Lacey the Shih Tzu paced in her cage Wednesday waiting to be noticed.
She barked a little. But the moment she was spoken to, she wagged her tail so eagerly that it became only a blur of black and white.
Outside Anderson County’s animal shelter, more than a dozen people lined up before the doors ever opened, hoping to see Lacey and about 30 other dogs with her. Until last month, those dogs spent their whole lives in a suspected puppy mill in rural Starr, kept behind rusted fences and living in their own waste. Of the 153 dogs seized in August, only about 30 were healthy enough to be offered at a public adoption event Wednesday.
Lacey was one of them.
“People couldn’t wait for us to unlock the door,” shelter director Jessica Cwynar said. “The community has really rallied around these dogs and has helped us tremendously while we have cared for them. We need that and we appreciate it.”
In less than two hours, eight of the puppy mill dogs had been adopted. Another eight had adoptions pending, but needed further medical examinations before they could go home.
“We want people to understand what issues the dogs have, if they have any, before they take them home,” said Brande Kupfer, the shelter’s operations supervisor. “Some of them have dental problems that will need treatment.”
Harmon the brown Pomeranian had two people looking at him, so he ran side to side in his cage trying to get attention from both of them. When a woman picked him up out of the cage, he smothered her with kisses.
“These dogs have done really well interacting with people,” Kupfer said. “Everybody has wanted to see them, and the dogs have really had their lives changed.”
Jeff Sharp of Anderson came to the shelter Wednesday with a mission.
“I’m looking for one particular dog,” he said. “He’s got something on one of his eyes — I think it might have been injured. That’s the dog I want.”
Sharp stopped at each cage. He spoke to each dog, sometimes rubbing a head or offering his hand for a lick. When he got to the cage of a small gray dog, she barked and growled and showed her tiny teeth.
“She’s probably afraid of me,” he said. “I look kind of tougher than I am.”
Sharp wears a diamond stud earring. He has several tattoos on his arms, including one that reads: “It wasn’t nails that held Jesus to the cross. It was love.”
He kept walking from cage to cage.
And then he found Zazzle, a white Chihuahua with a black circle around its left eye.
“That’s the one,” he said. “Can I hold her?”
The dog trembled at first, then buried its head against Sharp’s chest.
Soon, he was taking the paperwork off the dog’s cage to begin the adoption application.
“At least she’s stopped trembling,” he said.
Then he leaned his head down and whispered to the tiny dog.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re safe now.”