The Sonoma Humane Society is appealing for the public's help after the agency this week rescued 61 dogs from a woman who was being evicted from her home outside the city of Redding, some five hours away.
The unusual rescue has stretched the facility on Highway 12 just west of Santa Rosa beyond capacity, prompting the plea for supplies and volunteers to take in the Finnish Lapphunds.
The medium-sized dogs were being treated Friday for a range of medical problems, including lice, heartworm and fractured teeth, possibly from trying to chew through crates or fencing, said Kiska Icard, the Humane Society executive director.
Icard said the agency "had no idea what it was getting into" when volunteers and staff members agreed to get the dogs. But she defended the rescue as a mission of mercy, saying that the team of volunteers that went to Shasta County Tuesday felt they had no choice but to take in all of the dogs after witnessing the conditions they were living in.
The team included Odessa Gunn, who along with her husband, former professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer, is a benefactor of the Humane Society's Forget Me Not Farm, which provides therapeutic services for at-risk kids. Gunn posted photos of the rescue on her Facebook page.
"They did what they thought was right for the animals, and that was to get them out of the home and give them some care," Icard said.
Icard said a friend of the woman contacted the Sonoma Humane Society to ask whether the agency could take in her dogs because she was losing her home.
A source identified the dog owner as Madeline Druse, who lives on Muletown Road west of Redding within the boundaries of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, which is roughly 230 miles away from Santa Rosa.
Druse could not be reached for comment.
Druse told the Humane Society she had 35 dogs. The Sonoma rescue team learned she had nearly double that number only after they arrived at her home, Icard said. She said team members could not reach her to update her on what they had discovered because of bad cell phone reception in the remote location.
On her Facebook page, Gunn wrote that the woman was debilitated and "totally unaware" that her dogs were suffering. She said the woman was "incredibly brave" to give the dogs up.
Icard said the owner signed legal documents turning over custody of the dogs to the Sonoma Humane Society.
Sonoma County shelter operators have faced criticism in the past for taking in animals from outside the area. But local officials have defended the practice, saying it saves lives and fosters good relations with other shelter managers.
Shasta County officials were not notified prior to Tuesday's rescue, however. The house where the dogs were removed is within the jurisdiction of the Shasta County Sheriff's Office, which enforces animal control regulations in unincorporated areas.
"This is the first we've heard about it," Mark Storrey, executive director of the Haven Humane Society in Redding, said Thursday. The facility operates the county's animal shelter.
Storrey said the agency would have taken the animals had they known about the rescue in advance. "That's absolutely what we are here for," Storrey said.
But he said he was "all for" Sonoma taking the dogs if it had the ability to do so.
A Shasta County sheriff's official on Thursday said deputies have responded to Druse's home, but not for anything related to suspected animal abuse.
However, in the 1980s, about 60 Samoyed dogs were removed from Druse's home after she ran afoul of county animal regulations, according to Lee Anne Smith, chief of operations for the Haven Humane Society.
Smith said Druse sued, and after a long legal battle, the county returned about half of the animals.
"It was a huge, huge ordeal at the time," Smith said Thursday.
Icard said had the Sonoma Humane Society been aware of the conditions of the Finnish Lapphunds, "absolutely" the agency would have contacted Shasta County Animal Control or Haven Humane prior to going in.
Icard made the case that because Sonoma Humane thought it was assisting a responsible breeder who was just down on her luck, that it justified not notifying local authorities.
"We agreed to take all of her dogs so that we could get them out of the breeding cycle," Icard said. "Once our teams arrived and saw the true conditions of the dogs, they had to act quickly to get the dogs care and treatment."
Most of the dogs were being held Friday in the medical unit at the Humane Society shelter. Nearly all of the animals had fur caked with feces and urine. Many also are suffering from ear infections.
Icard said the Humane Society is working with other shelters and with rescue groups to place some of the dogs once they've been medically cleared. Petaluma Animal Services on Friday took in six of the animals. Icard said she's hoping to move about half of the animals out of the shelter by next week.
The Sonoma Humane Society normally can accommodate up to 55 dogs in individual housing units. Icard said the shelter has been able to double up some of the Finnish Lapphunds in the medical unit.
She said the agency has an urgent need for linens, unbreakable dog bowls, collars, leashes and other supplies, as well as volunteers to do laundry or foster the animals. Monetary donations to help cover medical costs also are requested.
Donors can learn more at sonomahumane.org/rescue.
"We're never going to regret saving lives. But it's also important to be mindful of the (other) animals that are here and need our care," Icard said.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.
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