held Wednesday in part to counter recent comments from the public that accused Casselton veterinarians of agreeing to house the seized dogs as a moneymaking venture.

Final estimates for the dogs’ medical care, grooming, and boarding aren’t available yet, but authorities initially estimated that it would be $300 to $500 per dog for care alone.

A fund established to defray the costs of caring for and housing the animals had hit between $15,000 and $19,000 in donations from the public, Viste said.

“Unfortunately, there are always people who are suspicious of the kindness of others,” she said.

Viste said Cass County prosecutors cold-called Casselton veterinarians after picking names out of a phone book when they were looking for a place to house the dogs. Without their help, she said, intervening on the dogs’ behalf would have been impossible.

“When you graduate out of vet school you take an oath, and that oath is for dogs,” said Dr. Trevor Bjerke, who said all 168 of the original dogs had some sort of medical issue.

The dogs’ ailments range from heart murmurs to hip dysplasia to the most widespread problem, severe matting, in many cases involving bacterial mold and dermatitis, Bjerke said.

But the dogs’ disposition was excellent, Bjerke said, with only a few dogs still nervous when approached.

Natalie Helm, a vet tech, said people who wanted to help by fostering a dog should be aware they may require extra attention.

Some of the dogs were displaying strange food-related behavior, including burying their food, she said. Many were underweight when they were seized.

Volunteers with rescue group 4 Luv of Dog, who have been coming to the clinic three times a day to care for the animals, were cuddling a dog at the other end of the age spectrum – a graying female they’d nicknamed “Gramma.”

Viste said Smith, the 51-year-old breeder, has until Friday to file a request to have the dogs returned. A judge would decide custody if he files a challenge.

Smith has said he is considering a move to regain some or all of the dogs, and that he is cooperating with authorities, who are considering filing criminal charges.

Viste said charges were still being considered as law enforcement collects evidence in the case.

Bjerke would not characterize the level of neglect in comparison to other cases of animal neglect he had treated in the past, saying the specifics should be kept for any court proceedings.

“I want this case to go through,” he said. 

How to help

Donations can be made for the care and sheltering of the seized dogs to “Operation Cass County Rover Rescue” at any Bremer Bank location.

People interested in providing a foster home for one of the 174 dogs in temporary custody of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office can contact 4 Luv of Dog Rescue by phone at (701) 205-0190 or at its website, 4luvofdog.org.

Emily Welker, The FORUM

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