So far, 62 of the 88 New Guinea Singing Dogs removed from a rural Franklin County, Pa., property in November have found new homes.
Confined within the wire mesh of their outdoor dog run, shy, yet inquisitive Bear and Daisy circled their new home — stopping occasionally to sniff their plastic play set — at the East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue in Fairfield, Pa.
Suzanne Murray, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Adams County, Pa., nonprofit rescue organization, adopted four of the rare dogs after state officials imposed a cease and desist order on Randy Hammond of Fannett Township on Oct. 13.
Murray said she had to do something after seeing a picture of the above-ground, cramped rabbit hutch-like structure that Bear and Daisy were sharing.
"I hate to put anything in a cage, but seeing what they were coming from I knew I could do 100 times better," said Murray, who cares for about 150 animals at her 320 Zoo Road facility.
Bear and Daisy came to the facility on New Year's Day while the less social Bo and Little Miss came to Murray in November.
East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue takes in animals that are no longer wanted by zoos or laboratories as well as people's pets. The facility is open to the public May through October.
What they found
Nicole Bucher, acting press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said state officials went to Hammond's property after receiving information about the rare singing dogs on its tip line.
What they found were 88 dogs, including 68 adults and 20 puppies.
She said the conditions were not terrible. But some of the dogs were being housed in barrels, which was not acceptable.
In November, state officials and rescue organizations worked to place the dogs, which is one of the world's rarest dog breeds.
"We were not aware of any other licensed singing dogs in the state before, and worldwide there are less than 100 or 200. So, they are very, very rare," Bucher said.
Tom Wendt of New Guinea Singing Dog International has traveled from Chicago four times, so far, and placed 62 of the 88 singing dogs in private homes, with animal rescues and sanctuaries.
He plans to return to Hammond's home this week to reduce the number of dogs Hammonds owns to no more than the 25 that he is permitted to keep under state regulations.
Wendt has found foster homes and adoptive homes for the singing dogs in private residences, animal rescues and sanctuaries in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Washington, California and New Hampshire.
"I never dreamed something like this would happen. There are so few of these to begin with. How could you imagine somebody having 80 of them?" said Wendt.
"They were in cramped outdoor enclosures, but Randy (Hammond) loved his dogs. He fed them everyday and watered them everyday. But, when you have 80 of them, it's kind of hard to keep up with handling the way some of them were living," said Wendt.
Initially, Bucher called Hammond a hoarder — a term that he found offensive.
"Having that many dogs without the ability to take care of that many dogs. I have no heartburn calling him that (a hoarder)," said Bucher.
She said singing dogs are not meant to be pets. Even if someone adopts them as a puppy, they are not for the novice pet owner.
Spaying and neutering began on Nov. 10 for the singing dogs.
Hammond, 58, got his first two dogs, Reba and Elvis, from an exotic animal auction in Ohio in 1995 and that same year he acquired two more dogs, Trigger and Trixie, from a Pennsylvania kennel that was closed by state authorities.
Trigger and Trixie had two females and Elvis and Reba had two males, and Hammond line-bred the dogs rather than in-breeding them, Wendt said.
"One of the reasons that they were spayed and neutered is all of those dogs were born from four animals that he (Hammond) started with. When you have that much in-breeding there can be some genetic anomalies that you wouldn't necessary want to pass on to future generations," Bucher explained.
Hammond will be permitted to keep up to 25 dogs, she said.
Bucher said the Pa. dog law states that you can have 25 dogs or less before you must apply for a kennel license.
According to Bucher, the state filed three charges and Hammond pleaded guilty to all of them.
He was cited for not having dog licenses, operating without a kennel license and no rabies vaccines.
If convicted, Hammond faces fines up to $1,100, according to state officials.
Before the discovery in Fannett Township, there were only about 60 singing dogs in captivity in the United States. So, Wendt said this is a tremendous educational opportunity.
"We're trying to raise funds to go to New Guinea and capture a new blood line. These dogs are the closest thing to a wolf genetically on earth. They are actually considered a dingo. I sent eight DNA samples to a fellow in Australia because their DNA is so much different than a domestic dog," said Wendt.
As one of the rarest breeds and one of the oldest, "undiluted" breeds, Wendt is hoping to learn more about the evolution of the dog.
Wendt said if anyone is interested in adopting a singing dog, log onto www.freewebs.com/singingdogs.
"We are going to take a lot of caution in screening people. We don't want an unhappy adopter or an unhappy dog," Wendt said.