FORT KENT, Maine — It was a tail-wagging, tongue-lolling, paws-up happy ending for three dogs that arrived in Fort Kent on Thursday afternoon as part of a larger animal abuse rescue operation.
It was a long way for Gunner, Marilee and Daisy, whose prospects only weeks ago looked dismal. Earlier this month, they were among 26 other emaciated and ill dogs removed from the Raja Renata Ranch in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Authorities also discovered 37 bags of dead dogs in a barn owned by the mother of Nicole Hulbig, 29. Hulbig reportedly was operating a rescue and service dog training facility there, according to a story in ClarksvilleNow, an online news publication.
Hulbig has been charged with animal cruelty by the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee and may face additional charges, according to the report.
Three of the dogs caught up in the case were from Puppy Rescue Mission, an organization founded by Anna Chiasson of Fort Kent that has reunited close to 650 dogs from active war zones with the soldiers who had befriended them there.
“In 2011, [Hulbig] adopted two of our puppies,” Chiasson said Thursday while she awaited the arrival of the canine trio at her home. “She was with a soldier at the time and checked out as a good place for the dogs.”
Soon after, Chiasson said, Hulbig began her own dog rescue operation, as well as training service dogs for veterans and soldiers.
“One of our Puppy Rescue Mission dogs was sent there a while back for behavior training for aggression issues,” Chiasson said. “But about six months ago, some of our [Puppy Rescue Mission] team members began to see things that did not seem right there.”
Among those red flags, Chiasson said, was an ever increasing population of dogs at the Raja Renata Ranch.
Hulbig was reportedly acquiring dogs from local shelters, then soliciting money through fundraising efforts.
“It just looked to our team members that it seemed one person could not be taking care of all those dogs,” Chiasson said.
Two weeks ago, Chiasson received a call telling her Hulbig had been arrested after several dead puppies were found in her Tennessee home.
According to the online story, the authorities also investigated the barn owned by Hulbig’s mother, where they found 39 starving dogs suffering from malnutrition and a host of illnesses and parasites along with 37 bags containing the decomposing bodies of dead dogs.
“We found out the three dogs she had there that had been rescued by Puppy Rescue from Afghanistan had been starved to death,” Chiasson said. “My team got together, and we decided we’d save the rest.”
The owners of 14 of the dogs were found and as soon as they were declared medically healthy and parasite-free; the other 25 were on their way to new homes, 11 of them in Maine.
“We did this in honor and memory of Etta, Wiggles and Whiskers, the three Puppy Rescue Mission dogs that starved there,” Chiasson said.
“We have so much support,” Chiasson said, adding the cost of rescuing and treating the Tennessee dogs has exceeded $20,000.
In addition, Chiasson has spent countless hours and late nights on the phone and emailing her volunteers to coordinate the transportation of the dogs.
The dogs were all driven, relay-style, from Tennessee to their new owners, thanks to an army of volunteers, she said.
Seven of those dogs were brought to Portland, where Bangor business owner and Puppy Rescue Mission volunteer Melissa Smith Towle waited hours for their arrival.
“The pups were delayed coming from [Washington] D.C.,” Chiasson said. “Melissa was a huge help and completely volunteered her time, gas and even boarded pups overnight at her own home.”
That kind of response is typical at her Puppy Rescue Mission, which has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Chiasson said.
It was all worth it for her when Chiasson saw the car pull into her driveway Thursday afternoon. Out hopped Daisy, a pitbull mix; Marilee, a Labrador retriever mix; and Gunner, a white German shepard. The three dogs Chiasson rescued from Afghanistan over the past three years were inside the house, watching intently from a living room window.
“Look at you,” Chiasson said, hugging Marilee, “I may have to keep you right here.”
All three were, in fact, spoken for.
“Gunner, you’ve had a rough start, but you’re home now,” Danielle Cote of St. David said as the large dog got up on his hind legs and put both front paws on her shoulders. “You are going to be a good dog.”
Cote was looking forward to taking the dog home, where they will soon be joined by her serviceman boyfriend, Curtis Daigle.
“I fell in love with this dog the minute I saw his pictures,” she said. “You can get a dog from a breeder anytime, but this is just special.”
Daisy was on her way to the home of Chiasson’s mother, who is dog-sitting the pup until her new owners return from vacation. Marilee’s new home is with Stephanie LaPointe of St. John Plantation, who, with her sister Katrina LaPointe of Fort Kent, drove all three north from Bangor.
“I lost my own dog a month ago and did not think I’d ever get another one,” LaPointe said. “Now that I have Marilee, I will never let her go.”