Robbie’s Story: A Puppy Mill Rescue
Almost Home has rescued several dogs from puppy mill situations over the last five years. All of these dogs have been adopted and have made the transition from an abused, frightened, insecure dog to one that can accept human contact, give and receive love, and trust humans again. For some it took a long, long time. Most of these beautiful dogs will always be afraid of doorways and startle easily.
Here’s Robbie’s story …
“For 4 years I lived in a cage with a number instead of a name. I broke my front teeth off, trying to gnaw my way to freedom but it didn’t work. I only got out to make puppies for “them” to sell. I walk quietly on a leash. “They” showed me what happens if I try to run. I won’t accept treats because they come from a “hand” and hands usually hurt you. Other than barking, sounds really scare me because it usually means “they” are coming.”
In the fall of 2007, we lost our beloved Buddy, leaving a big void in our family. Google lead me to AHDRO. A little girl blue merle really caught my eye but another couple beat us by one day…God had something else in mind. Then I saw a picture of a puppy mill guy named Elliot and was struck by the sad face and terrible life story. He was a collie that desperately needed what we were anxious to give, a loving forever home.
Christmastime of ’07 we drove to Columbus, OH to get Elliot, who was to become our Rob Roy. Within 10 minutes of his meet & greet with our dogs back home in MI, he was out the doggie door, enjoying his new freedom. We were eager to smother our new collie boy with all the love he had missed out on but he only felt safe outdoors, regardless of the snow and frigid temperatures. Each evening I would look out at him in the snow and then take a choker and short lead to bring him in. He would allow the collar and follow quietly, though his visits indoors were short lived unless the baby gate was closed.
One night I tried to lead him in by holding his collar. Rob planted his feet but, since it was a near blizzard that night and he seemed such a meek soul, I felt safe to pick him up to carry him in. BIG mistake. He tore into me with a fear driven fury. Finally, with a strong grip on his collar, I got him into the house. Once Myrna was assured that all the blood dripping from my hands wasn’t life-threatening, she helped me calm him and reassure him that he was safe. The gentle response on our part was a must for a guy with Robbie’s background.
A strategy we employed from the start was to use our pet gate to keep Robbie near us and to help him become familiar with all the sounds of a household. When he arrived, any sound would make him jump and run for the doggie door and the safety and isolation of the yard. I began using the phrase “It’s OK, Robbie.” and would calmly repeat it a few times when he became frightened. Now, when something scares him, that phrase will stop the fright/flight reaction because he knows things are in fact “OK” because Dad said so. One thing that hasn’t yet improved is his fear of a person holding a shovel. Even today, when I take the shovel to clean the yard, he stays at least 10 feet away or even goes into the house. Since he’s not afraid of the shovel by itself, it’s reasonable to assume that he was badly abused with one while in the puppy mill.
Robbie came to us totally ambivalent to food treats, due to his fear of people and hands near him and the likelihood that he’d never been offered food by hand in his life. Without treats for motivation, training was nearly impossible. For many months we worked on bonding through positive experiences of talk and touch and treats when he could be coaxed to take them. Now, after 16 months, he responds well to treats.
Because he was always caged in the puppy mill, his toilet habits were lacking. Having no choice but to walk in his own messes, he did that for a while when he first arrived. Fortunately, he quickly found a favorite spot behind the ornamental grasses and learned to avoid his messes. Being an unsocialized, fearful stud dog, marking was a huge problem. Our boy sure made us close to miserable for a while, trying to keep up with his hind leg around the house with the paper towels and enzyme cleaner. We couldn’t watch him every minute and we knew it was imperative that he be indoors with us and the pack if he was going to overcome his fear and bond to us. We even tried “belly bands”, a diaper for boy dogs, with reasonable results. The real solution, we believe, has been the loving talk and touches which made him feel safe. I am pleased to report that marking in the house is virtually a thing of the past. Robbie’s mom is particularly pleased about that.
Rob Roy’s foster mom told us she hadn’t heard him bark and that was true for a while after he came to live with us. Little Momma Penny, our old tri-color taught him the fine points of barking. It was one of our many thrilling moments when we first heard his loud, deep voice. Now that Penny has gone to the Rainbow Bridge to wait, Robbie has taken over as the guardian of the yard.
Robbie joined a pack of 4 dogs, two collies, Penny and Zackie, and a playful Shih Tzu, Ginseng, and a rambunctious terrier cross named Ziggy. It was soon obvious that Rob had no idea how to play. About 8 months after Rob’s arrival, I looked out into the pup’s yard and saw Rob running full tilt, tongue hanging out, tail and ears up and smiling, with Ziggy hot on his tail. They were chasing each other around the yard, barking and having a grand time. A few weeks later I looked out on the front patio and there were Rob and Zackie, woofing and prancing back and forth and Rob did some collie bows during the play. These are some of the wonderful rewards for taking a puppy mill collie into our lives. If you love collies, you can feel the joy and satisfaction while reading about it.
Over the last 3-4 weeks, Robbie’s progress rate has zoomed. Having finally gotten to the point he feels safe taking treats from my hand, they have become motivators for him and he quickly learned commands for “Sit”, “Come”, “Up” and now is responding to hand signal commands for “up” and “sit”. A few weeks ago he had his first successful off-leash romp in the yard. Now, as I drive up toward the house, I look up the hill to the back yard and see my boy watching my arrival. When he’s sure it’s his dad, he runs for the back gate with the collie windows to greet me and wait for me to drop my stuff in the house. He knows we’re going for a walk to check out the gardens and with no leash. He stops to sniff but when he sees me getting away from him, he comes running with ears and tail up and a big collie smile on his face. It makes you feel warm and good all over.
In the beginning, Robbie stayed outside virtually day and night, regardless of the weather. Now, if he sees me in the window, he bee lines for the house to be with me. If he doesn’t notice me, a tap on the glass and he’s on the move. In the evening, a pat on the couch cushion brings him up to snuggle beside me. Our experience proves that puppy mill victims, though damaged, are not irretrievably broken and are ever so worthy of the effort and PATIENCE required to help them become whole. The primary reason Robbie is where he is today is because we love on him and talk to him every chance we get. His fears have subsided and he has drawn closer and closer. As the trust has grown, his “teachability” curve has zoomed upward.
A prospective adopter of a puppy mill dog must take the time to assess themselves thoroughly and consider the following:
The commitment to the dog is for the remainder of his natural life, not to be returned if (when) the way is difficult. Adoption of a puppy mill victim is not for everyone and truly, not for most people.
The love you show the dog must be virtually Biblical in nature because you may not see any recognition of that love nor have it demonstrably returned to you for quite some time.
You should lots of experience in understanding and caring for dogs, including familiarity with pack interactions and the learning and development that takes place during the puppy stage.
At a practical level, you must have the resources to afford the health contingencies you may encounter with the dog.
Establish a network with those experienced with the special psychological and social needs of abused dogs.
I found it helps to have a special love for the breed you want to adopt. My 27 year love affair with collies has positioned me to give whatever is required of me as they have given me more over the years than I could ever repay.
The people in your household must be of like mind regarding the adoption, care and training. Living with a puppy mill dog may, at least in the early stages, put a strain on relationships.
Be physically and mentally prepared for undesirable behaviors, including messes in the house.
Loads of positive reinforcement and only gentle correction build trust and confidence in a puppy mill pooch. A firm “Robbie, no!”, when he has been caught in the act, stops him in his tracks. Collies are very sensitive dogs but mill refugees are especially so.
You absolutely cannot provide too much praise and gentle touch. You’re building a lifelong bond of love and trust so you must give freely of your time and self.
There is nothing quick or easy about saving an psychologically wounded collie….BUT….the rewards of collie smiles with love and happiness showing in their eyes make everything you experience along the way worth it. Looking back, the worst was not that bad and we will know better what to expect and how to cope with the next rescue. The joy and satisfaction Myrna and I feel each time Robbie makes another breakthrough in his development cannot be described. Each day we remark how much we love to see him smiling. He’s our good collie boy and our hearts are full.
If you’re the right person for the task, the benefits of nurturing a puppy mill survivor vastly outweigh the costs and you will be a better human being for the experience.