The last time Smith Valley resident Kris Brown set out to help rescue the 145 dogs stranded at a sprawling ranch in Gabbs, she and the other volunteers had few resources at their disposal.
When Brown, a Douglas County attorney, learned that five of the Gabbs dogs were once again in peril — this time at a kennel in Washington state — it was a whole new world of social media.
In November, Brown became aware that the dogs she helped relocate were living in deplorable conditions in Washington.
“Five of the dogs — Itsy, Tippy, Herbie, Dixie and Able — went to Olympic Animal Sanctuary at Washington State. At the time, in 2008, it had just started out and was a reputable sanctuary. By 2012, things had changed and volunteers reported to local law enforcement that the animals were being kept in appalling conditions.
“The police investigated and documented dogs stacked in crates, filth and overcrowded conditions. At that time there were 140-160 dogs being kept in a warehouse. They were only being fed every 2-3 days, if that. Despite tons of photos and reports, the city attorney declined to prosecute. Everyone did nothing. The volunteer that reported the situation and others began a Facebook page to get action,” she said.
Brown began a campaign to have the Gabbs dogs rescued and returned to Safe Haven Kennel in Yerington.
“We learned they were living in a warehouse, in 5-by-5-foot cages or travel crates in urine-soaked hay, indoors with no lights. We believe they were being fed every few days,” Brown said.
Efforts had been under way since September 2012 to get the sanctuary manager, Steve Markwell, to return the dogs.
A barrage of videos, photographs and reports flooded social media.
In late December, Markwell packed up a 53-foot tractor-trailer with 124 dogs in crates and drove from Washington to Arizona where he finally agreed to relinquish the animals.
The rescue operation was turned over to Guardians of Rescue, a New York-based organization.
Brown’s friend, Robin Wenham, drove from Foresthill, Calif., to Arizona, picked up three Gabbs dogs — two were unaccounted for — and returned the animals to Safe Haven for a joyous reunion last week with Brown, volunteer Theresa Kostenbader and kennel caretaker Aiko Shinseki.
When the investigation began in 2012, Dixie was nowhere to be found. Brown believes she died “before the ugly time.”
Able also is unaccounted for. Brown said he was one of Markwell’s favorites, and is optimistic he is safe.
“It’s such a relief to have the dogs back, “ Kostenbader said. “There was so much protesting going on, and nothing was being done.”
Wenham also brought two wolf hybrids — Brown calls them “wolfies” — which are acclimating to life in Yerington. She said Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Inc., agreed to handle their adoption.
Shy and scared at first, Brown recently posted a video of the “woflies singing.”
Last week, the hybrids, a male and female, were feasting on deer meat, provided at cost by a Yerington butcher.
Brown moved freely in their kennels, respecting their space and giving them a chance to get to know their new surroundings.
“Kris has no fear ever with any dog,” Kostenbader said.
Brown was grateful for the speed with which events transpired in the second Gabbs rescue as compared to 2008.
“When the Gabbs dogs were originally rescued, we used emails and phone calls among the volunteers, but the general public wasn’t aware of what was going on. This time, people are on Facebook and YouTube talking about it, and wanting to help,” she said.
Despite the deplorable conditions, Brown believes Itsy, Herbie and Tippy can be adopted.
“They’re not doing circling, they’re not shutting down,” she said.
At Safe Haven, the Gabbs rescues have lots of company.
There are 22 dogs and a litter of puppies in indoor and outdoor heated kennels with plenty of love, food, blankets, and sunshine.
Brown spends much of her time on weekends walking dogs at the shelter.
“Without Kris, the shelter wouldn’t exist,” Kostenbader said.
Brown said the ordeal is an indicator that rescue operations have to do a better job of policing themselves.
“People think, ‘OK, they’re safe,’ and it’s on to the next rescue. You have to make sure they stay safe. These dogs were part of our original rescue and I think they are our rescue dogs forever,” Brown said.
Brown never talked to Markwell, but did exchange emails with him, trying to get the dogs returned to Safe Haven Kennel. Finally, he sent her a “cease and desist” demand and threatened to go after her for harassment.
She doesn’t know what happened to turn the situation so tragic.
“We’ve speculated on that a lot,” Brown said. “He got caught up in the ‘thrill of the rescue’ and the attention and wasn’t equipped to handle it.”