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Area dog lovers help to rescue spaniels
North Georgia residents helped transport and care for several English springer spaniels who had been rescued from a Midwest puppy mill and shuttled to their new foster homes across the Southeast. - photo by For The Times

There were just shy of 101 of them, and they weren’t Dalmatians, but there were more than 50 English springer spaniels rescued from a Midwest puppy mill thanks to the dedication of several North Georgia dog lovers.

Volunteers for English Springer Rescue America Inc., an organization that aims to rescue, rehabilitate and find new homes for springers, took on more than 50 springer spaniels and delivered them to foster homes across the country this past weekend.

With the company of an Athens resident, Springer owner and Flowery Branch resident Nita Watson drove the 700 miles to Missouri in a rented cargo van to pick up 21 adult dogs and eight puppies Saturday. The dogs were rescued from a puppy mill, where a breeder was unable to care for 98 dogs, including springers, golden retrievers and English cocker spaniels.

Watson said the breeder was willing to cooperate with authorities as they removed nearly 100 dogs from the breeder’s expansive property where the dogs were running wild.

"These dogs were not really familiar with human contact at all," Watson said. "They had been fed and had been kept up medically, but other than that, they were just breeding stock."

Watson piled the 29 dogs into the cargo van, with crates stacked atop crates. Every few hours, Watson pulled over to walk and feed the dogs and clean out their cages. In Watson’s leg of the journey, she dropped off some dogs in Kentucky and Tennessee, where other drivers took over and delivered them to foster homes throughout the South. ESRA volunteers in the Midwest took another 20 springers to foster homes in Ohio and Colorado.

After days of driving, Watson met a few volunteer drivers in Norcross early Sunday morning. In the darkness of a Norcross subdivision, an out-of-state driver took three springers to foster homes in North Carolina while two adult dogs and two puppies were taken to their foster homes in metro Atlanta. Carol Sanderson, a Norcross resident, drove the remainder of the dogs another 600 miles to their foster homes in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area.

"It went pretty smoothly for such a huge operation," Watson said. "Some of them were scared and didn’t want to come out of their crates ... but they were so well-behaved. We were surprised."

She said it was amazing how dog lovers helped walk the dogs and clean their cages at stops along the way.

David Latimer, a Gainesville resident and owner of Glory, a sweet-faced black and white springer, joined the group of about eight volunteers who awaited the dogs’ arrival Sunday in Norcross.

"People were turning up out of the woodwork to walk the dogs," Latimer said. "... It was all very chaotic, but it all worked out in the end."

Latimer said in compliance with ESRA protocol, the dogs will be cared for in temporary foster homes, where screened caregivers will help rehabilitate the dogs to become well-behaved household pets. After a dogs’ traits are identified, the proper medical care is rendered and if a manageable temperament is instilled in the springers, the dogs then can be adopted by carefully screened owners.

The organization regularly updates its Web site,, with the photos and personality traits of rehabilitated springers, including puppies, that are up for adoption.

Watson said her springer, Max, has become a member of the family, and she is glad to play a part in the happiness of dozens of dogs and their potential owners.

"Now these dogs will know what it’s like to be pampered and to be a pet and to have people rub their belly and rub their ears and enjoy toys, which they have never had before," she said.