Updated Sept. 14
Julia is a 3-year-old purebred Rottweiler who lived in an Amish puppy mill in Pennsylvania for most of her life. The breeders dubbed her “no good,” meaning she wasn’t breeding well enough, or was producing inferior litters. The next step for a dog like Julia is to be given away or euthanized. Bill Smith intervened before the dog could be put down.
Smith is the founder of 1 Love 4 Animals, a Pennsylvania-based organization that rescues dogs from unlivable situations, cleans them up, and transfers them to trusted homes or shelters. Angels Helping Animals Worldwide (AHAWW), one of Martha’s Vineyard’s leading animal shelters, is one of those trusted shelters — which, for Smith, says a lot.
“There aren’t many shelters I trust,” Smith said in an interview with The Times. “When it comes to displacing rescue animals, I have one rule: If I wouldn’t hand over my own dog to this person or shelter, then I won’t do it.”
AHAWW owner Leslie Hurd and shelter manager Lynn Shepardson are on Smith’s short list, and their partnership has just begun.
“What’s really important for the future of animal welfare is redistribution,” Smith said. “There are so many states that are desperate for dogs, and some that are crippled by the number they have. If we can pull dogs from where they’re plentiful, and send them to places like Newport, R.I, Maine, or Martha’s Vineyard, that’s where we need to bring our focus. That’s where the future of this work is headed.”
Smith, Shepardson, and Hurd met during a dog-rescue mission after a hurricane in Saint Croix last fall. Since then, Smith, with the help of his 600-plus volunteers, has driven countless dogs to our ferry ports so that they can be transferred to AHAWW. From there, it takes about a week for Hurd and Shepardson to find them “fur-ever” homes.
“They’re miracle workers,” Smith said. “They literally manufacture miracles.”
Julia left the Pennsylvania puppy mill with splayed paws from standing on chicken wire floors inside a small rabbit hutch. Today, Julia lives with four other Rottweilers, goes for long walks on the beach, and won a blue ribbon at this year’s Ag Fair dog show.
“One of the vets told me to make sure she soaks her paws in saltwater to help mend the wounds,” Smith said. “Someone recently sent me a picture of Julia standing in the ocean on a Martha’s Vineyard beach. How’s that for a saltwater soak? It healed my heart to see.”
Smith defined puppy mills: “It’s any breeder, whether it’s a backyard with 20 dogs, or a commercial breeder with over 1,000, that puts profit above the welfare of their dogs,” he said.
Puppy mills exist in almost every state, and some, like Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Arkansas, are known for it. They’re especially common among Amish and Mennonite communities.
“Not every Amish or Mennonite breeds dogs,” Smith said. “But 99 percent of the breeders we deal with are Amish or Mennonite.”
According to Smith, these communities look at animals the same way they look at agricultural products. “One golden was given to me, and I was told not to give him a name, teach him tricks, or bring him into the house,” Smith said. “So what’s the first thing I did? I told him to sit, and brought him inside.”
Smith reflected on one bulldog, Paloma, who had so many puppies her stomach literally hit the ground when she walked. 1 Love for Animals took care of vet visits, surgeries, and neutering before sending her to AHAWW, which found her a family in Falmouth.
“These are lovely dogs with such a sad experience,” Hurd said. “A lot of people are unaware of it.”
Animals in shelters aren’t the only ones that need rescuing, and partnerships between groups like 1 Love 4 Animals and AHAWW help shape that reality. On Saturday, Sept. 22, the two groups will hold a fundraising event at the Black Dog campus in Vineyard Haven. From 4 to 6 pm, meet eight dogs rescued from a Pennsylvania puppy mill. Adoption applications will be available, but in the meantime, you can guarantee they’re in good hands.
Updated to correct the names of individuals involved in AHAWW.