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Thursday, Nov 4, 2010County: Franklin
Abuser names unreleased
A Fannett Township man was recently found with about 80 of one of the world's rarest wild dogs, and experts from around the country are now looking to find them suitable homes.
The man has been cited for operating an unlicensed kennel and several other related violations. In a statement issued Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture characterized him as an animal hoarder.
State Dog Warden Georgia Martin said an anonymous tip led her to the Willow Hill property of Randy A. Hammond, 58, where she found 68 adult New Guinea singing dogs and a number of puppies living in dozens of outdoor pens and cages.
Prior to the discovery of Hammond's dogs, there were about 150 members of the breed known to exist in captivity worldwide, many of them in zoos, according to Tom Wendt of New Guinea Singing Dog International.
"This is unprecedented," Martin said.
Named for their unique howling vocalizations, "singers" are primitive dogs from the upper highlands of New Guinea, Wendt said. There have been few actual sightings of the animal in its habitat in recent years, and some believe it to be extinct in the wild.
"This was quite a shock to us to find out the population just went up a third with one phone call from Georgia Martin," said James McIntyre of the New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society.
When Martin visited Hammond's property on Mountain Green Road for the first time on Oct. 5, she heard a canine choir she described as "chilling and beautiful." She spoke with the man about his dogs, then researched the breed and decided that special action would be required.
"I realized what we had here was a very unique breed of animal, and the department was going to need some help," she said.
Martin contacted Wendt's and McIntyre's organizations. With little notice, Wendt drove 13 hours from Illinois and McIntyre flew from his home in Florida. The group met with Hammond on Friday, and he agreed to turn over the majority of his dogs.
"He's been awesome," Wendt said of Hammond's cooperation with the rescue, a combined effort between the two groups and local authorities.
On Monday, Martin filed three citations against Hammond with Magisterial District Judge David Plum. The charges allege he kept more than 25 dogs without the required kennel license, failed to obtain dog licenses for 2010, and did not vaccinate 67 of the dogs against rabies.
Dennis Bumbaugh, Humane Society police officer with Better Days Animal League, filed one citation alleging that Hammond was guilty of animal cruelty due to unsanitary conditions.
If convicted, Hammond faces fines of up to $1,100, according to the agriculture department.
"Animal hoarding situations are often difficult to address because the owners may be in denial about conditions," said Jesse Smith, the state's special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement.
The private zoo is made up of 24 pens of various shapes and sizes, arranged in a maze-like configuration on Hammond's cluttered property. There are also a number of rusting old vehicles, most of them Pontiacs, scattered around the home where he has lived since 1980.
"You can tell he likes to collect things and not let go of them," Wendt said.
In recent years, the number of dogs has exceeded the available space for large pens. On Wednesday, at least six adult dogs were being kept in small wire crates and plastic travel kennels stacked on top of each other in an open-ended shed.
Wendt and McIntyre spent two days evaluating each animal to determine what type of placement would be suitable.
"To see this many dogs and then have them chorus howl all at once, it was like a sensory overload. We knew we were in for something from the moment we pulled in the driveway," McIntyre said.
Two singers were deemed tame enough to go to a foster home near Allentown, Wendt said. All the other adults lack socialization with humans and will require specialized homes, such as zoos or sanctuaries.
"Whoever takes them needs experience with primitive dogs or exotic animals," he said. "The average person at home is not going to like having one of these."
On Wednesday evening, Singing Dog International members Don Erlich and Samantha Burleson left Hammond's property in a U-Haul truck bound for Phoenix, Ariz.
Their cargo was eight female singers with their 17 young puppies and one pregnant female nearly ready to "drop her litter," Wendt said. Also on board were two dogs that had suffered injuries, probably because they were left in pens with their fathers after being born.
One dog was missing both back legs and the other was missing one leg, Wendt said. The two-legged dog will soon be fitted with a special set of wheels to restore his mobility.
"He will be able to wander around shortly," Wendt said.
Erlich and Burleson planned to take turns driving the approximately 1,000 miles to Erlich's home in Emporia, Kan. There Burleson would meet up with a friend to help her drive the final 1,200 miles to her facility in Phoenix.
"You want to get them back there as soon as possible, especially with them nursing," Wendt said.
Minutes after the truck left his driveway, Hammond was feeding and watering the dozens of dogs that still remain in his possession. Each animal gets two cups of dry dog food once a day, he said.
The process of feeding all the dogs takes about an hour, and costs him more than $100 a week. Hammond said he goes through 300 pounds of dog food, six 50-pound bags costing $18 each, every seven days.
Hammond said he got his first breeding pair of New Guinea singing dogs at a flea market in Ohio in 1995. It was the first time he had seen or even heard about the breed, and he fell in love with them because "they were different."
He paid $800 for the two animals and brought them home to Pennsylvania. Not long after that, a man gave him a second pair. When both pairs produced litters of puppies, Hammond bred those with each other.
The result has been exponential population growth over the past 15 years. Mature females are capable of having a litter of as many as six puppies each year. He said his dogs have produced about 15 puppies annually. Hammond's original pair of dogs died in 2004.
Since all of Hammond's dogs descend from only two original breeding pairs, "no matter how you slice it, they're inbred," McIntyre said.
The animals show reduced tail size and a noticeable drop in litter numbers over the years, which McIntyre said are indicators of genetic problems as a result of "high inbreeding."
"Their benefit to our captive genetic breeding program is nothing. Those dogs can't be used," he said. "But, their value to society and the fact that they're a living animal, there's a lot of value there."
According to court records, Hammond received three citations in the fall of 2000 for allowing his dogs to "run at large."
In one instance, two dogs got into a neighbor's deer pen, killing two and mutilating a third. They also killed three turkeys belonging to a neighbor and 18 chickens belonging to another, according to the citations.
"These are aggressive animals. They are not house pets," Martin said.
Over the years, Hammond said, he has sold some puppies and given others away to people who wanted them. He said he didn't raise the dogs for the sake of profit, but to share with people who wanted them.
"It takes a special kind of person to raise these dogs," he said.
Hammond is married, and his adult son lives next door. He makes a living cleaning floors at the Menno Haven retirement home in Chambersburg.
"He loved those dogs and he cared for them, I feel like, the best he could," McIntyre said.
Despite their large numbers, Hammond has named each of his dogs. On Wednesday night he led a reporter by flashlight through meandering rows of chain link, wood and cinderblock enclosures, greeting each dog by monikers like Winchester and Baby.
"I'm really close to them," he said. "Most of them give me kisses."
Still, Hammond said the removal of most of his dogs is for the best, and he has been cooperating fully with all involved.
"They're going to really help me out," Hammond said. "I'm 58 years old. It's about time to really downsize."
He will be allowed to keep around 10 of them, under the condition that they are spayed or neutered, Martin said.
Early next week, a mobile vet clinic donated by the Adams County SPCA will set up on the property, and veterinarians will set about de-sexing all the adult dogs, Wendt said.
On Nov. 11, between 10 and 20 singers will be taken away by Best Friends Animal Society of Kanab, Utah, which took in 22 dogs confiscated from Michael Vick's infamous dog fighting operation.
"I thank the animal welfare groups and veterinarians that have come forward with the expertise and resources necessary to work with the bureau to remove these rare and challenging dogs from an undesirable situation and give them a good future," Smith said.
The organizations are now looking for monetary and supply donations, as well as appropriate homes for the remaining singers, Wendt said. He estimates the entire effort will cost about $20,000 to complete.
"I don't even want to think about it. It's going to be a lot," he said.
About the breed
New Guinea singing dogs are one of the rarest dogs in the world, and speculation varies whether they still exist in the wild.
"No one is able to tell us one way or another about that," said San Diego Zoo Ambassador Rick Schwartz.
James McIntyre of the New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society said he has traveled to the animal's native land for a month and saw evidence of its continued existence.
"We found plenty of signs, such as tracks, urine, feces and hair. I never actually saw a dog, but I was only there for a month," he said.
The animal was originally classified as a wild species in the early 1950s, he said. After it was introduced in the United States, it was reclassified as a feral relative of domesticated dogs. Its protection status was dropped as a result.
In the early 2000s, a genetic study determined that the animal was a genuinely independent wild species.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has had two female singers for about three years, according to Scott Wright, lead keeper of the zoo's "Australian Adventure" exhibit. The animals were acquired as puppies, and are well acclimated to their handlers.
Still, Wright said the dogs are still wild animals, and are better suited to be kept in zoos than as personal pets.
"I wouldn't trust them around children at all. They will bite," he said. "There's some people who swear they're great pets, but there's also people out there who will swear that bears make great pets."
While zoo keepers sometimes walk the dogs with a leash and harness, their strong predatory instincts to hunt and chase prey sometimes take over despite the circumstances, Wright said.
"When they see things like chipmunks, squirrels and even birds, they no longer really want to listen to what's going on," he said.
The Cleveland Zoo feeds their New Guinea singing dogs regular dog chow, Wright said. Like domesticated dogs, they are omnivores and opportunistic feeders that will eat "whatever they can get."
Anyone interested in making a donation or providing a home for some of the Hammond dogs may contact Tom Wendt of New Guinea Singing Dog International at (815) 814-4968, or email@example.com.
Information: New Guinea Singing Dog International http://www.freewebs.com/singingdogs.
Two adolescent New Guinea singing dogs from the Hammond property are already settling into a new foster home.
Late Saturday night, the year-old brother and sister arrived at the Allentown area home of Susan Oliver. She's had experience with the rare breed since 1996, and has provided temporary homes for several of the dogs since then.
"Right now I'm calling the sister Precious, and just calling the other one Brother. He didn't get a name yet," Oliver said in a phone interview Thursday.
She said the two dogs are very timid and easily frightened due to lack of socialization, but are still healthy and capable of affection.
Soon, they will be de-sexed and the search will begin for appropriate homes. In the meantime, they should be comfortable at Oliver's compound, designed for the primitive breed.
A 6-foot stockade fence with electrified wire, concrete footers and a double locking gate are all employed to prevent escape from their outdoor pen, she said.
Like Oliver's pet singer, the foster dogs will be fed a raw chicken leg, bone and all, twice a day.
- publicopiniononline.com - Nov 5, 2010
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