Puppy-Mill Rescue Dogs Win "Springer Lottery”

Former housemates land a loving home together

Emergency Relief grantDaphne and Edgar used to spend their days fenced in a small backyard with 19 other English springer spaniels in southern Alabama. It wasn’t easy living with so many housemates. With the females in heat and little food to go around, the dogs often fought.

Without any shelter in the yard, neighbors could see the dogs’ injuries through the fence. Daphne looked especially troublesome because she had a serious injury to her eye.

Concerned neighbors and community members knew this was a puppy mill. They tried for a couple of years to help the dogs, and the owner of the property went to court twice. It wasn’t until May 2014 that a judge ordered all the dogs to be turned over to English Springer Rescue America, Inc. (ESRA).

Volunteers vividly recall rescue mission

Kim Matthews is a volunteer with ESRA who helped remove the dogs from the property. She described the yard as muddy, and covered in feces and knee-high grass.

She said the dogs dug holes all over the yard. One of the holes was under the house, and the dogs hid in it to get some shade.

“The dogs were not socialized — definitely not like typical springers, who love people,” Kim said. “They were covered in feces, their fur was matted and they had untreated wounds from fighting each other. It took months before I could get the smell of that place out of my nose.”

Kim specifically remembers Daphne and Edgar. “Daphne was the dog who drove the latest effort to shut down the puppy mill because of her noticeable injuries,” she said. “I remember looking at Edgar. He was covered in feces, matted to the skin, and all I could think about was his true beauty.”

Emergency Relief grant helps dogs em-“bark” on a new beginning

ESRA worked with volunteers and used local kennels to shelter the dogs. A PetSmart Charities® Emergency Relief grant totaling more than $4,000 funded the dogs’ spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, microchips and other medical needs — including eye surgery for Daphne. Veterinarians removed one eye, and she was blind in the other.

“When you take in that many dogs at one time, the cost of care is overwhelming. What PetSmart Charities did for us helped to offset those costs and gave us some breathing room,” Kim said.

It took about a week for all of the springers to get into foster homes. Just a couple of months after that, they started to go to forever homes.

family hugs dogsSpringer lovers cut vacation short to adopt

Enter Chris Bilek and Laurie Speidel-Bilek of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Chris grew up with English springers, and they both loved the breed. But when Prince — their last springer — passed away in July 2014, the couple swore they would never have another dog again. They just couldn’t bear the heartache of losing another pet.

But that didn’t stop them from perusing adoptable English springers online. They were on vacation at a beach near St. Petersburg when Laurie saw a picture of Daphne.

“I fell in love with her instantly. I had no intention whatsoever of having another dog in our lives, but my heart just opened up to her,” she said.

Edgar caught Chris’s eye. “He looks like a little sheep from the back, but he’s got this big head. He’s so cute,” Chris said. “He has the most lovable face I’ve ever seen.”

And that was it. The couple made phone calls to Daphne’s and Edgar’s foster families, and then cut their vacation short to meet the foster families in Valdosta, Georgia.

Experienced pet parents ensure good home

The couple wasn’t sure what to expect that first night, but because Chris has experience with springers, they felt prepared to handle all possible behaviors. Luckily, both Daphne and Edgar fit right into their new home.

“I knew exactly what we were getting into given their background, but they’re wonderful springers. I’m really impressed with them,” he said.

Laurie is an interpreter for the deaf, so she understands what it’s like to live with a disability. She said she was touched by the fact that Daphne is blind. She did a lot of research on blind dogs so she could help Daphne flourish.

Daphne was able to map out their house in a matter of days. She loves to jump on the couch, and she’ll occasionally take a swim in the pool. A trainer is working with Daphne to help her learn other commands.

Edgar helps, too, by acting as a guide for Daphne. “When they go walking, he guides her. He keeps her on the path,” Laurie said.

While Laurie helps Daphne strengthen her other senses, Chris helps Edgar adjust to his new environment. He was a bit more nervous than Daphne, and he wasn’t used to a human’s touch.

Chris would pet him constantly to gain his trust. It worked.

“Now, if you’re not touching him, he’s wondering what he did,” Chris said. “Both dogs are 100 percent love all of the time.”

Chris and Laurie make sure they return that love. “They were in a terrible situation for the first 4 years of their lives. We want them to know they hit the springer lottery,” Chris said.

You certainly could say Daphne and Edgar hit the springer lottery. With belly rubs, ice cream treats, trips to the beach and endless love from their new pet parents, these dogs are finally living the life they deserve.

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