It was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit when Bergen County Animal Shelter in New Jersey received a disturbing call regarding puppies and their presence in a Walmart parking lot. A concerned citizen called to report that someone was trying to sell puppies out of the back of their van and worried that the operation seemed illegal and harmful. Rescuers from the shelter as well as the SPCA arrived at the parking lot thinking they would be saving the puppies from what seemed like backyard breeders, but the situation turned out to be much worse.
When they arrived at the parking lot, they located the van that allegedly had puppies inside but the driver of the vehicle was nowhere to be found. After a quick survey of the vehicle, it was determined that the puppies were still inside and under extreme stress from the heat, so rescuers broke open the van and were shocked at what they found. Inside the van were 26 bulldog puppies crammed into two crates.
“They were literally on top of each other,” said Deborah Yankow, the director of Bergen County Animal Shelter.
When they pulled the puppies out, they were all warm to the touch, struggling to breathe, and desperate for water. Rescuers immediately laid out water bowls for them and the puppies were so thirsty and hot that they attempted to get inside the bowls. Based on their condition at the time of rescue, officials believe that they were just moments away from a worse fate.
“If they were in the van any longer, they most likely would not have survived,” Yankow said.
When the drivers of the van came back to the vehicle, it was determined that they had left the puppies alone for about 45 minutes. If the rescuers hadn’t arrived during that time and begun pulling out the small dogs, they likely would have died in that time. Police arrived to question the drivers and Yankow herself spoke with one of the drivers in the midst of the chaos.
“One of the drivers told me she was taking them to Florida,” she said. “There was paperwork with them and it was determined, we believe, they might’ve been flown from Colombia.”
They believe that the puppies came from a puppy mill from Colombia, and officials are concerned because this isn’t their first run-in with illegal puppies flown from the same nation. Though they hadn’t had much of a problem before with this because there were ample puppy mills in the states to supply puppies, now their attention is also shifting to out-of-country operations where the young dogs may be flown from.
Though this is indicative of a much larger problem, rescuers are just happy that they were able to save all of the puppies in time. Since the dogs have short noses, they already have a difficult time cooling down because their small noses make panting even harder and nearly ineffective.
“They’re all short nosed puppies which have a very serious reaction to heat normally, let alone in the back of a car,” Yankow explained.
The American and French bulldogs are currently being cared for at the shelter but won’t be available for adoption for an unknown amount of time. Since this is an active investigation, the puppies aren’t technically owned by the shelter despite being in their custody, and the county would have to go to court to obtain ownership. It’s not until this point that they would be up for adoption. Their lack of availability has not prevented people from trying to reserve a puppy for themselves, however. Within days, the shelter had to announce that they would no longer be accepting applications for the puppies because it’s unsure when they will be able to find a forever home.