In her eight years of owning Red Sky Rescue in Medora, Ruth Riley has never had a Shar Pei brought to the dog shelter.
But she recently wound up with seven.
A few weeks ago, in a secluded, densely wooded area near the Muscatatuck River between Seymour and Uniontown, someone spotted nine of the rare dogs with no one around them.
Mark Deaton, dog control officer with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, captured three of them, but it was going to take time to catch the others. Riley didn’t want to give up on them, so she offered her own live traps, and four more were caught.
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Four of the dogs have been taken to no-kill rescue shelters in Indiana and Wisconsin, while Riley has three of them at her shelter, and the other two are still on the loose.
Riley said she suspects someone from outside the county was running a backyard breeder operation and decided to dump the dogs in a remote location. She said the United States Department of Agriculture requires professional breeders to have a license in Indiana.
Riley scanned the dogs to check for microchips, which are used to identify their owners, but none were found. The dogs didn’t have collars or tags, either.
Even if the owners were in violation of the law, Riley said you just don’t dump dogs out like that.
“All they had to do was make a phone call to a no-kill facility and say, ‘We need help,’” she said. “You don’t just take your truck out in the middle of nowhere and open the door and throw your dogs out. That’s just cruel, and it’s criminal besides that.”
Riley said it may be difficult to track down the owners.
“People that do this sort of thing, they need to be responsible, and they need to be punished,” she said. “There’s no excuse. All they’ve got to do is go online, find a rescue group or an organization nearby and call them.”
Fortunately, Riley has had several people step up and help with the situation.
The people who first spotted the dogs near the river bottoms began dropping off dog food there. They then called Deaton and Riley to see what they could do; Deaton rescued three of the dogs.
Gary and Karen McDonald, who live close to that area, allowed Riley to set up her traps on their property. Kelly Bishop of Seymour and her son, Patrick, volunteered to bait the traps with food every night. That resulted in three more dogs being trapped.
All of the rescued dogs were in bad condition. One female that’s still at Red Sky Rescue is very thin and has an injured leg. Another one was pregnant when she was found, and she was taken to a Shar Pei rescue shelter in Wisconsin.
“She had a week to go (until giving birth), so it was the nick of time that we were able to get her to safety because she would have lost her puppies in the woods,” Riley said.
A Humane Society of the United States representative recently visited the Medora shelter to provide veterinary care for the dogs.
Since she wasn’t familiar with that type of dog, Riley said she had to be careful when handling them.
“They are a very intelligent breed, but they are aloof,” she said. “They are more catlike in their behavior and just not what I was accustomed to, so we had to be very cautious at first.”
Now, she has become attached to them.
“They are adorable and very, very sweet dogs,” she said. “They feel safe here. We are in love with them.”
After researching the dogs on the Internet, Riley said she found a breeder in the Chicago area that was selling Shar Pei puppies for $800 to $1,500 apiece.
“These are rare dogs,” she said. “They are not common in our area and are very expensive.”
Riley received a call Saturday morning about one of the other dogs being spotted near Swifty Farms along U.S. 31 south of Seymour. Then early that afternoon, someone called and told her that one of the dogs was found in someone’s swimming pool, but they let it go, not knowing that it was lost.
Riley hopes those dogs are rescued soon, and she said she appreciates everyone’s efforts.
“It’s like that book, ‘It Takes a Village.’ This has become a huge village of people who really care,” she said.
“It was so devastating for all of us to see what some people do to innocent, dependent animals,” she said. “These dogs have never been on their own. They are not meant to be out in the woods trying to fend for themselves. They are pets, and they are just terrified. It’s really heartening to me to see that so many people have stepped up to be a part of the group and help us.”
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Red Sky Rescue, 8305 W. County Road 150N, Medora, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers a safe haven to stray and abandoned dogs in Jackson County, providing food, shelter and medical care.
Owner Ruth Riley explores every resource in finding new, loving families for the homeless pets who have found their way to the shelter.
To rescue a dog, donate items or volunteer at the shelter, call 812-216-6310 or email [email protected]. Information also can be found at redskyrescue.org.