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Puppies from mill arrive in D.C. for new life

Monday - 8/20/2012, 7:03pm  ET

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One of the dogs at the Washington Animal Rescue League takes in new surroundings. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WASHINGTON - They were filthy, flea-infested and exhausted when they arrived in D.C. on Saturday night.

Twenty-three dogs - four shar peis and 19 chihuahuas - had come for a chance at a new life.

The dogs came from a puppy mill operated by a woman who'd been convicted of animal cruelty in New Jersey, officials with the Humane Society of the United States say. She then moved her operation to Ohio, where commercial dog breeders are not regulated.

The owner of Windsong Acres surrendered more than 250 dogs on her property when she became too ill to care for them.

When the dogs rolled up to the front of the Washington Animal Rescue League in D.C., Mary Jarvis and a crew of staffers and volunteers were waiting. Jarvis, the chief executive officer for WARL, says the dogs were in pretty bad shape.

"Apparently they were covered in fleas," Jarvis says. "Some are emaciated."

Jarvis says each dog appeared to have issues particular to their breed. Several of the chihuahuas appared to have eye issues and the shar peis had large bald patches.

"Shar peis deal with a lot of skin issues when they are well taken care of," she says. "These dogs obviously were not."

Melanie Kahn, senior director for the Puppy Mill Campaign for the Humane Society, says Maryland and Virginia regulate commercial dog breeders. She says Virginia has one of the most carefully crafted laws on commercial breeding.

In October, a new pet store disclosure law goes into effect in Maryland.

"That's significant, because it does require pet stores to post the name and address of the breeder and their USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] number," Kahn says.

The law is designed to stop what Kahn says is a common practice by pet stores. They will tell prospective customers the puppies they sell are from small, local breeders, when in fact, the puppies may come from large, out-of-state commercial operations.

WARL and other humane organizations often take in puppies and dogs used as breeding stock at puppy mills across the country. Jarvis says the chihuahuas and shar peis they received have already had initial medical checks and have been started on medical treatment. Next, they'll get extensive behavioral checks and training.

"They don't know how to be pets yet," Jarvis says.

But some of them seem to be practicing for the day when they can head to a home of their own. One little chihuahua stood in his new quarters, looking up at staffers, his tail giving a tentative, slow-motion wag from side to side.

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow Kate and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)