Herbert Weich woke up Wednesday morning with 41 fewer dogs than he had the night before.
He walked his property hours later, teary-eyed, checking on the remaining dogs.
“Well,” he said, “what can I do about it?”
Tuesday night, a crowd of volunteers from the Montgomery County SPCA and police officers arrived at Weich’s home and Flat Creek Border Collie breeding business to remove the majority of his more than 60 dogs. Earlier that day, he was charged with an Agriculture and Markets Law violation and appeared in state Supreme Court in Montgomery County to temporarily relinquish the majority of his pack.
The seizure followed a social media outcry over photos local dog lover Eric Bellows posted on Facebook. Last week, Bellows called in an animal abuse tip claiming scores of dogs were confined in small pens without adequate shelter. Troopers investigated and called in a local veterinarian, but at first didn’t find any wrongdoing.
At that point, Bellows posted photos of cold-looking dogs on his Facebook page, along with a state police phone number, asking people to call and demand the dogs be removed and taken to a warm place.
“Within the first four hours, we had hundreds of people calling the police,” he said. “It was incredible.”
Between two animal rescue pages Bellows operates, he has a base of 40,000 to 50,000 followers.
“I’ve had people from England, Germany, Poland,” he said, “all calling to encourage me.”
After days of complaints, a lawsuit filed by two Lexus Project animal rights lawyers and a report issued by the veterinarian finding the dogs had inadequate shelter, state police charged Weich with a violation for allegedly not providing adequate shelter for his dogs.
State police officials could not be reached Wednesday, but Bellows claims troopers would have left Weich alone had his social media following not stepped in.
“Social media can be a great tool for making agencies follow though,” he said.
In all, Montgomery County SPCA President Amy Tollner said 36 border collies were taken to Glen Highland Farm in Morris, and five shih tzus were taken to the SPCA shelter.
Weich’s neighbor, Brian Clukey, on Wednesday recalled the scene from the night before.
“They were working until midnight,” he said. “The dogs were barking, hiding in their barrels. Imagine being pulled out of your bedroom in the middle of the night and tossed in a van by strangers. They were scared.”
For the past 10 years, Clukey has lived across from Weich. The dogs are accustomed to him, so he chose to help the SPCA volunteers. He described lifting one dog at a time from their modified oil barrel homes, trying to calm them before handing them over.
“I’m sure they’re all traumatized,” he said.
Clukey himself has been telling Weich to either get rid of some dogs or build a privacy fence for years.
“There were a lot of animals,” he said, “but he was always within the law, and he took good care of them.”
Wednesday afternoon, Clukey stood in his driveway building the fourth of a planned 25 fully insulated dog hutches. Agriculture and Markets inspectors will approve the return of Weich’s dogs as the hutches go up.
“They said my hutches are adequate shelter,” Clukey said, “but I thought the oil barrels were just as good.”
According to the American Kennel Club website, border collies were originally bred to handle harsh landscape and weather while herding sheep along the border of England and Scotland. The lineage provides dense fur. Coupled with eight inches of straw and a barrel windbreak, Clukey said the dogs were comfortable.
Until people from all over the world saw Bellow’s pictures, Clukey said, state police agreed.
“This is a witch hunt,” he said.
Weich said his breeding business operates under certain licensing laws. He can only sell 24 puppies a year. Sometimes a few more are born in a year, and by the next year, they’re too old to sell, which is why he had so many animals, he said.
Of the 41 dogs seized, he agreed to let the SPCA put 31 up for adoption. He said he’s more concerned the incident and surrounding publicity might crush his already-meager business. Most years, he makes only enough to cover dog food and property taxes, he said.
Wednesday, he still had roughly a dozen puppies in the house and a handful of adults jogging around outdoor pens. With such bad publicity, he’s wondering if anyone will be interested in the puppies.
“If he doesn’t breed,” Clukey said, “I don’t know how he’ll survive.”