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Divine Intervention in Mississippi

The owner of the mass breeding facility for miniature pinschers and pit bull terriers in Gautier, Mississippi, was elderly and disabled. He was also very religious. And when responders from the Humane Society of Missouri and The HSUS National Disaster Animal Response Teams showed up at his crushed and flooded kennels after the hurricane, he was sure they’d been sent by a higher power.

“When we knocked on the door and he opened up, he literally hit his knees thanking God that we’d come,” says Kyle Held, a statewide investigator for the Humane Society of Missouri. “He said he’d been praying all night for help.”

The strange thing, says Held, was that soon after the response team arrived on the property, the man’s pastor showed up as well. “It kind of makes you wonder,” he says.

Held had come down with his team in the days right after the storm. They’d been working with local municipalities, assessing the needs, trying to pick their way through an area that was still cluttered with debris, downed power lines, and closed roads.

After Pascagoula Animal Control suggested that Held and the other responders check in to see how the owner of the breeding facility had weathered the storm, the team drove their trailer over to investigate the damage. What they found horrified them: The tidal surge from the Mississippi Sound had washed a massive amount of debris, water, and mud over the kennels. The buildings had partially collapsed.

The owner had been trying to get through to help the trapped animals, but he hadn’t made much of an impact. He’d managed to get a few of the dogs out, but most were still pinned under and behind the branches, mud, and other refuse swept in from the sea. The team could hear the dogs yelping and crying underneath the wreckage.

Despite his initial gratitude, the owner—whose facility may have put dogs at risk even before the storm—was suspicious of the group’s motives. But with some persuasion from Held and the pastor, the man agreed to allow responders back onto his property to help.

Held came back later that afternoon with a six-person team, and they chainsawed their way through the wreckage. Inside the kennels they found dogs dead and alive. The dogs in the lower cages had drowned; the inside of the kennels were so filled with debris and bodies that, Held says, it was hard to tell how many animals had been killed. Of the 150 animals he believes were at the facility before the hurricane, about half of them had died. The team saved the rest of the dogs, who were filthy, frightened, and dehydrated—but still alive.

The owner agreed to relinquish several of the dogs to the team, so three pit bulls and three miniature pinschers got a ticket out. He promised to surrender a few more, and his pastor helped persuade him that neither he nor his property were well suited to care for the number of animals he had. “This facility wasn’t great to begin with,” says Held, “and the storm pushed it enough that we could get in and help.”

Who knows if it was divine intervention? But the team saved the lives of a lot of lucky dogs in Gautier, and Kyle Held got to hear something he never thought he’d hear from the mouth of a puppy mill owner: “You guys have restored my faith in humane societies.”

 

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