The sad, true tale of 61 Finnish Lapphunds
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By Mickey Zeldes  February 21, 2014 12:00 am

Two weeks ago, I had never even heard of Finnish Lapphunds (and I consider myself knowledgeable about dog breeds) let alone met one. Who would imagine that I would meet not only one but 61 and take three into the shelter? It’s an interesting and very sad story.

The Sonoma County Humane Society got a call from a supporter about a Finnish Lapphund breeder up in Redding who was in financial straits and losing her home. She needed help in placing 21 of her show dogs. The Humane Society, probably thinking they were going to get some nice quality dogs that would be easy to adopt out, agreed to take them on and drove all the way up to Redding to get the dogs.

Well, as you’ve probably heard by now, the situation couldn’t have been worse for the dogs. There is a fine line (often crossed) between breeders/rescuers and hoarders. The distinction is often in the level of care provided (hoarders are usually overwhelmed with more animals than they can adequately care for) and whether or not they actually do sell/adopt out any of the animals or feel they are the only ones that can care for them.

This woman had actually been busted before for the care she was providing her dogs (then it was Samoyeds), but somehow through a court battle had been able to get them back. The fact that no one was keeping an eye on her “business” is a shame, and the animals suffered because of it.

The Lappies, (as the breed is nicknamed) were in horrible shape. And after putting the 21 dogs that they found outside in various pens into their trucks, the staff asked if there were any more and if they could go into the house. Inside they found twice as many dogs in even worse conditions. I saw the videos they took of her home while standing in the kennels with the worst smelling, most matted and dirty dogs I’ve ever seen (or smelled). And more than half of them had already been cleaned up. I couldn’t imagine what the house must have smelled like.

Besides being dirty and matted, the dogs had several different internal parasites, lice and severe dental disease. But the medical issues and matted fur are easy to fix. All the dogs were shaved, bathed, put on de-wormer medications and given dentals when they were spayed and neutered. The harder part is dealing with the emotional neglect of these animals. Most of them are severely under-socialized, having only had limited contact with a single person.

The good news is that this breed is very gentle and resilient – none of the dogs show aggression, no matter how fearful they are. That is a miracle because you would expect at least some to be fear-biters. But they have no idea what a leash is, no training whatsoever (Sit? What does that mean?), and some don’t even know what it means to play.

I think that’s the saddest part of all. Seeing a dog just stand in a field with other dogs playing and chasing the ball and the look of bewilderment on his face. As I’ve written before, socializing is probably the most important thing you can do with a new dog (and the younger you start, the better). Only time will tell how far we can turn these dogs around. Guess with all these dogs being placed in homes in our community, we’ll be seeing a lot more lappies around town.


Upcoming event

Fix-it clinics: Free cat spay/neuter surgeries and low-cost dog altering for low-income residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.


Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at

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