By Jason Spencer
After eight years, hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars, about 50 dogs are in the custody of animal rescue operations in Northern Virginia and across the state after being removed from what rescuers call an animal hoarding operation in Goochland County.
Many of the dogs are being medically evaluated and cared for by area rescuers who hope they will be able to eventually be adopted.
"We went into this sadly resigned that because of the years of not being touched by humans that we'd probably have to euthanize 10 to 15 dogs. That hasn't been the case. We've been working with them a lot to get them used to humans. Some of them had definitely had some pretty major medical problems," Sue Bell, executive director of the Northern Virginia-based Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, told Patch.
To date, Homeward Trails has removed an estimated 750 dogs from Annette Thompson's kennel in Hadensville, Va. The latest dogs were removed following a September settlement in which Thompson agreed to no longer keep companion animals. Conviction of six counts of inadequate animal care in 2011 caused her to lose the privilege of running a rescue operation, but she still kept up to 100 dogs on her property at any given time thanks to kennel licenses.
Homeward Trails, which has an office in Bailey's Crossroads, took 20 of the dogs in the latest batch. Five others went to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. A handful of others went to rescue operations in Alexandria, Fairfax County, Richland County, Norfolk and a few private rescues.
Homeward Trails is holding a fundraiser at the Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, in hopes of raising $6,000 to care for the dogs.
Earlier this year, Thompson was the subject of heavy media attention following a fire at her home. Homeward Trails and other rescue operations pressed authorities to investigate the animals' living conditions. Five dogs had to be euthanized immediately, according to the Goochland Gazette.
Of the bunch released from Thompson's custody in September, so far only three have had to be euthanized — including one of the five that ended up at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.
Bell told Patch that she long thought of Thompson as an animal hoarder, but gave her the benefit of the doubt. The Hadensville woman took in hundreds of stray animals — but without a plan to send them to permanent homes, Bell said.
Homeward Trails would remove dogs from her property to try to find them homes, Bell said, but Thompson continued to take in large numbers of animals and eventually the legal battles began.
Neil Trent, the CEO of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, said the dogs had been living in "deplorable conditions" when five arrived at the league's facility on Four Mile Run Drive last month. One of those dogs, Speckles, has since become eligible for adoption and found a home just last week.
A lot more forever homes, as rescuers call them, are needed.
Part of the readjustment period for the rescued dogs includes getting them used to human interaction, Bell said. All of them were kept outside for years in a 6-by-6 chain-link pen and never got walked or petted or appropriate medicine, she said.
"A lot of the dogs just need a lot of social interaction," Bell said. "We're making up for years of lost time."
Thompson has been reported saying that she spent much of her monthly retirement check on caring for her animals and has said the rescue operations that removed animals from her property were on a witch hunt.
"The best news after all of this is that after eight years…. we've finally stopped this woman who, if we hadn't gotten this ruling, would've continued to take in dogs and cats until she died, and they would have all ended up with medical ailments," Bell said. "It was very stressful, but it's a huge, huge victory. Because she's been doing this for the better part of 20 years."
For more information on these dogs, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about this weekend's Hot Dog Roundup at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, click here.