Volunteers flock to PAWS to help dogs

Almost 100 canines were seized from Danny's Doghouse last week

Savannah Vasquez

FORT WALTON BEACH — The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society was all hands on deck Tuesday morning. Staff members and about two dozen volunteers were walking dogs, cleaning bowls, assembling kennels and distributing food to the 97 canines that were seized from Danny’s Doghouse, a dog daycare, boarding and rescue facility in Niceville on Friday.

“We don’t usually have this many volunteers,” PAWS Director Dee Thompson said. “During a normal day there’s like three throughout the day, but this is just phenomenal. A lot of these are new volunteers that just started because they heard about this and they wanted to help.”

The dogs are being housed in a makeshift holding area on a covered patio. Thompson said it the largest group of animals PAWS has had to hold at one time.

“The adoption dogs usually come out here and play, but right now these guys have this area,” Thompson said of the refugee camp. “They are learning all over again how to process the human relationship because every time we try to touch one of them, they flinch like a touch wasn’t a good thing before. They are all re-learning what it feels like to be loved again.”

The 97 dogs, two squirrels, a few birds and one opossum are owned by Richard Rack, also known as Danny James.

Thompson said a few of the dogs are micro-chipped to previous owners. Some of those owners have claimed they gave their pets to James, then later decided to take them back but were told he no longer had the animals.

PAWS is preparing paperwork to present to a judge in order to take ownership of all the animals.

“What has to happen is, either he surrenders everybody or we go to court for ownership of all of them,” Thompson said. “Right now they’re Danny’s, and we can't disperse them until he either surrenders them or we get a court date.”

Thompson added that in past animal seizure cases, owners surrendered the animals immediately. That allowed other animal rescues to take in dogs and allowed the dogs to be put up for adoption.

In this case, Thompson said PAWS is not going to hold back against James. In addition to what she described as the deplorable living situation at Danny's Doghouse, 21 pets were found dead on March 15 at a home near Crestview where Danny James' daughter lived.

“We are going to ask the judge that he not be allowed to have animals anymore or run a business that would care for animals, so we’ll see what happens,” Thompson said. "I wish he would have done the right thing and just surrendered them."

Thompson said the community has really come to the rescue with food and kennel donations, as well as an outpouring of volunteers. However, she added that PAWS still needs donations and supplies to help care for the seized animals because of expected wet weather this weekend.

“We know we’ve got some rain coming this weekend. If anybody has some pallets that they would like to bring so we can get everybody up off the ground; and tarps, we are going to try to tarp off both ends to keep the rain off,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do before the rain gets here.”

Danny's Doghouse did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.