SPRING HILL — Carlos Real can always tell when his canine customers have had a tough life. There are obvious signs when a dog has been abused or neglected, or worse, may never have been held by human hands.
That's why the groomer at April's Pet Grooming in Spring Hill took extra care Friday in the task of bathing and trimming the frightened young black and white Shih Tzu that shivered alone in its crate.
"When a dog hasn't had much socialization, they just freeze on you," Real said. "They don't move at all. So you just try to be as calm as possible. That's all you can do."
So it was for most of the 63 Shih Tzus found abandoned early Thursday near Holden Drive and Hilton Drive east of Brooksville. Neighbors were awakened by incessant barking, and authorities spent hours rounding up the animals.
Since then, Hernando County Animal Services has embarked on an enormous effort to get the animals cleaned up and ready for further evaluation before they can consider adoption.
According to Animal Services supervisor Patrick Pace, all of the dogs appeared to have suffered from long-term neglect, including being malnourished. Most had filthy matted fur, overgrown toenails and signs of severe flea infestation. Many also suffered from skin lesions as a result of constant confinement.
"We're very hopeful that all of them are going to eventually be just fine," Pace said. "But it's going to take some time."
The task of rehabilitating the dogs began Thursday with a complete head to toe grooming, with local groomers April's Pet Grooming, Sandy's Salon, Clip & Trim, Petco and Granny's Animal Camp donating their services. In addition, several area veterinarians also donated services for any of the animals in need of medical care.
Pace said news of the dogs' discovery also prompted a crush of more than 80 phone calls to Animal Services by Friday morning from people wanting to adopt the animals. However, he cautioned that the adoption process would probably not start until the dogs are thoroughly evaluated, which could take a couple of weeks.
"We think that in the end, they will all be adoptable, but some of them may have long-term health issues to deal with," Pace said. "We want to make sure that we're very up front with anyone who wants to adopt an animal from us."
Humane Society of the Nature Coast director Joanne Schoch, said that finding homes for the dogs probably won't be difficult. Shih Tzus are among the most popular small-breed dogs in the country and are a particularly favored with by the elderly. They typically sell for $300 to $400.
"Plus, they are so darned adorable," Schoch said. "I know plenty of people who would love to have one those dogs."
Meanwhile, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office is continuing its investigation into who abandoned the dogs. Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Donna Black said Friday that her office has been getting plenty of tips.
"Everything we get is potentially valuable," Black said. "It may take quite a few bits and pieces to get this solved."
Anyone with information about these dogs is asked to call the Hernando County Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830. Or if you wish to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward up to $1,000, call the Hernando Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-866-990-8477 or e-mail a tip by clicking the Crimestoppers link at hernandosheriff.org.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.