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Kari Lucin, Published August 04 2013

Wheatland, N.D., puppy mill dogs adoptable soon

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – When Royce arrived in Jamestown, the black-and-white cocker spaniel mix had no idea how to wag his tail.

Royce is one of the nine dogs Prairie Paws Rescue took in from a group of more than 174-plus dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Wheatland. He and some of the others are learning so fast they will be adoptable as early as next week, after they are spayed or neutered.

“He’s going to be a nice dog. He tries to listen, he tries to please,” said Linda Gray, who is fostering two of the Wheatland dogs at her Jamestown home. “They make wonderful dogs, they just had a bad start.”

When he first came to Gray, Royce worried about stepping on grass and concrete, both unfamiliar surfaces to him, and he wouldn’t cross a threshold. He didn’t want to go outside, and he found baths and stairs to be deeply traumatic experiences.

“Basically, all you want to do is see if you can get them outside or see if you can touch them” at first, Gray said. “Neither of them wanted anything to do with me.”

While Royce is still nervous around strangers and startles at unfamiliar sounds, he will now gobble treats from Gray’s hand and allow strangers to pet him without tensing up. He’s learned that outside is neat, too, Gray said, and he’s starting to understand leashes.

“They’re not stupid at all. They’re scared,” Gray said.

The Wheatland dogs have good reason to be cautious about people. The dogs were seized from an apparent puppy mill July 10 by Cass County sheriff’s deputies, many neglected and undernourished, and others with fur so matted they couldn’t move at all. Their former owner, Darcy Smith, 51, of Wheatland, waived his rights to regain custody of the dogs during a court hearing last week, freeing them up to be legally adopted by other people.

Because of the large number of dogs involved, the Wheatland dogs have been distributed to a number of rescue organizations, with efforts to help them led by 4 Luv of Dog Rescue, Fargo.

Prairie Paws took nine of the dogs, and most likely four of them will be ready for adoption as soon as they are spayed or neutered, said Becky Johnson, co-founder of Prairie Paws.

“The other five will take more time, just because of their personalities – some are more scared and timid than others and not letting us handle them,” Johnson said. “One still bites every time we try to touch it – and of course we wouldn’t try to place those until they’re ready.”

Johnson has been fostering two of the Wheatland dogs herself – Chevy and Model-T, also known as “Grandpa.” Both dogs have come to enjoy being cuddled, but they still don’t come to Johnson.

She has to catch them first, and then they’ll happily curl up on her lap for petting. Grandpa has begun to wag his tail in anticipation, but Chevy is still nervous and prefers to follow Grandpa’s lead most of the time.

It took four days for Grandpa to allow Johnson to touch him.

“Before he bit, he snapped at us, but he’s turned into a big baby with us, he just wants to pet,” Johnson said.

Prairie Paws deliberately took on some of the more “difficult” dogs saved from the puppy mill, Johnson explained, because not all rescues have experience dealing with puppy mill-related problems.

“It’s going to take an experienced foster home to bring these guys around,” said Kaye John, co-founder of Prairie Paws.