Santa Rosa County Animal Services is in the process of removing approximately 60 dogs from the home of an East Milton man who has agreed to turn the pups over to the county after becoming overwhelmed.
Animal control investigated the home earlier this week after an anonymous tip, and found dozens of dogs on the elderly man's one-acre property, according to Animal Services Director Dale Hamilton.
Hamilton said the dogs all appeared to be well-fed, but none had received veterinary care or socialization and all of them had varying degrees of mange.
"Somebody put an anonymous call in, and we went out and talked to the guy. He was very nice and told us he had a problem," Hamilton said. "It didn't appear to be malicious, he wasn't doing it on purpose. He's just got so many dogs out there it's like, where do you start?"
Hamilton said the man has been cooperative and is not facing charges. He agreed to let the county seize the dogs from his home.
Animal services and a few local rescue groups went to the home on Tuesday and took 25 dogs from the property. The shelter doesn't have enough room for all 60 dogs at once, so it will take four or five trips and several months before all of the dogs can be removed from the home.
Since arriving at the shelter Tuesday night, the dogs from the hoarding case are noticeably different from the other dogs at the shelter.
The hoarding case dogs are withdrawn, quiet and rarely make eye contact. They have never had socialization, don't know how to play with toys and don't understand the concept of treats.
One dog, a yellow Lab mix named Milk, recoils at human touch and sticks her nose in the corner of the kennel whenever a human tries to enter to pet her.
Another dog, a small terrier mix named Goldie, sits timidly at the kennel fence and is the only dog from the case so far that will accept treats. Goldie's kennel mate, Pretty Boy, cowers in the corner and won't let humans come near him.
Shelter director Dora Thomason said she hopes the dogs can one day live a normal life. They're not currently up for adoption, and Thomason is hoping to work with local rescue groups to foster the dogs so they can learn how to be "real" dogs and eventually find forever homes.
"When you have that many animals in a small space, obviously they were not socialized properly," she said. "But they're not lashing out, they're not violent at all. We hope (the foster groups) can rehabilitate them."
Paula Whiteamire, the president and founder of Amazing Grace Bully Rescue, was at the shelter Friday afternoon to assess the dogs and pick some that she could send to her foster families.
She said the shelter reached out to her and asked if Amazing Grace could help with some of the dogs, since every dog that leaves the kennel will free up space for more dogs to be rescued from the home.
Whiteamire said the dogs will probably take between six to eight months to be ready to adopt out.
"A lot of our volunteers have packs of dogs at home, and those dogs are used to working with dogs like this. They teach them how to play with toys, how to be a dog," Whiteamire said. "If a dog has never been socialized with a human other than the one who feeds them, you have to teach them that it's OK. It's very slow going."
To learn more about the dogs or volunteering opportunities with the shelter, call the Santa Rosa County Animal Shelter at 850-983-4680.
Annie Blanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8632.