By Debbie Carson, Online Editor
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – When the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County received the call that a breeder wanted to relinquish custody of her 75 Chihuahuas and a pug, volunteers and staff went into emergency mode.
“We’re absolutely swamped,” said Janet Winikoff, director of education at the Humane Society.
A room that had been used to store supplies was cleared out to make room for dozens of crates, each holding multiple Chihuahuas. An assembly line was formed in the room where animal care technicians make medical evaluations. Volunteers numbered the incoming crates and dogs, assigning them microchip numbers, writing out descriptions and evaluating their overall health.
The small dogs traveled the line, getting their basic vaccinations and being micro-chipped before going back in their crates.
In one day, the Humane Society doubled its dog population.
“We’re in disaster mode,” Winikoff said.
At least six of the dogs that came in from the unnamed breeder will be available for adoption next week, but the families that could be taking them home have not yet been identified.
More than 200 applications have been filled out for the Chihuahuas and the pug, Winikoff said. The Humane Society is giving preference to applicants from Indian River County, though potential adopters must go through the same adoption process as everyone else.
It could take months before all the Chihuahuas find their forever homes, leaving the Humane Society’s volunteers and staff caring for far more dogs than usual.
The Humane Society will evaluate each Chihuahua to determine its personality and best decide the type of home it should go to. Winikoff said that some are great with children, while others are nervous around kids.
“That’s going to take a lot of time,” she added.
They are already working to leash- and house-train the dogs, which has stretched their volunteer network and strained their core staff, Winikoff said.
“We’re up for the challenge,” she added, also noting that the Humane Society is always looking for volunteers. The next volunteer orientation is Nov. 14.
This is not the first time the Humane Society has taken in a large number of animals at one time.
A little more than a year ago, the organization took in 233 animals at once. A few months before that, they took in thousands of birds from a cockfighting ring that had been shut down.
And, when a reptile store went under, the Humane Society took in the lizards and other creatures from the shop.
As for the 75 Chihuahuas and the pug coming from the breeder, Winikoff said the breeder cited financial hardship for having to give up the animals.
Winikoff said that the breeder is not the only breeder in the county, and probably not the only breeder that will face financial troubles as the economy continues to weaken.
“It should be a huge wake up call” for breeders, Winikoff said. “We’re not talking about a business going under selling toaster ovens.”