BROOKSVILLE — For the past two weeks, staffers at the county's Animal Services office have been swamped with calls from people whose sole wish is to adopt one of the 64 abandoned Shih Tzus found in November on a dead-end road east of Brooksville.
So much so that anyone calling the main line is more apt to get a recording than a real person. There's even a special number on the menu to press to get information about the dogs.
"It's been very hectic around here," Liana Teague, code and animal services manager, said Wednesday. "I've never seen anything like it."
People were lining up at the shelter before it opened in recent mornings, hoping to get one of the furry critters.
Indeed, interest in the dogs has created a frenzy from sympathetic dog lovers around the area and beyond. In fact, Teague said, her office currently has more applicants than Shih Tzus.
Although no timeline has been set, Teague said the adoption process can't begin until all the dogs are spayed and neutered, which the shelter is required to do by law.
"It could be late this week or early next week before we're ready," Teague said. "We just want to make sure that they're healthy enough to send home with someone."
So far, Animal Services has received more than 80 adoption applications. However, Teague cautioned that because many of the dogs have health and behavioral issues, some may not be suitable for owners who would be unable to properly care for them.
Adopters will be required to have the dog they adopt evaluated by a veterinarian and must agree to follow any recommendation for treatment.
"A lot of them have issues that will need to be dealt with," Teague said. "We're looking for people who really want to make a commitment."
The Shih Tzus were abandoned Nov. 18 on Holden Drive and Hilton Road in rural Brooksville. Many were found to have skin lesions, feces in their hair and other conditions, such as yeast and bacterial infections, demodex mange and severe eye problems. Very few of the dogs appear to have been house trained.
Animal Services workers initially discovered 63 dogs, but later found one more in the woods. Among the dogs were five recently born puppies. The others ranged in age up to 8 years old. Last week, the dogs were sent to several groomers and veterinarians to be cleaned and medically evaluated.
Meanwhile, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office is still investigating the abandonment of the dogs, and is looking into leads that have been received through its TIPS line. Officials speculate that the dogs may have been part of a puppy mill, or a backyard breeder.
Those interested in adopting the dogs can fill out an application at 19450 Oliver St. or go online to hernandocounty.us/code/animal.
Although Teague said she has been pleased with the outpouring of support for the abandoned dogs, she said she wished the public would show as much interest in the shelter's other adoptable animals.
"We have plenty of dogs here that are looking for good homes as well," said Teague.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.