When Heather Sharpe heard unfamiliar barks and yelps coming from the woods behind her home last week, the 14-year-old and her mother went to investigate.
What they found were six dirty and hungry puppies. A little while later, they found two more puppies, apparently from a different litter.
"We washed and fed them for a couple of days," said Heather, who lives on Dry Creek Ranch Road in the Royal Highlands area, north of Weeki Wachee. "Someone dumped them, because none of our neighbors knew who they belonged to. So we took them to the SPCA."
The Hernando County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took the pups into its shelter, which has been operating for less than a month.
"We also took in four other puppies (last) week," said Agnes Brehme, a volunteer at the shelter on Grant Road, west of Brooksville. "Two men found them under a trailer at the (Hernando County) Public Works Department on Summit Road."
Brehme said the influx of puppies alarms her, and she hopes people will come to the shelter and adopt them. "We have nine more puppies waiting to be brought in," she said.
She said the puppies that Heather and her mother, Debbie Bunn, found appear to be Labradors. The litter of six are golden; the other two black.
"They have all been given their shots and will be able to go to homes in two weeks," she said. "We keep them here that long to help build up their immunity, so when they go back out in the world they will be okay."
Brehme said a group of volunteers worked long hours to clean up the puppies, which were covered with fleas and ticks.
"They were completely black," Brehme said. "That's how many fleas were on them. Many of us were here until midnight for two days cleaning them up."
Brehme said all 12 puppies were taken to a veterinarian to be treated for ringworm and hookworm.
"It was so bad," she said. "But they are all very lucky, because they are in good health now."
Cindy Wamack, a volunteer at the SPCA shelter, said the difference is astounding.
"They were all scraggly looking, shaking and bashful," Wamack said. "But they're happy now. When they were first brought in, they stayed in back of the cages. Now they play and come to you."
Since the shelter opened several weeks ago, Brehme said there has been a long waiting list for people to bring in unwanted pets.
The shelter can hold between 24 and 30 dogs, depending on their size, and about 18 cats. The kennels are filled, and the 12 puppies are in emergency cages, kept in isolation.
"Since this is a no-kill shelter, we keep the animals until they're adopted out," Brehme said. "So it's hard to say how long the wait (to bring in others) will be."
Since the arrival of the 12 pups, most have been given names. The four puppies found under the Public Works trailer are Darrell, David, Locke and Davis, named after their rescuers, Public Works employees Darrell Davis and David Locke.
Rescuing animals is nothing new for Locke, who has two dogs that were abandoned several years ago.
After finding the mixed-breed dogs under the trailer June 27, Locke brought them home, where his wife, Dawn, washed them.
"They were hungry and needed to be washed and dipped," Locke said. "They were neglected. Unfortunately, someone dumped these puppies."
Locke said he hopes someone will adopt the pups.
"I figure they have a good chance of being adopted," he said. "They are really cute."
All animals at the shelter are given shots and immunizations, except for rabies, Brehme said. The cost of adoption is $60, and applications are available at the shelter on Grant Road, off Taylor Road, less than a mile west of Sunshine Grove Road.
The shelter is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For information, call 596-7000.