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First rescued dog is released to prior owners after being discovered in filthy conditions in Hampstead

The first of the “Black Rock Dogs,” those rescued from what authorities described as “the most extreme of filth” at a Hampstead property late last week, was released back to its original owners Wednesday afternoon.

The dog, a male Dalmatian named James that’s nearly 4 years old, was released back to Janie Vila and Santiago Vila, breeders who sold him about a year and a half ago.

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James and the Vilas, of Virginia, walked through the doors of the Humane Society of Carroll County on Wednesday afternoon, to applause and cheers from staff and volunteers who have helped care for the dogs since they were rescued.

“This, today, makes everything OK,” said Karen Baker, executive director of the Humane Society. “Today makes it all worth it.”

Janie Vila said the only thing she wanted to do was go home and be with her dog.

“I couldn’t be more grateful,” she said through tears. “We’re all very grateful for all of the work” that volunteers and staff are doing to care for the dogs. When she and her husband walked James down the hill to their van, the dog appeared excited to be on a walk, with his tail wagging.

James sniffed around him and jumped into his travel crate in the van. Janie Vila said she was happy the dog remembered.

“I love you,” she said to the dog as they loaded him into the crate.

With James headed back home, there are 26 dogs remaining in the care of the Humane Society. Baker said the Humane Society is in the process of uniting about 15 of the rescued dogs with prior owners, but only after doing checks to make sure those claiming the dogs have some legal right to them and are responsible owners.

“There are different avenues we have to do it through,” Baker said. “And we are doing it very carefully to make sure we are sending them to legitimate places and that the dogs are going to be with responsible owners that are caring for them. We don’t ever want to see these dogs go back to the same conditions.”

Investigators have uncovered the bodies of 27 dead dogs from the property at 4302 Black Rock Road in Hampstead, including 15 that were locked in a shed.

Two individuals, John J. Roberts, 49, and Laura S. Filler, 55, have been charged with 51 counts each of animal cruelty and related charges. The two are being held without bond while awaiting trial.

The 27 live dogs were rescued Friday, and 11 dead dogs were found at the time. Sixteen more bodies were recovered Monday. Filler and Roberts were arrested Saturday and were held without bond as of Wednesday afternoon. Neither had an attorney listed in online court records as of the same time.

Baker said the Humane Society cannot comment on the ongoing investigation.

The Humane Society of Carroll County and the Dalmatian Club of America Foundation are accepting donations to help with the care of the rescued dogs. The Humane Society has said it is being “inundated” with inquiries about fostering or adopted the dogs, and is asking the public to wait until the dogs are posted online before inquiring further. Volunteers are needed to help sort donations, Baker said.

While James was being released to his prior owners and other dogs — especially those who had been microchipped with permanent identification — were in the process of being reunited, volunteers and staff continued to groom, feed, walk and socialize with the rescued animals.

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Charlie Twigg, a volunteer with the Humane Society of Carroll County, sits with one of the Dalmatians rescued from "the most extreme of filth" in an animal cruelty case in Hampstead.
Charlie Twigg, a volunteer with the Humane Society of Carroll County, sits with one of the Dalmatians rescued from "the most extreme of filth" in an animal cruelty case in Hampstead. (Cody Boteler / Carroll County Times)

“They’re really doing me a favor, letting me be out here,” said Charlie Twigg, a volunteer dog walker. He was sitting in a fenced-in field with two young-looking Dalmatians, both with fur that was partly darkened and stained.

Baker said the fur should eventually return to the bright white color that people associate with Dalmatians. One of the dogs stood calmly over his lap; Twigg said he was impressed that the rescued Dalmatians, which had been in squalid conditions, were so ready to socialize with people and be played with.

Twigg, a retired electrical engineer, said he had been volunteering with the Humane Society for about four years. He said he was “fortunate” to be able to spend time with the dogs who had been rescued.

“It really trumps almost everything from my engineering career,” he said.

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