INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – H.A.L.O. Animal Rescue in Sebastian is in need of the community’s assistance after taking in 37 dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Georgia.
The dogs, whose ages range from 1 to 6 years, had been on the auction block – ready to go to scientific laboratories before unnamed organizations H.A.L.O. is working with stepped in.
“We left 90 behind,” H.A.L.O. founder Jacque Petrone said. “It just breaks our heart.”
H.A.L.O. was not in a position to take in any more than the 37 it did, and even then, it was far too many dogs for the shelter.
“These dogs have to go somewhere,” Petrone said.
So she sent out an emergency cry for fosters – who stepped up and are now caring for the Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians and Pekingese that never before stepped on grass or felt human compassion.
“He didn’t know what grass was,” foster volunteer Bob Flickinger said while petting a Yorkie he named Gitmo at his office in Vero Beach.
Flickinger took in two foster dogs from the puppy mill, both Yorkies. The other’s named Toto.
For the last week and a half, Flickinger has been working with Gitmo and Toto, teaching them about grass, doorways, shadows, leashes and walks.
Eating has been a challenge for the pair, especially for Gitmo, whose teeth are rotted through and will need to be removed.
“He likes chicken and rice,” Flickinger said of the home-cooked meal he prepares for the dogs. “But he loves grouper!”
This is the first time Flickinger has fostered animals from H.A.L.O., though he’s been a long-time supporter of the effort.
He said he is in awe of the volunteers who routinely foster animals – how they are able to care for an animal, nurture it and then work to place it in a permanent home.
Flickinger also helped with bathing the dogs when they first arrived to H.A.L.O.
“I’m a combat veteran,” Flickinger said, “and I was bawling like a baby.”
The dogs were covered in filth, their nails encrusted with waste and so overgrown they were curling in. Some dogs’ paws started bleeding after the grime was removed, he said.
“They were so thankful,” he said of the 30 or so dogs he scrubbed. He marveled that, with all the dogs, he did not receive one bite, nip, scratch – nothing but a look of thanks from the pups.
“They are the best dogs in the world,” Flickinger said. “They appreciate every little thing you do for them.”
Angela Conti, too, has taken in a few of the dogs rescued at the auction.
“They were a mess,” Conti said of the rescues, adding that the biggest challenge is not knowing their histories. “You know absolutely nothing about them.”
She said it’s hard to tell their age because they are probably 1 or 2 years old but look like they are 8 or 9.
“They’re afraid of everything,” she said of the four she has taken into her home.
She has all females, two Pomeranians, a Yorkshire Terrier, and one that looks like a Pekingese.
The Yorkie, Conti’s named Gummy Bear – “for obvious reasons,” she said, explaining Gummy Bear has no teeth.
“They’re all precious,” Conti said. “All they want is for you to pet them.”
The Poms are Sasha and Keisha, and the Pekingese is Sweetheart.
“She is just the most frightened thing,” Conti said of Sweetheart, whom she is always working to comfort.
Fostering animals is something Conti’s family has embraced. Her grandchildren learn about animals – how to care for them, how to treat them.
“They just love it,” she said of the grandkids, but fostering isn’t what she would call enjoyable.
“It’s a rewarding thing to do, but not anything we enjoy doing,” Conti said. “We would love to not be needed.”
H.A.L.O. has been able to place the puppy mill refugees in foster homes, but they will need to find their forever homes in the near future.
Petrone hopes to start posting the ones who are fit for re-homing beginning Monday.
“With time, they all will come out of it,” she said of making the transition from being crated to being loved companions. “They’ll learn.”
Petrone said H.A.L.O. would never have been able to take on the number of rescues it has if not for the partnership it enjoys with Florida Veterinary League, and in particularly Dr. Horn.
The veterinarian has offered services at a deeply discounted rate to help keep H.A.L.O.’s bills manageable as well as adoption fees.
“The cost has to be absorbed somewhere,” Petrone said.
While H.A.L.O. does not need any more fosters to take care of the puppy mill dogs, the organization is in financial need – and is seeking sponsorships for the medical care the 37 dogs need.
Already, five of the 37 have been sponsored up to $200 each, which will help offset the medical care – but more is needed, Petrone said.
She estimates that H.A.L.O. is in about $11,000 for “buying” the dogs, transporting them and their medical care.
“It’s really scary,” Petrone said. “But they’re so worth it.”
How to Help:
Anyone interested in sponsoring a puppy mill pup or applying to adopt one when it becomes available is encouraged to contact H.A.L.O. by calling (772) 589-7297 or stopping by the shelter, located at 710 Jackson Street or visiting its website, www.halorescuefl.org.