SUWANEE -- Before the tawny-colored, long-haired Chihuahua now known as Sabrina arrived at a local rescue she was just a number.
That number -- 25 -- is permanently etched in blueish ink inside her left ear.
A small, timid dog that cowers before new people before warming up to their presence, Sabrina is one of 25 dogs, a combination of adult females and nursing puppies, recently taken in by the Georgia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Suwanee. The animals were seized by Jackson County Animal Control officers and inspectors from the Georgia Department of Agriculture from an unlicensed breeding operation -- also known as a puppy mill -- in northeast Georgia in mid-July.
Rescuing large numbers of animals at one time, like the current group of mothers and their pups, isn't uncommon for the Suwanee organization. The GSPCA accepted 200 of 400 animals acquired in the largest dog seizure in Georgia history in 2008.
Rescuing and placing animals with a bad rap isn't uncommon either. The nonprofit took in -- and adopted out -- three of the pit bulls involved in the much-publicized dogfighting ring bankrolled by former Falcons player Michael Vick.
The organization adopts out approximately 1,000 animals annually in its efforts to reduce the number of healthy, adoptable dogs and cats euthanized for space in metro Atlanta every year, which Jane Stewart, the nonprofit's acting executive director, said surpasses 140,000. With expansion plans under way, Stewart and her army of animal advocate volunteers hope their contribution will increase drastically.
The GSPCA will more than double its space in the small shopping center off U.S. Highway 23. Before renovations can begin, though, the facility needs help constructing a wall and cut throughs to divide one of the vacant shops.
Donations of building supplies are also needed to complete the build out.
"It's going to be a very simple build out but we need things like tubs, sinks, a fiberglass shower where we can give baths to the larger animals," Stewart said. "Of course, we always need cash."
Monetary donations are put toward caring for the animals waiting for adoption and getting them ready to be placed in a forever home. Before making animals available for adoption, the GSPCA provides veterinary and other care, including immunizations, spaying or neutering, deworming and microchipping.
For the group of mothers rescued most recently, the organization's volunteers are providing something that comes free -- much-needed human interaction.
Typical of dogs rescued from puppy mill operations, where animals are often constantly confined to wire cages and interactions with people are limited, Sabrina and her fellow nursing mothers were shy around GSPCA staff and volunteers when they first arrived at the Suwanee rescue. Some still are hesitant to greet strangers.
"You can tell that they haven't had a whole lot of human companionship," Stewart said. "People would be horrified if they could see behind the scenes where these dogs come from."
The dogs also appear to have limited experience being outdoors.
"Everybody says they just seem kind of foreign to the outside," Stewart said, "almost afraid of the grass."
One of the dogs -- a fairly friendly canine that is listed as poodle mix but looks like a Chinese crested -- has been nursing puppies that don't appear to be hers. GSPCA staff believe she had become a surrogate to the small brood now old enough to chow down on puppy food.
"Whether or not the breeder was pulling dogs from different mamas, I don't know. One looks more poodle, one looks like a Shih Tzus, two look like a (Cavalier) King Charles and none of them really look like her," Stewart laughed. "As long as a mother is taking care of them we're not going to worry about that."
Despite some of the mothers' standoffishness, the puppies -- Chihuahuas, cocker spaniels and other small breeds -- are eager for attention, crowding around the openings to their respective crates to receive a friendly pat from a human. Getting out and being able to explore is the main event, though, with one puppy, a wire-haired Schnauzer-like dog, intent on chewing up some fuzz on the floor before GSPCA staff can halt the antics and usher the brood back into their temporary confines.
GSPCA staff are confident all the puppies and their mothers, which are in foster homes with volunteers, will be adopted.
"They deserve to be treated well," Stewart said. "They give back so much more than we have to give to them."
To donate to the GSPCA or to inquire about adopting an animal, call 678-765-2726 or visit www.GeorgiaSPCA.org.