My Puppy Mill Survivor
A few people know that I usually step up for the 'underdog' (or -cat). When called about a older dog with a few 'issues', I didn't hesitate long. I live on a farm and, being a firm believer of 'Live & Let Live", I don't see too many issues that can't be worked out with patience and a few other basic virtues. I was looking forward to a new family member saved from a kill shelter.
A few lessons have been learned or reinforced since:
- The shelter in SC he originally came from is in an area where puppy mills do their horrible deeds!
- Dogs are not pets! See http://hubpages.com/hub/Dog-Pet-or-Predator!!!
When I met the creature with the ironic name 'Sunny', I saw teeth, heard growling, and wondered how to even get him out of the crate. His former foster Mom was obviously afraid of him and ended up giving me the crate to safely transport him; safe for me!
If you think we are talking about a 60lbs Pit-bull or similar breed, you are mistaking. We are talking about a roughly 15-18lbs Pomeranian! He wasn't the fluffy little fur ball of love one expects when seeing a Pom. He was a thoroughly mistreated dog with possibly 8 years of experience in hell! He was a Puppy Mill dog! No doubt in my mind!
The supposed to be beautiful coat had been so filthy, matted and full of every imaginable pest and skin issue that he was shaved down. That had been described as an act in itself, since he wasn't cooperating at the time. He looked scruffy and his skin was just now turning from pink to healthy. His ears showed the signs ongoing ear-infection treatment, his eyes still a bit milky, he was much less than a healthy weight, he wasn't exactly steady on his feet...
Sunny was on a regimen of medications, including for his hurting ears and probably still uncomfortable skin. He turned out to be a bit claustrophobic and very defensive in his crate (I have the feeling that he wasn't exactly handled with care in his previous life!). He didn't trust anybody and his habit of soiling his crate told me that he probably spend his entire life locked into one without any 'potty breaks'. But putting a leash on a 'unfriendly' fellow was just the first challenge of many.
In his many TV shows Cesar Milan always stressed the importance of exercise and its effects on the dog's behavior. In order to even get him out of the crate I resulted into a leash with a loop brought home from a AC shelter. Allowing me to put the loop over his head was followed up by my magic tool: hot dogs! Within a day he was barking at my sight, looking for hot dogs! I would take him out of the crate, clear the way with "Make way!" and lead him outside. He was friendly with the dogs, rather disinterested and seeking solitude, and totally ignores cats. And when we managed to get a leash on him, we extended the walks to around the pond. I would sit down on three prearranged spots and just let him walk around me. Eventually he started coming to me and even allowed me to pet him. I started at the rear and behind the neck; always watching for signs of dislike. For a while we left the leash on him to reduce the stress of putting it on and to be able to better control him. We graduated to no growling when getting him and I got him a tie-out. OH MY GOD! It was the best buy I ever did!
His first day on the tie-out he spend an hour running in circles, rolling in the grass and smelling the flowers! He was fascinated with unknown freedom and still came to me for occasional reassurance. This happened at a time when I questioned my sanity to have taken him in! He was difficult to handle and treating his ears was like pulling teeth from an alligator. Once he missed my nose by a hair and only a hastily grabbed object saved me from getting bitten. But a fellow animal-rescuer told me to allow him to be a dog; and it worked! Three times a day he spend an hour on the tie-out, enjoying his first freedom. He calmed down, growled less, fought less when having to go back into the crate... honored me with a first tail-wag!
While many of you may believe that a dog's tail will always wag, this first simple sign of a developing trust was as good as a lotto million!
Sunny continued with his improvements, but occasionally he reminded us that you can't wipe out 8 years of hell in a few weeks or months. He only drew blood once; a reaction caused by fear when he thought himself trapped and with no way out. And while he still occasionally growls his disapproval, you wouldn't recognize him if you had seen him before.
After learning mutual trust he was allowed to enjoy the full 2.5 acres of my front yard! This little dog, now well rounded and no longer weak in the rear end, having received the necessary food and exercise, spend an entire day running in circles around the yard. And while he highly disapproved of the return to his crate, a few hot dogs and daily play time made this an easy task. I have never seen a dog that took such pleasure in running freely in a big yard. It was like somebody had given him life for his first time! For days it was a challenge to catch him and bring him in, but who can fault him for that!?
Giving a dog that has spend his entire 8 years of life in a filthy crate a clean bed to sleep in and a freedom he never knew, has turned the Grump into the 'Sunny-Bunny' he is now. He is a 'Old Man' and as such could provide plenty of material for a 'Grumpier Old Dog' movie. But he loves the attention, has a favorite 'itchy-spot', seeks you out for affection, allows you to handle him almost as safely as any other dog. It may take another few years before he becomes as mellow as most of my other Seniors, but his so hard-earned trust is all the appreciation I need. Even my kids can interact with him now, if they remember that he is more afraid of them than they should be of him. He learned to trust and they learned to respect him and earn his trust; savoring every win as something special.
And Sunny? He enjoys the freedom he has now, gets attention when he wants, takes his naps in some quiet corner of my yard with the sun shining on his rear; and seems to be as happy as his name suggests!
Yes, taking in a mistreated animal such as a Puppy Mill dog can be a challenge! But if you respect them for who they are and approach their recovery with an open mind and lots of patience, you will experience the triumph over every little sign of trust and improvements!
Trust me! Its well worth it!