HERTFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) – After more than 100 dogs were rescued from alleged cruelty at a Hertford County breeding operation, they have begun the long process of recovery.

The Humane Society of the United States said the dogs have been getting much-needed veterinary care in a safe and comfortable environment, and that multiple dogs had pellets embedded in their skin, presumably, it said, from being shot with a pellet gun.

Several dogs have been found, through diagnostic testing and in-depth veterinary exams, to be suffering from sarcoptic mange, which causes intense itching that often includes hair loss and secondary infections due to broken and inflamed skin, which, if left untreated, could be fatal, “particularly in overcrowded, poor environmental conditions much like we saw on-scene,” the Humane Society said.

Many dogs were found to have heartworm, and tick-born illnesses have been prevalent in the dogs, along with lice and flea infestations. Some dogs have severe dental disease, which the Humane Society said could be indicative of inadequate nutrition and care.

Still, despite the health challenges, responders have been optimistic as the dogs have adapted to a routine in the temporary shelter environment.

“I’ve been enjoying just watching them lay down and sleep,” said Jessica Johnson, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ animal rescue team. “These dogs have been living in overcrowded conditions, struggling to get their basic needs met, like enough food and water.

“This is probably the first time they’ve been able to eat and sleep in peace. Watching them sleep so soundly… I’m thinking it’s got to be the best nap they’ve ever had.”

One puppy young enough to have not opened his eyes was found to be severely dehydrated, underweight, cold and lice-infested, the Humane Society said. After round-the-clock treatment, the puppy opened his eyes for the first time over the weekend.

Video – Humane Society of the United States

Also over the weekend, one dog gave birth to 10 puppies after settling into a foster home with a Humane Society staffer, and several more dogs are expected to give birth any day.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to get to provide the mothers with a safe, comfortable place to give birth and care for their pups,” said Laura Koivula, director of animal crimes and investigations with the Humane Society of the United States, “not to mention the twist of fate for the puppies who will never have to struggle to survive in those conditions.”