TROY, Mich. -- There's a dog dumper on the loose, and animal welfare officials and others are looking to catch the culprit.
Since April, the mystery dumper has abandoned at least a dozen small-breed dogs, all in poor condition, near a pet store.
Now, the folks rescuing the dogs — sometimes after hours-long foot chases — want to send a message.
"If they'd just call us, we can refer them to a rescue group or the Humane Society; we just don't want this continuing," said Nikki Taylor, store manager of the PetSmart on Big Beaver Road.
On Monday, one dog was found at 6 a.m., two at 9 a.m., two more at 9:30 p.m., and yet another at midnight by a store employee who returned from home to check the area, Taylor said. Two others were dumped in April and one in May, she said. The store doesn't sell dogs, she said.
"We just want the public to know — PetSmart's not a dumping ground," Taylor said.
Most of the animals were left next to the trash bin behind the store, although some were dumped in the front parking lot and at least one was pitched beside a Hooters bar across from the store, she said.
The canines have filthy, matted hair, are underweight and show no evidence of having had veterinary care, said Theresa Cetnarowski, a volunteer with the Madison Heights-based Animal Welfare Society of Southeastern Michigan, which picked up the dogs from PetSmart employees.
"They're in terrible condition — completely matted, full of feces, nails never trimmed, just skin and bones," Cetnarowski said. The dogs, each about 10 to 15 pounds, are likely all from the same poodle-maltese breeding line, she said.
"One we got in May with puppies stuck in the birth canal," Cetnarowski said. The puppies were delivered safely and the mother dog is fine, she said.
"The person abandoning these dogs needs to get caught. We have no idea how many more there are out there that have run off, or worse," she said, citing the area as a traffic crossroads.
PetSmart store staff said they contacted the Troy police about the matter. The penalty for first offense cruelty to an animal in Michigan is a misdemeanor with a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to 93 days and community service. The second offense animal cruelty is a felony with a fine up to $2,000 and/or imprisonment up to two years. Cetnarowski said police told her they need an eyewitness who can report seeing the dogs being dumped and can provide a license plate number for the vehicle.
The dogs range in age from about 2 to 6 years old, said Ashley LaPorte, an animal care specialist at the rescue group.
"Right now, they're very scared. They're all huddled together. They don't know they've been saved," LaPorte said. She echoed others in saying "I don't have a clue" about the dumper's motives.
"I think it's a breeding situation. I guess they have too many and they're overwhelmed. Or it could also be a hoarding situation. But whatever's going on, it's pretty heartless that they're dropping them off by the freeway," LaPorte said.
The Animal Welfare Society of Southeastern Michigan is a registered nonprofit agency and will eventually put the dogs up for adoption. It is accepting donations to help care for the dogs.