One month after the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office seized nearly 200 English shepherds from a Ballantine woman, volunteers training and caring for the dogs say they are seeing progress.
But they said there is a lot of work left to do, especially since the number of dogs grows as females give birth.
The dogs were seized from Shady Lane Kennels, owned by Linda Kapsa, in Ballantine last month. Kapsa pleaded not guilty on Jan. 13 to two counts of aggravated animal cruelty and four misdemeanors relating to the seizure.
Most of the dogs are being held at two locations, MetraPark and the old Moore Lane Veterinary Hospital building. As of Tuesday night, there were about 130 dogs at MetraPark and 70, including 35 puppies, at Moore Lane.
The Moore Lane puppies range in age from just days old to almost 1 year, said Carla Bracken, a sheriff's office spokeswoman who is coordinating the site, with the youngest being a litter of six born on Sunday. The older puppies were born before the Dec. 30 seizure. Six pregnant females were sent from MetraPark to the Moore Lane site earlier this month. Several litters were born about two weeks ago, and more are on the way.
"We have six more pregnant females" at MetraPark, said Catherine Schaeffer, manager of the Metra site. "And we have two more that are questionable that are on a regular watch."
The puppies are generally healthy, Bracken said. Two litters born before the seizure had parvovirus, a highly contagious virus that can kill dogs, which may have come from their mothers. One litter lost four of seven puppies. The other lost two, but the remaining ones are "bouncing around like the other puppies," she said.
Dr. Rob Bruner, a veterinarian with the Big Sky Pet Center who is in charge of medical care for the animals, said they are closely monitoring all of the dogs for parvovirus, and that about 100 tests have been performed to date.
A maternity ward has been set up for new mothers in a large room at the center. The room includes nine 12-foot-long kennels, which house five mothers, their puppies and three more pregnant dogs. During the day, older puppies are kept in a large room at the front of the building where they can play together.
"We have a good running place here," Bracken said. "It's clean, and most of the older dogs are getting used to it."
At both shelters, volunteers continue to reintegrate the animals with humans.
"I can tell you that some of the dogs are just coming around so quickly," Schaeffer said. "It's just amazing. But we still have the ones that are scared to death and very shy. It's going to be a slow process."
She cited one dog, Harry, who is so scared of people that he spends most of the day with his head buried in a corner in his stall. Las week, a volunteer wanted to take a picture of Harry, and the dog held up his head, making eye contact with the photographer for a few seconds. While it doesn't sound like much, that action represents huge steps for Harry, Schaefer said, because he is getting more comfortable around people.
About 20 of the English shepherds are close to entering the second stage of their training - socialization. Once the dogs are more comfortable around people, volunteers can begin socializing them with other dogs and people under supervised conditions.
"It's a baby step here, a baby step there," Schaeffer said.
Bruner said there has been "a significant decrease" of dogs needing treatment. That is in large part due to the basic health care they've been receiving over the past few weeks.
"The dogs are getting settled in," he said. "The other thing is that the nutrition and the husbandry is so much healthier. Basic care has made such a huge difference."