ESCANABA, Mich. (WJMN) – It’s been a long, exhausting journey for the animals seized from the alleged puppy mill five months ago. But now, the adoption process has begun to help find these animals their forever homes.

The story begins on August 24, 2020, when the Delta Animal Shelter was asked by law enforcement to help remove animals from an alleged puppy mill in Maple Ridge Township.

“This all started because of a loose horse that was in the road,” said Susan Gartland, manager/director of the Delta Animal Shelter. “That horse’s name is Phoenix, and there are pictures and horses of Phoenix on our Facebook page. State Trooper Kanyuh went to remove the hazard on the road and took the horse. And then, her insight and what she saw alerted her that something wasn’t quite right.”


Gartland said the state trooper’s instincts were correct, as dozens upon dozens of dogs were found roaming in an open area and even more found inside and outside a barn.

“It quickly turned into something overwhelming, emotional. Many of the animals were emancipated, in poor condition. No clear food or water. The temperature of that day too was very warm, and the sun was beating down. And it quickly became a serious situation. We were so glad to assist to help the animals to get them out of the situation they were living with and let the law take over and pursue what needed to be done,” said Gartland.

Rebecca Sue Johnson, the woman charged in connection to the puppy mill, was arraigned on December 9 and could face more than seven years in jail if convicted. A preliminary examination of her charges is expected on January 22. On January 11, Johnson gave up her rights to the animals. Since the seizure of the animals, an additional 100 puppies were born in the care of the Delta Animal Shelter.

“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and one of the things we were so thankful for is the community and the U.P. in general that we live in. People five months later still cared about what was going on. They were still supporting us, encouraging us. I’ll be honest, a lot of days we cried we were exhausted. It was emotional, especially during the births,” said Gartland.

“There’s a lot of individual stories that were very emotional. I think of Tequila. We had her just a couple of days. She was heavily pregnant and she was outside exercising in the yard and she dug a hole and had her first baby. And it kind of hit me really hard that that was her normal. And of course, just watching the conditions of these mothers: their thinness, the skinniness, and having 10-15 babies. It was heartbreaking.”

Delta Animal Shelter has begun the spaying and neutering process, with 217 surgeries to do before they can become adopted. Gartland said this process could take a few weeks to finish and they will post updates on their Facebook page once the animals are available for adoption. Most dogs are currently staying in foster homes as they await surgery and adoption. Dogs from the puppy mill with behavioral issues are being put through Dawgs Adapt, a prison training program in Munising.