By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
DRYAD – Authorities seized dozens of foxhounds from a 79-year-old woman who lives in Dryad; animals they said were living in deplorable conditions.
All but a few seemed to be well-fed but their living area was overrun with feces, according to Lewis County code enforcement officials.
Code Enforcement Supervisor Bill Teitzel said he didn’t believe she was selling the dogs.
“I think she essentially is not physically able to care for the dogs and they were breeding among themselves,” he said yesterday.
Authorities rounded up 68 or 69 canines during Friday’s operation on the 400 block of River Road, 20 of them puppies, according to Teitzel. They found one dead pup which will be examined, he said.
Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Steve Aust said once they get the results of the necropsy, they will evaluate if there is a criminal issue of abuse or neglect.
The foxhounds are descendants of four puppies who – along with their owner Nancy Punches – survived Lewis County’s December 2007 flood while her 16 champion show dogs perished.
Punches endured a nightmarish 36-hour ordeal alone in which she was trapped inside her mobile home as flood waters rose to within inches of her ceiling. She floated upon a tipped-over antique bookcase after placing her five-week-old dogs inside a styrofoam shipping container.
Lewis County Commissioner Bill Schulte who lives in the same community about 14 miles west of Chehalis tipped off enforcement employees there might be a problem. Schulte told Teitzel early last week Punches has been a responsible dog owner for years.
“Her bond (with the dogs) is a little different than before,” Schulte said.
Punches, a longtime breeder of show dogs, has been mostly cooperative.
“I don’t want to blame it on the flood,” Punches said. “But I’m not the same person I was before the flood.”
“I always try to do too much, and it just caught up with me,” she said.
Animal enforcement employees visited Punches’ rural property a week ago and observed feces and sawdust stacked up to eight inches in the outside run area, according to Teitzel. Punches works out of town and they had a hard time catching her at home, he said.
When they returned on Friday morning with a warrant to inspect the premises, it had rained, he said.
“The first thing my staff noticed, that had totally liquified, and the dogs were wading through it,” he said.
Inside the dogs’ central building, waste was mounded to more than a foot, he said, and conditions were severely overcrowded.
They amended their warrant to allow for immediate confiscation of the dogs.
The roundup lasted until long after dark, he said. Assisting with collecting and subsequently housing the canines were animal control employees from Clark County, the city of Chehalis and the Lewis County Animal Shelter. The non-profit animal rescue group Pasado’s Safe Haven in Snohomish County helped as well.
Some went to veterinary clinics with minor leg injuries or possibly urine burned feet, according to Teitzel.
It became a struggle crating up 70-plus-pound foxhounds, he said.
“As we got about two-thirds (of the way) through, some had never been handled,” he said.
Punches, who assisted them during the wrangling, called it bedlam and traumatizing for many of the dogs.
Next-door-neighbor Jim Chown called Punches a sweet lady who has a hard time letting go of things.
“She knows every dog, she knows their names,” Chown said.
Punches spent yesterday with her adult son who traveled from his home in Burien to help his mother.
“I’ knew it was bad,” she said. “I’ve known the past couple of months I was over my head.”
It’s not for lack of trying though, she says.
At 79, she is on her feet all day, working four 10-hour days a week in the lab at Morton General Hospital. Her commute is an hour and a half each way.
That leaves about enough time and energy to feed her dogs, feed herself and sleep until her next shift, she said.
“It’s hard to get good help when it comes to shoveling (kennels),” Punches said.
She said she didn’t intend for the dogs to multiply the way they have, but the fencing between the males and females has deteriorated in places.
She’s spoke with fencing people about replacing it, as soon as she could get the money, she said. She’s talked to contractors about a replacement roof.
“I tried to get a loan, but it’s a double-wide, a used one,” she said of her home that was donated after her first one was destroyed in the flood.
They go through 150 pounds of dog food a day.
Punches has attempted to find homes for some of her dogs, spending her time off last weekend delivering four of them partway to Montana. It’s hard to choose which ones to keep, she said.
She knows for sure she would not willingly give up Noah and his sister Spirit, two of the pups that she kept warm inside her shirt as she wandered hypothermic and disoriented through her former home on Dec. 4, 2007; or Hawk, the grown dog she said had to save himself.
The generosity of strangers afterward was tremendous, she said, with cards and much-welcome and needed donations of money.
Punches chokes up and pauses, saying she doesn’t usually cry.
“People were so nice, I’m afraid when they hear about it …,” she said.
She worries those people will think their kindness then was a mistake, she said.
Her first dog show was in 1956, she said. “I’ve never had a problem like this.”
Changing the topic, she admits she doesn’t know what will happen next.
Amy Hanson from the animal shelter offered her a deal on Saturday, in which she would be willing to return four of the dogs if they are “fixed”, she said, in exchange for signing the rest of the dogs away.
Some of them are championship foxhounds, she said.
“Those dogs are valuable to the breed,” Punches said. “If they’re spayed or neutered, they’re no good to the breed.”
CORRECTION: This news story has been updated to correctly reflect the number of dogs Nancy Punches lost in the December 2007 flood.