Finding ‘forever’ homes for neglected dogs

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Scotty is one of the dogs that was taken from an animal cruelty case. He is now the Cape May County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center’s mascot. Scotty is one of the dogs that was taken from an animal cruelty case. He is now the Cape May County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center’s mascot.

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – Stephanie Puerta of Upper Township has a thing for rescuing dogs and cats.

About 15 years ago, she adopted a yellow lab from a shelter in Pennsylvania and rescued a mixed breed about five years later.

In 2012, she took in two cats from Avalon’s feral cat program.

But she wanted dog, too.

About six months ago, she looked at getting a 5-year-old coonhound named Luke from the Cape May County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center in Middle Township.

Luke couldn't be adopted at that time, though.

He was one of more than 60 dogs the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals discovered at a home on Goshen Road in Middle Township Dec. 18, 2010. Some of the dogs found dead in the home and others were living in deplorable conditions, according to reports at the time.

That meant dogs from that case were confined to animal shelters.

In January, the New Jersey SPCA gave the OK for the dogs to be adopted out. It didn't take long for the dogs to find homes, said Judy Davies-Dunhour, shelter manager at the Cape May County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center.

Luke went with the Puertas on Jan. 29.

It is a happy ending for the dog, and for Puerta.

“He’s slowly coming around,” Puerta said.

She lives with her two daughters in Upper Township, a few miles from Woodbine.

At least one dog remains at the animal shelter. Scotty, the shelter’s mascot, is a 12-year-old Schnauzer. Davies-Dunhour had hoped that a corgi named Jasper would head to a farm for that breed in northeast Pennsylvania.

She said being able to adopt the dogs out brings a sigh of relief.

Puerta figures the dogs from the animal cruelty case added 10 to 15 percent to the work day during the last two years, but one volunteer made it her mission to walk them. The Cape May County Animal Shelter has two managerial staff, two clerks and 10 animal attendants.

“It was a learning experience to have them here for so long,” she said.

Davies-Dunhour said the law needs changed, so what happens to the animals in cruelty cases would be handled case by case.

“They shouldn’t sit like that,” she said.

Other dogs that had been at the animal shelter included Penney, a Shih Tzu mix; Larry, a shepherd mix; Missy, a sheep dog mix; and Schnookie, a pug/Boston terrier. They range from 3 to 5 years old.

“Everybody grew attached to these dogs,” Davies-Dunhour said.

She knew that the dogs would find home, and quickly.

Puerta said she has purchased dogs in the past but she encourages people to adopt pets from shelters.

“They might need a little work but it’s worth it,” she said.

Luke is still adjusting to his home, Puerta said.

“He’s kind of exploring right now, figuring out where he is,” Puerta said.

On Feb. 2, she planned to buy the coonhound beds, toys and a bone.

Puerta said a fence was being put on her property for him, too.  She said she takes Luke for two long walks each day.

She said she enjoys hiking, such as at the Belleplain State Forest, and doing other outdoor activities and hopes to bring Luke along.

Puerta said she has had labs in the past.

“I’ve been intrigued by hounds, though,” she said.

Puerta said her 5-year-old daughter Rainey is always hugging Luke.

During that first visit with the coonhound in 2012, Rainey handed a piece of cheese to him.

“I could tell they immediately bonded,” Puerta said.

The coonhound isn’t sure of the cats, Poncho Mittens and Gilbert, and they’re hesitant of him as well, Puerta said.

“They’re a little freaked out,” she said.

The new owners were told that the dogs could require extra work, such as being house trained, Davies-Dunhour said.

In October, Judge Raymond Batten found the dogs' previous owners, Dawn Scheld, and Leroy Thomas Jr., guilty of animal cruelty. A third person charged was acquitted.

Scheld was convicted of two counts of animal cruelty because of the deaths of two dogs; hindering apprehension; and selling a diseased or contagious animal. Thomas and Scheld were both found guilty of conspiracy to commit animal cruelty.

Scheld and Thomas are on probation, but Cape May County Assistant Prosecutor Christine Smith didn’t know for how many years when contacted Monday.

Scheld and Thomas operated SOS Canine Rescue and Rehabilitation.

Davies-Dunhour said she knows that the extra space at the shelter won’t be there for long.

“We want to be an adoption shelter,” she said, saying that the facility should be a stop on the way the pet’s “forever home,” Davies-Dunhour said.

“I feel that a shelter always has good dogs available,” Puerta said.

The shelter is at 110 Shelter Road, Cape May Court House, and as of Feb. 1, there were about 32 dogs, according to Davies-Dunhour.

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