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Old December 9th, 2002, 04:04 PM
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Hope emerges at 'Camp Collie'

Hope emerges at 'Camp Collie'
Kindness begins to heal truckload of ill animals after journey of despair


By CAROL BRADLEY
Tribune Staff Writer
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SHELBY -- Retired schoolteacher Barbara Mercer unhooks a metal clasp, swings open the top half of a wooden door and steps back as a handful of collies bounce up and down with excitement at the sound of her cheerful voice.
Stall after stall, barn after barn, the reaction is the same.

"They all jump," Mercer says. "They all come at once."

The chorus of barks is a welcome noise at Camp Collie, formerly known as the Marias Fairgrounds. It's a sign that, slowly but surely, sickness and despair are giving way to gratitude and hope.

Two weeks ago, authorities unloaded 170 malnourished dogs, mostly collies, and 11 cats after discovering the animals crammed into a squalid tractor-trailer headed from Canada into the United States.

The cats and 14 of the dogs, mostly puppies, have since been relocated to an indoor facility. The remaining 156 dogs are biding their time in the stables on this dusty, wind-whipped tract a mile or so east of town.

They'll be here indefinitely, until the courts decide their fate.

**

It was about 10 p.m. on Halloween -- a night when thousands of pets in America are decked out in frivolous costumes -- that the tractor-trailer driven by Jonathan and Athena Ann Lethcoe-Harman pulled alongside the U.S. Customs Service station at the United States-Canada border crossing in Sweet Grass.

Johnathan Harman was behind the wheel. He told the inspector that he and his wife were in the process of moving from Alaska to Arizona, according to Kent Brimhall, area port director. They had some dogs with them, Harman said.

That much was obvious, the inspector, who wasn't identified, told Brimhall later. From the back of the truck he could hear a cacophony of barks.

The inspector asked the Harmans to pull over. He walked to the rear of the trailer and opened the doors. A "number" of dogs dived out.

As the Harmans scrambled to retrieve them, the inspector opened the doors farther. From one end of the 40-by-8-foot trailer to the other he spied crates of dogs: rows of wooden chambers and, on top of that, plastic airline crates stacked three deep.

"He immediately saw that the animals were in poor condition," Brimhall said.

Crates fall

Several of the crates had tipped over during the trip. Their doors had sprung open and the dogs inside had crawled out.

The Sweet Grass border is one of the busiest in the country when it comes to cattle and pig shipments. Inspectors aren't used to seeing domestic animals packed together in such quantities, Brimhall said.

"I've been here for a little over 20 years now," he said. "This is the first time I've seen this number."

Finding no federal cruelty-to-animal law that might apply in this case, customs officials contacted the Toole County Sheriff's Office. Law enforcers in turn phoned Shelby veterinarian Hardee Clark. He arrived in Sweet Grass around 3:30 a.m.

Early-hour inspection

Clark didn't like what he saw.

The dogs "didn't have any bedding. They were filthy, lying in urine. Thin," he recalled Thursday. "It was pretty overwhelming."

There was so much urine, in fact, that some of it had dripped out of the truck and frozen to its sides.

Clark told authorities they could charge the Harmans with violating state law prohibiting inhumane treatment of animals. He also suggested calling the Humane Society.

The Harmans were arrested and charged with five counts each of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. The charges have since been upgraded to 182 counts each.

Toole County doesn't have a Humane Society, so deputies contacted Linda Hughes, director of the Humane Society of Cascade County, 120 miles away in Great Falls.

Hughes contacted Great Falls veterinarian Kelly Manzer. Together with one of Hughes' animal control officers, one of Kelly's vet-techs and Kelly's mother, they drove to the fairgrounds, where the truckload of dogs had been taken.

Unloading the dogs

By now it was close to noon on Nov. 1.

Sheriff's deputies, emergency rescue workers and local firefighters had mobilized a small army to haul in water and hay and prepare more than 40 stalls in three horse barns for the collies. Hughes, Manzer and Clark devised a list of things to check the dogs for, including dehydration and the condition of their teeth.

By 2 p.m. it was past time to unload the dogs. More than a dozen firefighters began lifting out the crates, 99 in all, and removing the dogs from 66 built-in wooden cages.

The Harmans are believed to have left their home in Kenai, Alaska around Oct. 24. If so, that meant the collies traveled in darkness, locked in their crates, for eight days.

Thirty-eight hundred miles with no food, no water. Except for a tiny window near the cab of the truck, the dogs endured the trip with no ventilation.

The smell of ammonia inside the trailer was so pungent, Hughes said, that firefighters fought the urge to gag as they carried the dogs out into fresh air.

Even with that much manpower, it took three hours to empty the truck.

The collies' reaction?

"They were silent," Hughes recalled.

Dying of thirst

The dogs were petrified from the journey, animal control officer Kathy Kennedy recalled later.

They were also severely dehydrated.

Their eyes were sunken -- "almost flat," Hughes said -- and when officials lifted the skin on the dogs' backs, it stayed "tented," incapable of snapping back the way it would have done had the dogs been given adequate water.

Several dogs suffered abscesses in their teeth. A number had cuts and scratches on their faces.

One older collie was bleeding in a number of places where his fur was matted heavily, tugging on his skin.

All of them were thin.

Some were too weak to walk.

The trip was too much for one dog. He was found dead.

"You could see bones, spines and ribs," Deputy Sheriff Loren Running said. "The dogs were distraught when they got off."

The dogs were so malnourished it didn't occur to Humane Society officials that any might be pregnant. One dog surprised them that night by giving birth to nine puppies. Seven lived.

Curing the sick

More than anything, Camp Collie is a convalescent camp. A number of dogs have been tested for giardia and coccidia, intestinal parasites. All of the tests came back positive, so for the next three days every dog will be given Panacure.

Great Falls veterinarian Loren Keller treated the abscesses. In a matter of days, the dogs will be vaccinated.

Social animals that they are, the collies' first instinct was to regroup. That first night in the barns, dogs burrowed under walls to join companions one stall over. The next day, officials installed hogwire underground to prevent that from happening again.

They've separated the collies by gender and age. Through trial and error they've learned that a few of the dogs are troublemakers and need to be housed by themselves.

For two days the collies ate little, but slurped down as much water as volunteers could provide -- five 1,800-gallon truckloads a day. Now they're down to two 1,800-gallon truckloads a day.

Help arrives

Here's the remarkable thing about Camp Collie: When officials pleaded for help on the radio in Shelby, men, women and children converged from thin air to offer it. They came from in town and outside of town. They drove up from Malmstrom Air Force Base. They drove down from Canada.

People have donated food, money and elbow grease. Wednesday, the Great Falls Petco delivered nearly $2,000 worth of supplies and cash donated by local residents.

For the time being, anyway, the collies don't need any more food: Iams has donated 7,000 pounds of dry dog food, enough to last four to six weeks.

Supporters from across the country have donated $7,500. A woman in New Jersey charged a $1,000 donation to her credit card.

The $7,500 is a pittance compared to the amount it might take to keep Camp Collie going, but it's a start.

Had the Harmans' truck contained Rottweilers or pit bulls or some other less lovable breed, the response might have been less enthusiastic. But this was a truckload of Lassies, a breed immortalized by the classic TV show as trustworthy and good.

Here's something equally uplifting about Camp Collie: Almost as quickly as the community responded, the dogs began responding as well.


Continued Here

Source: Great Falls Tribune
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Old December 9th, 2002, 04:04 PM
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Continued from Here

Shedding their shyness

Dogs that couldn't walk two weeks ago are now standing on their own and looking forward to daily exercise.

Nine 6-month-old puppies that had looked so underfed are growing noticeably by the day.

When volunteers first entered a stall with a pitchfork or a plastic leash, the dogs retreated to the far reaches.

"They were so ... just timid ... and they didn't jump or anything. They were confused," said volunteer Barbara Cole, another retired schoolteacher from Shelby.

By early this week the dogs had begun to show a more carefree side.

"Some of them want to run and jump and some want to play with the other dogs," Cole said. "There are some still you have to catch. They cower in the corner. But once you catch them, they're fine."

Help is still needed desperately, especially weekdays. Walking big dogs that are unaccustomed to walks is wearing. The stench of caked-on feces and urine permeates the stalls and clings to clothes.

Jumping for hugs

But the collies' grateful response is worth the sacrifice, volunteers say.

There are the high-steppers -- collies who strut about as proudly as a Tennessee walking horse. And there are the leaners, dogs who are content to stand still, tilting with all their weight into a human's legs.

As much as they enjoy their walks, some of the collies relish affection more. They leap up, demanding hugs, or stand motionless to have their ears scratched or their chins stroked.

The sable collie with the heavily matted fur is doing better, too. One morning this week he sat in the sunshine for a few minutes, then unexpectedly turned to the woman kneeling beside him, placed his two front paws on her shoulders and gazed at her, eye-to-eye.

"I think it's the first time they're really had any real personal contact," Mercer said, "and they're really enjoying it."


Source: Great Falls Tribune
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