The Missouri Dirty Dozen

On the way to a better life



Davey's splayed feet



Misery & Miracles in Missouri

by Terry Kratchman

At one thirty in the afternoon of September- 11, 2009, two vans, one pick-up truck, eight crates, and five people set out on a journey none of us will ever forget. It was eighty-five degrees with relatively high humidity. As we drove seventy-five miles to our destination in air-conditioned vehicles, we were anxious but determined to accomplish a mission that would change our ideas of discomfort, kindness, and humanity forever.

Way beyond any paved road, we pulled into chaos, mayhem, disorganization, extraordinary filth, and unimaginable stench. We were soon to witness what could make the most stoic, hardened man cry and the kindest of us want to scream with anger. We were in the very pit of cruelty and shame. We were at the puppy mill where we had come to rescue twelve Airedales.

Prior to our introduction to the "breeder" (I take the liberty of calling him Bubba) our senses were assaulted by the sight of pen after pen full of Jack Russell Terriers, Chihuahuas, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Yorkies, and tiny Poodles on either concrete floored enclosures or in wire cages, all despicably foul. One poor Cocker was heavily pregnant, pacing in circles, and defecating blood. Their water troughs were coated with algae and empty. There was no shade for most.

Our initial introduction to Bubba was short and to the point. "Ya just want to take the dawgs or do ya want to look at them first?" Bubba was led to believe we were planning to use the bunch for breeding ourselves. We played along and said we wanted to see them, although there was never a question we weren't leaving without each and every Airedale.

Just when we thought things couldn't get worse, they did. On the way to "the back" where most of the larger breeds were warehoused was a metal shed intended for lawn equipment. It was packed with crates from floor to ceiling housing a multitude of very small breeds, including puppies. This building was windowless, with no ventilation of any kind and in direct sunlight. There were also several rabbit hutches, goats, cats, and Beagles running everywhere, all mingled in and around approximately fifteen cars in various states of disrepair, dilapidated campers, trucks, tractors, farm equipment, trailers, and children's toys.

The dirt path to the "back" involved walking over mounds of dirt and rocks, around cars and mud puddles, maneuvering around old toilets, buckets, baskets, weeds, and various garbage. There was no doubt we were "there." Our ears and noses told us we were heading in the right direction. The stench! I've tried but can't find an adjective worthy of conveying how offensive, strong, and putrid it was. It was so nauseating it was almost impossible to keep from gagging. It permeated clothing, skin, and pores. It's hard to fathom all these dogs live with this month after month, year after year, and have never known anything different.

The closer we got it became obvious that, although it was hot, dirty and stinky, we would have to keep our mouths closed due to the hundreds of thousands of flies. Neither human nor beast could breathe without being plagued by them. Dogs’ infected eyes were covered. Any open wound was swarmed.

There were Pit Bulls, several different terrier breeds, Standard Poodles, Boxers, Bulldogs, Airedales, and many more stacked pens containing dozens of smaller breeds. They became extremely agitated and excited, likely assuming it was feeding time. The noise was deafening and pathetic. Most were separated by breed and gender. They jumped on, over, and on top of each other. They begged for attention, fought with each other, and were generally in a frenzy. Spittle flew in every direction. Most had obvious eye infections with green slime oozing. A couple had injured eyes that were cloudy and one looked like her eyeball was hanging in the socket by a thread. Some had suffered from untreated fight wounds. More had missing or broken teeth from fighting, chewing on chain link, or both.

The dogs’ confines consisted of crude fencing with no regard to broken barbs or twisted chain link that was dangerously exposed to the dogs’ flesh. There was barbed wire atop the fencing to keep the dogs from escaping. The only shelter was some very large plastic containers intended to transport water with holes cut to accommodate the dogs. The floor of the enclosures was compacted dirt, feces, and urine. There were water containers for drinking but all were empty and filthy. I do not know if they ate from the same buckets or if food was thrown on the ground. Every dog for himself.

Arrangements had to be made to get these Airedales out of there immediately. Bubba was soon to be shut down by the state and would have likely destroyed the dogs rather than turning them over to the state. A male volunteer of ATRA from Kansas had to be contacted to help as Bubba wouldn’t deal with women. Bubba also wouldn’t deal with any rescue group and actually laughed when he was contacted. This male volunteer had to convince Bubba that he’d take the dogs from him to start his own breeding operation, and only under those circumstances would Bubba relinquish ownership of these dogs.

Alas, it was time to load up our precious cargo. There were twelve Airedales, ranging in age from six months to six years old. Upon our approach to their pens, almost all showed eager excitement for attention. It seemed they were like children in an orphanage attempting to non-verbally convey their hope of being chosen this time. When they saw us, perhaps they sensed our gentle handling and kind words might be reason to hope. It was.

Most of the dogs had to be carried to the cars because they were so frightened and unfamiliar with being out of their miserable surroundings they wouldn't walk. Once in their crates in the vehicles with air-conditioning, they appeared shell-shocked. These dogs had never experienced clean blankets to lie on, fresh water, or a gentle touch from a human.

Five of us started out that day to rescue twelve Airedales. We sweated buckets, cried tears of frustration and pity, smelled awful, witnessed our worse nightmare, and cursed the cause of so much pain and cruelty. We were broken-hearted at having to leave over 200 dogs of other breeds on the property, hoping other rescue groups would be able to step in and save these dogs before Bubba destroyed them prior to his shutdown by the state. We were angry, disgusted, and frustrated at how a human being could treat a living thing like a commodity. Witnessing this cruelty has been traumatic for all of us and we pray that communicating this tragedy sheds some light on how horrible the existence of these breeding operations is. This cruelty must be stopped!

These dozen Airedales are now the newest children of ATRA. Each and every one of the extraordinary Airedales that come to us for so many reasons are looking for love from someone like you. "The Missouri Twelve," Davey, Pixie, Dixie, Hope, Melanie, Major, Freemon, Gloria, Sunshine, Kelsey, Harmony, and Summer, just as well as the many Airedales in every state ATRA covers, need your help! If you can't foster or adopt, please consider making a monetary donation to our organization.

Bubba is being shut down from breeding by the state of Missouri on October 1st, 2009 and will never be allowed to own or breed dogs in that state again.