JEFFERSON — One year ago, winter was coming on and mama dog Mia and her month-old pups were shivering in a horse stall tucked away on a hoarder’s property.
Underweight and dehydrated, Mia was trying to keep her pups alive through extended nursing, though she had little reserve left.
Not knowing the dogs were there, representatives from the Humane Society of Jefferson County responded to the property Nov. 18, 2018, following a report that the residents at that property were hoarding cats and garbage and living in putrid conditions.
Humane Society personnel were in the process of rescuing cats from the property when they heard barking.
No one had known that dogs were present at that address, but searching the barn from which the sound seemed to emanate, Humane Society personnel found not only mama Mia and her pups, but also two other dogs, who unfortunately were in such bad condition they had to be put down.
The barn was unheated, and the animals lived in privation, surrounded by dead rats and feces.
Thus began an extended stay at the Humane Society shelter for Mia and her family. There, they received the medical care they needed, proper nutrition and socialization.
As they filled out and matured, the puppies slowly were adopted out, as was the mama dog.
All went to loving, carefully-vetted homes.
A year later, this past Sunday Nov. 24, the grown dogs converged on the animal shelter once more from all around the county for a joyous reunion.
With glossy coats, bright eyes and lots of energy, the dogs immediately recognized each other and set to playing while their owners — from Johnson Creek, Fort Atkinson, Jefferson and Lake Mills — talked.
Also present at the shelter for the reunion were new Humane Society director, Jeff Okazaki, outreach and volunteer coordinator Taylor Marshall, and a photographer who captured some 300 images of the reunited canines.
“Seeing them all together again is just wonderful,” said Debbie Faubel of Johnson Creek, who adopted Mia.
Craig Roost of rural Jefferson adopted Luna, who was the last of Mia’s puppies to remain at the shelter.
It actually was Roost’s idea to get the dogs together again.
“I was curious to see how they filled out and how they’re all doing now,” the Jefferson man said.
Two of the other pups, Sadie and Buttons, were adopted by a mother-daughter pair from Fort Atkinson. Mom Donna Haugom adopted Sadie and her daughter, Wendy Behselich, adopted Buttons. Both live in town.
The last pup, a male, is named Sir Charlie and now lives in the countryside near Lake Mills with Steve and Rachel Weber.
“When we adopted Mia, she was still really skinny and her teats really stood out from all that nursing,” Faubel said. “When we got her, she was also still a little bit fearful and hesitant to eat. She’d hang back and let our other dog eat first.”
So Faubel separated the dogs’ food at first to make sure Mia got enough. After a period of adjustment, Mia realized she was not in danger. Now they’re eating together and doing just fine.
Luna has joined two other rescue dogs at Roost’s home in rural Jefferson. One of the dogs, Tank, is well-known as a representative of the Humane Society of Jefferson County.
“I swear, more people recognize Tank than recognize me,” Roost said. “She was in the paper so many times. I’ll be out in the community and someone will say, ‘Oh, my gosh, is that Tank?’”
Tank came along to the reunion of Mia and her pups, as well, but for most of the reunion, he chilled in a back room so that the family of dogs could make the most of their time together.
Okazaki said that as far as he knows, this is the first such reunion hosted by the shelter, but it provides a great perspective on the difference the Humane Society makes, in conjunction with the loving adoptive families who take in formerly mistreated and neglected pets.
Marshall said that the reunion went really well and it was great to see all of the animals happy and in such great shape.
Okazaki said that the local shelter, in conjunction with area law enforcement, deals with a couple of animal hoarding cases per year.
This particular case involved removing 19 animals from the Johnson Creek-area property, two of whom had to be euthanized due to health conditions, said Taylor.
Nationally, 2,000 to 4,000 animal hoarding cases come to light nationwide, but the cases usually have to get pretty bad before they come to the attention of the public.
Many times, animals’ lives are lost before the problem comes to neighbors’ attention and is reported, and in the meantime, the remaining animals are struggling to survive., Okazaki said, adding, “It’s so rewarding to see this particular story have a happy ending.”