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Finding Forever Homes: Dogs seized from illegal puppy mill being rehabilitated


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Bonnie and Brenda became friends after arriving at the Humane Animal Treatment Society. They were adopted together. Courtesy Photo | HATS

Bonnie and Brenda, two silver and cream adult female Shih Tzus, arrived Feb 28 at the Mount Pleasant Humane Animal Treatment Society with 56 of their friends.

Shih Tzu mix Bonnie socializes with other dogs March 15 at the Humane Animal Treatment Society building.

Sixty-three dogs were seized on Feb. 27 from a Blanchard man’s property. They were enmeshed in an illegal large-scale breeding operation where they were kept in “inadequate sized cages with unsanitary conditions and without vaccination records,” according to court records.

The dogs showed up at the treatment center dirty, scared and unsocialized. Some dogs were quiet and stunned. Others were shaking with fear. Some of the animals were puppies, still nursing from their mothers.

These animals, according to shelter workers, didn’t even know how to be dogs.

After taking in 58 dogs, HATS was forced to shut its doors to the public for two days to properly care for each one of them. Director of operations Mandy Risch said despite the many challenges the dogs have presented to the staff, the organization is focused on providing quality care to the animals.  

Volunteer Jeanne Strandburg holds poodle mix Elaine and pets Shih Tzu mix Bonnie on March 15 in the Humane Animal Treatment Society building.

“Our main goal as an organization is to care for the animals in the most quality way that we can, despite the relentless work that is required to care for this many animals,” Risch said.

Sixteen puppies were transferred to the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter and 12 were sent to the Animal Rescue Coalition of Mecosta County. Five were sent to Clare County Animal Control after they were seized.  

Elaine, a cream-colored poodle with a dislocated hip that required surgery, had never walked on grass before. When the dogs arrived at the shelter they were fed and washed. 

Poodle mix Elaine (left) and Shih Tzu mix Brenda (right) socialize with volunteers March 15 in the Humane Animal Treatment Society building.

Living most of their lives in cages, this was one of the first times the dogs had ever socialized with others. 

Bonnie and Brenda became fast friends.

The pooches had caught a glimpse of another side of life and longed for a forever home.

The only thing holding them back from being medically cared for and adopted was the owner Levi Yoder – the Blanchard man arraigned on animal cruelty charges March 5. He surrendered the dogs to HATS days later. Now, the dogs could be spayed, neutered and vaccinated.

Now, Bonnie, Brenda and Elaine had hope. All 63 dogs had the opportunity to find a forever family.

But these dogs couldn’t go to just any home – they need dedicated owners who are willing to show them extra love, care and patience.

The community rallied around HATS and supported their cause after they took in so many dogs. The HATS Facebook page made a post asking for donations March 1. The post went on to generate more than $7,000 and HATS said its storage space is completely filled with donated supplies. Rubbles held a concert with all profits going to HATS Feb. 29. 

“As always, we are super grateful for the impressive support that we were shown in this time of need,” Risch said.

Shih Tzu mix Stuart watches visitors from his kennel March 15 at the Humane Animal Treatment society.

There are still more than 20 dogs who have yet to go up for adoption. Listings can be found on the HATS website. 

Elaine will soon need surgery to fix her hip, but she is up for adoption. The cream-colored poodle prefers a home without children and would get along with other dogs.

Bonnie and Brenda’s days at the shelter are numbered, however. They’ve been adopted by a family and will soon go to their forever home.

To contact HATS, visit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1105 S Isabella Rd or call 989-775-0830. 

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