PORT CLINTON — Marblehead resident Nancy Benevento-Brown is spending Thanksgiving today with 34 dogs that, if they could talk, just might express special thanks for their new surroundings this holiday season.
Mrs. Benevento-Brown, the chief executive officer of Island Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary in Port Clinton, has been holed up at the facility since the weekend, when she and other volunteers drove to Holmes County in central Ohio and rescued the canines from what they suspect was a puppy mill operation.
Today — when many will gather at tables with families and friends, Mrs. Benevento-Brown will be bathing the dogs. She will be cleaning their wounds, feeding them, and mostly giving them the love and attention she believes they have been starved for since birth.
“I will be right here,” she said Wednesday, gesturing around the sanctuary she started in October, 2011. “I haven’t left yet; why start now?”
The 34 rescued dogs add to the 28 dogs and 16 cats already at the sanctuary, a nonprofit, no-kill organization that houses and cares for what they consider unadoptable dogs and cats — elderly animals, those with disabilities, pets whose owners have died or enter Hospice care.
Mrs. Benevento-Brown got a call Saturday from a central Ohio resident who said she had taken the dogs from a puppy mill and wanted them to have a safe place to go. Mrs. Benevento-Brown said she had to pay the woman $400 to have the dogs turned over to her, and though she is unclear how legitimate the woman’s story is, she is certain they came from “deplorable conditions.”
Their paws were cut from living in small carrier crates with mesh bottoms. They were dirty, hungry, and clearly raised to churn out litter after litter, she said, pointing to one all-black pug they named Lucy, still close to a puppy itself, who, judging by the teets, had recently had a litter.
“They are all high-end dogs, but they have been bred, and bred, and bred,” she said.
Included in the rescue were Chihuahuas, Shih-Tzus, Malteses, Pomeranians, pugs and puggles, even a Bichon. While talking to a reporter, Mrs. Benevento-Brown held inside her sweatshirt Sugar, a 4-year-old Chihuahua that was the most skittish of the group and, she said, stays tucked under her clothing most of the day.
The dogs will not be up for adoption until they have been to the vet and have been spayed, neutered, and inoculated. Despite this, at least a half dozen people stopped by the facility Wednesday in the space of an hour to inquire about adoption.
“I think this is terrible — I know what it is like to have a puppy-mill puppy,” said Vickie Majerski, who has an 18-year-old Bichon frise at home named Meeko who came from a puppy mill, as well as two Shih Tzus. The Oak Harbor resident was looking for a dog for her daughter for Christmas.
Earlier this month, the Ohio House passed Senate Bill 130, aimed at cracking down on large-scale breeding businesses through a system of stricter regulating, licensing and inspecting.
The bill is expected to win final approval in the Senate after Thanksgiving recess.
James and Virginia Smith of Fremont also stopped by to fill out an adoption application. They had their eye on a Pomeranian named Grace.
“They are too sweet to suffer,” Mr. Smith said.
Nancy Silva, a retired Humane Society officer who now volunteers for the sanctuary, bathed dogs, did laundry, and or whatever else was needed Wednesday. The circumstances surrounding the rescue of the 34 dogs did not surprise her, nor did the tenacity of the sanctuary volunteers.
“It isn’t anything I haven't seen before, but I think she is wonderful,” said Ms. Silva, pointing toward Mrs. Benevento-Brown, who had scurried into the office to answer phones.
All the dogs have been weighed, placed in large cages by breed — “they bond better” — and named. Mrs. Benevento-Brown, with the help of husband, Robert, rented an unused facility next door and in less than a day had emptied it of car parts and built a makeshift kennel where the dogs could run outside.
The dogs have calmed somewhat and seem to be acclimating to their surroundings, Mrs. Benenvento-Brown said.
Quinton, a male Shih Tzu, stopped eating to greet a visitor, and Rosey and Josey, a Shih Tzu and a Maltese, respectively, romped in their own private room once separated from the others.]
Even Sugar, when placed in her cage for a few minutes while Mrs. Benevento-Brown tended to other dogs, wagged her tail and played with a toy.
“They learned ... sanctuary as soon as they got here — the calm is when they walk in the door,” she said.
For more information, go to http://islandshas.wix.com/i or call 419-960-7487.
Contact Roberta Gedert at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6081.