As Amber Highfield opened the crate, two tiny paws jumped up and pulled on her heartstrings.
“He just put his little front legs around me, and hugged me, and I said, ‘You know a sucker when you see one,’” she said.
Smoke, the recently adopted Australian cattle dog, came from a group of 30 rescued dogs brought to Hall County from a Picayune, Miss., facility. Police seized upward of 80 dogs from the owners, citing poor living conditions for the animals.
“She kept them in an abandoned house. ... The dogs were living in crates in their own excrement, and it had caused burns to their feet,” Highfield said.
Dr. Marie Lance, hospital director at Lance Animal Hospital in Gainesville, traveled with her husband, Bryan, and others on Nov. 1 to bring dogs back to Hall County for rehabilitation. After returning nine dogs to original breeders, 13 cattle dogs have stayed at Lance Animal Hospital, Highfield said.
“The majority of these dogs were basically suffering from neglect,” Lance said. “Many of them had severe ear infections that turned to hematomas, which are big blood blisters on the ears from relentless scratching.”
The remaining eight have stayed at Holly’s Bed & Biscuit Inn in Lula, which has donated food and treats.
“It was just absolutely something that needed to be done,” owner Holly Crumley said.
A large bus customized for dogs will transport some of the dogs today to New England to reach their forever homes.
Highfield said she intended to train Smoke for competitions in rally and obedience. A descendant of the dingo, the cattle dog is known for its high levels of energy and intelligence.
“They’re a very tough breed. You see a lot of them compete in agility ... and a lot are farm dogs,” Highfield said.
For this reason, the dogs are being adopted primarily by experienced cattle dog owners who can train the dogs. Owners have to be fair and firm for this working breed, Lance said.
“Cattle dogs are tough customers,” she said. “You have to remember those cattle dogs are meant to run the wild lands of Australia and deal with wild cattle.”
While in Hall County, the dogs have been trained on basic commands like sit and stay, as well as learning to be sociable.
“The biggest thing with training any dog is just patience,” said Angelita Lance, dog trainer at Holly’s Bed and Biscuit Inn.
Lance commended her staff, particularly Dr. Lara Boyce and natural healing coordinator Davorin Bozja, for their efforts in helping the cattle dogs.
“I don’t think there’s anyone here that’s permanently damaged physically, and I think their emotions are well on the way to mend,” Lance said of the dogs.
People interested in applying to adopt any of the remaining cattle dogs can contact the Australian Cattle Dog Rescue Inc. at 805-246-7313. Its website is www.acdrescueinc.com.