Puppy mill rescue dogs know nothing of love or compassion, and are unsocialized and untrained. But they can be wonderful companions when given lots of TLC, patience and understanding.
During her first few months with us, Cinder would cry softly in her sleep every night. Her body would twitch, legs pawing at the memory of seven years of puppy mill life. We stroked her gently awake to show her she was in a new place, a safe place. She would sigh when we woke her, as if with relief. Her eyes would open – gentle, dark wet eyes. She would gaze into the distance before falling peacefully back to sleep.
Cinder was a puppy mill breeding dog. She was lucky enough to find her way to a rescue organization, and soon after, into our home. Scared, shivering and confused, she cautiously looked to us for direction while we embarked together on a journey of transition – from her former life of untold hardship, into the one of love and understanding and safety we wanted to give her.
There are several thousand puppy mills operating across the US, producing an estimated half million puppies a year. The good news is that a growing awareness of the neglect and abuse these dogs suffer means more of them are being saved by rescue organizations and adopted out to loving forever homes.
But helping a puppy mill rescue adapt to life in a household environment can take time and patience. Books about parenting newly adopted puppies and dogs do not necessarily apply to mill rescues. These dogs are emerging from a lifetime of mistreatment and inhumane living conditions that can have a paralyzing effect on their well being. But with patience, understanding and care, they’re capable of forming an endlessly rewarding bond with their new caregivers.
My wife is a psychologist, so she trusts in emotional healing. Her training helped us both stay on track with the consistent patience and understanding Cinder needed to adapt to her new life. We also were extremely fortunate to find a smart and compassionate veterinarian who provided us with helpful information on nurturing the transition from rescue dog to family member. Thanks to these resources, along with our own experience, we learned some valuable ways to help our puppy mill rescue heal.
My wife and I have a saying we use when we see Cinder transcend the fearful behavior she learned in the mill and suddenly escape it in unguarded moments of exuberance. “There she is, just being a dog!” we exclaim happily. Thankfully, we’re saying this more and more often. Whether it’s the moment she breaks into a gallop on the beach to sniff a shore-washed fish; or when she rolls on her back and bares her teeth gently in play; or when her soft eyelids droop as she falls quietly asleep on one of our laps, we continually rejoice in these moments that other dog people make take a little more for granted.
We know the world from which Cinder came…she told us the sad story in her own language. And we remember the trembling dog she was when we first brought her home and wondered what our life together would be like. With patience and love, the three of us have found our way to one of the most rewarding relationships in our lives – rescued dog, rescued us.