Sheriff’s deputy Dakota Beck of the Durham Animal Services Division deals with dogs every day in her professional life. But Marty was the first one she brought home.
Last July, Beck found the dog caged in a home crammed with 30 other Alaskan malamutes, a breed similar to huskies, that were all malnourished and covered in their own excrement.
“He literally jumped up and hugged me,” said Beck. “And that’s when he melted my heart.”
After months of rehabilitation and multiple surgeries in Michigan, Marty was reunited with the officer who helped save him seven months earlier.
It began with a call about a husky running loose on Sybil Drive on the east side of Durham, which led Beck to a home with horrible smell lingering on the front porch. Through the window, she saw dozens of sickly dogs in cages – some whimpering, others unresponsive. Beck obtained a warrant to seize the dogs, and a crew from animal services stayed up all night transporting them to the Animal Protection Society of Durham.
The dogs were immediately treated for malnutrition, dehydration and burns from the urine that covered them. The woman hoarding the malamutes, Sandra Lehto, was charged with 28 counts of animal cruelty and barred from owning animals.
Durham Animal Services Capt. Anthony Prignano said that large animal cruelty cases are rare in the county, but not uncommon. In 2015, Durham Animal Services took custody of 2,885 animals, including 1,696 dogs, including the 31 Lehto had in her house.
“She started out with good intentions. It just went south fast,” said Prignano. “She didn’t have the money to feed or provide medical care for all these dogs.”
Three of the malamutes died as a result of the living conditions. The rest of the dogs were so underweight, at about 40 pounds, that officers didn’t realize they were malamutes, which are typically 80 pounds.
Beck said Marty’s hair was matted to his body and fell out in chunks, and he smelled awful for weeks. But she still went to the kennel every day to sit and play with him.
When news of the rescue operation broke, calls came pouring in offering the dogs new homes. All the dogs were placed with families or rescue organizations across the country. Marty set off for Athens, Mich., where he was rehabilitated and treated for heartworms by The Southwest Michigan Husky Club.
“Marty was kind of like a toasted marshmallow. Rough on the outside, but soft on the inside,” said Suzanne Sarlls-Hartwell, president of the organization. “We knew he was going to be hard to place because he was older.”
When she couldn’t find the perfect fit for Marty, who is estimated to be 11 years old, her first thought was to call the deputy who had saved him. Sarlls-Hartwell offered to drive 12 hours back to North Carolina if Beck would provide the dog with a good home.
“I had just bought a house,” said Beck, who reunited with Marty on Thursday. “It worked out like a fairy tale.”
The two other Durham malamutes who were taken in by The Southwest Michigan Husky Club are being placed into homes in Michigan and practicing to become sled dogs. While Marty might not enjoy the same snow in North Carolina, Beck has promised to keep his room cold and his dog bowl full.
“I don’t like the heat either, so we can hang out in the AC together,” she said.
Other dogs need homes, too
The Animal Protection Society of Durham currently houses 106 dogs that need homes. To adopt a pet, you can visit the shelter at 2117 E. Club Blvd. in Durham. For more information, go to www.apsofdurham.org.