The Long Road
Lani's story ... Nine years in a puppymill
|Lani at three weeks in foster care.
After 18 months living life as a
loved and cared for family member.
The passage from hell to heaven could take many months and may even take a year or two for some mill dogs. As long as puppy mills exist there is an urgent need for foster families and forever homes. Opening your heart and home to a puppy mill rescue is one of life’s most treasured and rewarding experiences. Keys to this successful passage are understanding, patience, time, love and when possible a “buddy system” with a mild mannered dog in the family.
To understand the puppy mill dog it helps to become familiar with the conditions the dog has endured all its life. Many mill dogs are born at the mill and removed from their littermates before socialization has formed. These puppies miss crucial socialization periods with humans and they never learn to trust, to love, or to play. Nutritional needs are minimal and veterinarian services are frequently non-existent. The mature dog is breed over and over again for six, seven, eight, or nine years. When the productivity of the dog decreases the dog is then discarded. The lucky ones are given to rescue groups or sent to auctions. The unlucky ones are disposed of inhumanely.
The transition from the puppy mill to foster care may be unsettling for the mill dog. The dog may have had to be shaved down to its skin in order to remove all the filth and matted hair. Several or all of its teeth may have had to be extracted due to disease and infection. Many mill survivors suffer from swollen, splayed and sore feet from so much time walking on the wire kennel flooring. Eye and ear diseases may also be present. And of course, the dog will have been neutered. Unfortunately there remains psychological damage the mill dog will bring with it to its foster and forever home. Undoing the psychological damage will take the most patience, time, and love. But in the end you will be rewarded with the most loving, devoted dog you will ever own.
Fostering or adopting a puppy mill dog requires patience. Patience is a very important part of helping the mill dog navigate the passage from mill to forever home. The dog will not know what is expected of it, and will need time to adjust to the new environment and expectations. You need to accept the mill dog with the understanding that the dog has had minimum physical contact with people and that the physical contact the dog received at the mill was probably not pleasant. More than likely the mill dog was handled by the scruff of its neck and may be sensitive at the back of its neck. When you pick up your dog it’s best to approach him from the front, talk softly and reassuringly, then gently lift the dog with both hands underneath. Approaching the dog from behind and quickly lifting it may surprise and alarm the dog. It may be many weeks before the mill dog begins to relax in your arms while being picked up or held. The foster or forever home environment is new to the mill dog and it will take time for it to feel “at home” in its new environment.
The adoptive family must be willing to spend time with the mill dog; time to adjust, to adapt, to explore, and to learn. Routines, smells, sounds and everything in the house are new to the mill dog. To ease the transition, place the dog’s opened crate in a central location. This will allow the dog a place to go and to feel safe in while observing and becoming accustomed to everyday activity. While being in what the dog regards as a safe place (his crate) the dog becomes accustomed to hearing the phone ring, the blare from the TV, people talking, vacuum cleaners running, smells from the kitchen, etc. Eliminating extraneous “noise pollution” until the mill dog has adapted somewhat to its new environment is helpful.
In time there will be a bond – unconditional love – between the mill dog and you. Due to the many psychological scars the mill dog comes with, this may be a slow process. You need to gain the dog’s trust. At the mill the dog probably didn’t have a name – just a number. Food and water may have been distributed mechanically. A suggestion to help mend one of the psychological scars is to use food. Feed the dog on a schedule, stay close by, and talk softly to the dog while it eats. The dog will soon learn that the food came from you. Another suggestion is to offer treats on a regular basis especially as a reward for doing a task you asked for. Once the mill dog trusts you a bond of unconditional love is formed. You will look back over all the months – perhaps year – it took to bring the mill dog into it’s rightful place as a “born to be free” dog who is enjoying life to it’s fullest and you’ll be ecstatically happy.
The mill dog needs to get used to you. Find an area where the dog is most comfortable and just sit quietly petting or brushing the dog while at the same time calling it by name and talking in a soft, reassuring manner. Most dogs love to be brushed and in a very short time your mill dog will enjoy sitting with you and being brushed.
Dogs are social animals. While at the mill the only friend your mill dog may have had was another dog whose kennel may have been next to his. Rescue groups and foster moms have found that mill dogs adapt to the new family environment faster if there is another friendly dog in the family. The mill dog bonds quickly with the other dog and will follow and copy its behaviors thus learning the new expectations and routines much faster. Although size or age of the other dog does not seem to matter friendly temperament does.
As mentioned previously mill dogs often arrive in rescue with dental problems. Several or all of the teeth may have been extracted because they were rotten. Good dental hygiene is a vital component in the care of mill dogs in order to preserve the few remaining teeth they may have. You may want to begin with a daily brushing using a dental clens pad. When the dog is comfortable with this you can begin to use a child’s toothbrush or doggie finger brush along with dog (not human) toothpaste. In time your dog will see the daily tooth brushing routine as an added treat.
Your mill dog was probably constrained to a small metal cage with a wire floor. The dog will not be used to a leash, walking on flat surfaces, or stairs. Putting a harness and leash on your dog and letting it drag the leash around the house will aid in familiarizing the puppy with the house while at the same time letting the dog get used to a leash. Blocking off stair entrances with a baby gate will keep the dog safe from a possible tumble.
Puppy mill dogs spend their entire lives soiling their living quarters – the mess merely drops down the open metal grating. Therefore, housebreaking a puppy mill dog is to “un-teach” it a previously acceptable learned behavior. A regular schedule, constant reinforcement, praise, and commitment from you are essential in helping the mill dog eradicate this behavior. Taking the dog out when it first gets up in the morning, after naps, eating, playing, and before bed is a schedule that will help the dog learn to go to the bathroom outside rather than in the house. Another aid is putting the dog on a low residue food, which usually produces one or two bowel movements a day.
Dogs coming from puppy mills are all different. They are individuals and as such display different traits and have different needs. Some may be shy, some may take longer to house break, some may be frightened of noise or small children, some smaller dogs may be frightened by large aggressive dogs, and some may not trust people. Others however may adapt to, and fit in with the new family in a brief period of time. Some may like to play with toys; some may never learn to play with toys. What is important is that the family accepts the dog as it is, is sensitive to its needs, praises and nurtures it, provides a non-threatening environment, is persistent in the dog’s training, and most of all offers the dog security and unending love and devotion. Bringing the puppy mill dog down the passage from mill to forever home is one of life’s most rewarding experiences. Hearing the first bark, seeing the eagerness in which your dog bounds out the door for its walk, watching the dog respond to your commands, and being greeted by your dog first thing in the morning and last thing at night makes this journey ever so rewarding.