BROOKSVILLE — When Dolphin experienced what likely was her first romp in a garden, the yellow lab showed her amazement in the most basic way, digging in the dirt and plopping herself down in the middle of it.That might not have done much for the cleanliness of Ginger Smith's Clearwater home, but it did a bunch for her heart.Smith, a dog rescuer for more than a decade, saw in Dolphin's behaviors over the past week or two what a kind voice and a little freedom can do for a dog damaged by sad circumstances.Dolphin is one of 21 female Labrador retrievers confiscated just after Christmas from Blackrock Kennels, a property on Ponce De Leon Boulevard in Brooksville owned by Randy Joe Cox. Deputies from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office went to the site on December 16 to assist animal services officers conducting a license renewal inspection.Once onsite, caretaker James "Michael" Daye told officers that Cox paid him to care for the animals. Cox, he said, operates a breeding kennel in Marion County "but brings the dogs that are too old for breeding purposes to his kennel in Brooksville,'' according to court documents.What officers found were black and yellow Labs in makeshift pens. Many had obvious health issues, including skin lesions, flea infestations, bad teeth and eyes clouded with discharge. Some were emaciated and showed fur loss.When contacted by officers about the conditions, Cox said he had treated the dogs for fleas, but knew they had not improved. Cox told a deputy that "if the dogs' conditions did not improve, he would just euthanize the dogs.''A county judge ruled on Dec. 20 that Cox was an unfit animal owner as defined by Florida law, and that the dogs were "in distress.'' The judge ruled that Cox cannot own animals in the future and gave the dogs to Hernando County Animal Services."It was kind of a mixed bag,'' said James Terry, the county animal services manager. "The majority of them had very bad skin conditions. Many had been over-bred. Many were very skinny. None had any leash manners because they had been kept in a kennel all of their lives.''All of the dogs were released to Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida. Once the community heard about the situation, Terry said, there was plenty of support.Within a few days, the rescue network gathered up the ailing dogs and parceled them out to foster homes across the state."We had seven or eight volunteers who took dogs out on the first day,'' said Linda Mau, the network's local representative, who has worked before with the county shelter on rescues. "There were lots of cars and lots of crates.'' The rest of the "Brooksville Seniors" as the rescue has called them, went out the next day.The Labs are in homes in Orlando, New Port Richey, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and Miami. One even went to the Florida Keys, she said.That began the rescue's work to clean up the dogs, begin vet appointments to spay those that were ready and assess those that had more pressing medical issues. On the Facebook pages of the rescue and its affiliates, volunteers showed dogs exploring their first grassy yards, while others, like Dolphin, were luxuriating in bolstered, plush dog beds.Sooz Woolley, who has been a board member with the statewide rescue for years, said that despite their poor living conditions and medical problems, "they are all very nice dogs.'' Those tested so far are heartworm negative. Other medical conditions will take time to address, but she is hopeful the dogs soon will be ready for permanent homes.They are thought to be between 5 and 10 years old. Anyone interested in adopting a dog or contributing to their medical costs can visit the rescue's web site at https://lrrof.org. There is a special button for the Brooksville Seniors.Lab rescue volunteers point out that the breed has been the most popular for years. Labs are good family dogs, good hunting dogs and good working dogs, Woolley said. The rescue does home visits and encourages new owners to take their dogs through obedience training.Smith is taking things one day at a time with Dolphin, who seems fascinated about every little thing she gets to explore in Smith's yard and home. Dolphin suffers from dental issues, skin issues and is learning about taking walks.But the approximately 7-year-old dog knows the important things already."She is the sweetest and most loving dog,'' Smith said. "She just looks at me just like she could eat me up with love, and it's just because I'm nice to her.''Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.