When a truck slammed into a railroad overpass three weeks ago, it seemed like a routine accident. Then police lifted the truck’s back door and found an unexpected cargo: 97 puppies - dirty, hungry, cold and jammed into filthy cages. Four eventually died.
Moved by the puppies’ plight, more than 2,000 people have offered to adopt the dogs and hundreds more have donated blankets, toys and food.
The puppies were being transported along the East Coast for a Missouri dog broker who planned to sell them to pet shops. They had been in the truck for four days, crammed together in overcrowded cages stacked to the ceiling. The police officer who found them said urine and feces had dropped down through the cages, covering the dogs and their food and water.
The Connecticut Post, which has published more than a dozen stories about the puppies, received at least 300 telephone calls from readers - an unprecedented response for a single news event.
The response prompted the newspaper to write an editorial questioning whether the mistreatment of human beings would have generated the same impassioned reaction.
But those who have rallied to help the puppies say their reaction is justified.
“People feel that puppies are a group that really has no one to speak for them. They are truly helpless,” said Richard Johnston, president of the Connecticut Humane Society.
Anger over the condition of the animals has been directed at the driver of the truck and owner of the pet distribution company, Superior Pets Inc., based in Elkland, Mo.
When the two men appeared in court earlier this month, animal rights activists smacked them with banners, calling them, “Puppy Killers.”
On Friday, Superior Pets agreed to turn over permanent custody of the dogs to the Humane Society, which has cared for them since the accident.
The truck driver, Larry Jenkins, of Tunas, Mo., was charged with 97 counts of animal cruelty. The puppy broker was not charged.
Jenkins’ lawyer, J. Robert Gulash Jr., said the retired farmer had never transported dogs before the trip to Connecticut.
“There was ongoing feeding of the puppies and giving water to the puppies. He thought he was in compliance and was caring for them,” Gulash said.
The uproar over the puppies has surprised some in the Bridgeport community, a city of 140,000 where murders, poverty and other human misery are daily occurrences.
Days after the puppies were found, Bridgeport Hospital was in the midst of a collection drive for battered women. The drive pulled in several hundred pounds of needed supplies, but did not generate the kind of response expected by the hospital.
“The response from the community for these puppies far exceeded what was done in support of battered women,” said John Cappiello, a hospital spokesman.
“It just sort of raised the question for us: Do people care more about battered puppies than they do about battered fellow human beings?”
Clinton Sanders, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut, said he’s not surprised by the strong reaction to the Bridgeport puppies.
“To a certain extent, we are so accustomed to the everyday horror that is visited upon human beings that we have to physically insulate ourselves from it,” he said.”Yet, we still have a need to display or feel positive emotions, and one of the ways we can focus those emotions is on helpless animals.”