INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Their names are Reggie, Dobbs, Diva, Maisie, Otter and Bandit. They’re 65 days old as of today and are looking for some dedicated, puppy-loving locals to give them a home.
It’s OK. You can take a moment to gush over how adorable they are. Everyone else at the Pet Network Humane Society is doing the same.
“Honestly, I just love them,” said Incline resident Melissa Shaw. “These puppies, you can’t walk into a room without smiling; they are just as happy as can be, right when they wake up until they go to sleep.”
Shaw is a boarding attendant at Pet Network, Incline Village’s nonprofit animal shelter. She was among several employees, volunteers and residents who got the call on July 23: Someone — unbelievably, inexplicably, frustratingly, maddeningly — had left a box of 10 barely born puppies in a trash bin near a South Lake Tahoe gas station.
Thanks to an unnamed Good Samaritan, the hours-old animals were rushed to the Pet Network, where residents worked around the clock to nurse them.
Four eventually died, too frail to be saved. But Reggie, Dobbs, Diva, Maisie, Otter and Bandit survived, thanks to around-the-clock care from roughly 20 locals who stepped up as foster parents.
One of those parents was Crystal Bay resident Steven Kroll, who described the person who left the animals for dead as a “horrible human being.”
“In this world of violence and mayhem, I can no longer say that this act of cruelty is unbelievable, only that it is unfathomable,” he said.
Kroll spent a couple weeks caring for Diva and Reggie, who’ve blossomed into healthy, beautiful and “extremely intelligent puppies.”
“If anybody has been wanting and able to get a new dog or dogs, you’ll want to consider these kids,” he said. “With a coat soft as plush velvet … these puppies are not just adorable …. they seem particularly smart and ready and willing to be trained.
“I don’t remember in my long years with animals any puppy who came to their name at age seven weeks, but Diva and Reggie do.”
Another foster parent was Incline resident and Pet Network board member Bev Keil. Her weekly “Diary of a Dumpster Pup” series in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza consisted of journal-like entries chronicling Bandit’s life from that harrowing first day through eight weeks of care.
Keil’s and Kroll’s stories are among several under an umbrella of community collaboration that represents an “unparalleled” level of positivity for Incline Village, said Pet Network Executive Director Becky Goodman.
“I think it is the most life-affirming and job-affirming situation we’ve had in a really long time here,” Goodman said. “Having these puppies and seeing the community step up, having fosters ... you just wake up every morning and know that this is exactly what you want to do with your life.”
Now, more than nine weeks after someone left them for dead, the next phase in the puppies’ lives nears: adoption. They were returned a week ago to the Pet Network to be spayed and neutered and to get their final shots.
All six animals are “as healthy as can be,” Goodman said.
“Whoever is lucky enough to adopt these guys will continue (their) bonding process and be confident that despite the odds, these puppies will have known only tender care and love in the journey to their final family,” Kroll said. “And that’s something that is usually an unknown when adopting from a shelter.”
In an effort to place the dogs locally, a community reception is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, at the Pet Network at 401 Village Blvd. The entire public is invited.
Most of the foster parents — and the puppies, of course — will be on hand, Goodman said. It’s also when results of DNA tests are expected to be revealed, so the breed of each animal is known.
While the shelter has received plenty of interest from potential adopters — many from the East Coast, including New York and Boston — none have been from Incline Village.
“We’re really hoping to keep these puppies local so they can continue to be part of the community, so the fosters can see the grow,” Goodman said. “We’re going to try and match them to as close of a home we can in the environment that they grew up in. These guys, they are extremely bonded to people, so we’re not interested in someone who will put them in a yard to leave them.”
While the journey to save the animals has been inspiring, it’s also been costly. Medical expenses have included shots, feeding formula, plasma to build immune systems, special heaters to regulate body temperature and other items, all funded by the Pet Network.
Luckily, several community members — in addition to the foster parents — have stepped up to donate funds, Goodman said.
“It hasn’t covered all their bills, but it certainly has helped create a situation where it hasn’t nearly had the financial impact as it would have,” she said.
As for whoever is responsible for leaving the animals for dead, it’s unlikely he or she will be caught.
But Shaw has a message for that person — and for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation in the future.
“I’d tell them to think. Think before they act. If they need to give them up, give them to a place where that they can survive and eventually be adopted out,” Shaw said. “I would just advise people everywhere to please think about the animals and do everything they can to not get rid of them.”
According to California’s animal cruelty laws, leaving puppies for dead in a trash bin can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor.
Punishment can include prison time and/or a fine of up to $20,000 for the felony, and jail time of less than one year and/or a fine of up to $20,000 for the lesser charge.