After about a year of fostering ARF dogs that came from local kill shelters, I decided it might be an added benefit to the overall effort to choose a dog that had been at the vets for a really long time as a foster. Some of these dogs had no particular problems but were just stuck in their little cages for more than two months by the luck of the draw.
But ahh, the dogs that ARF occasionally takes from puppy mill closures. I really find those the most rewarding and I wanted to tell you why. I got this idea when Hector jumped up on my leg yesterday.
However, first you need a little bit of background.
All puppy mill dogs are not the same, any more than all pet dogs are the same or all people are the same. Some come to us in good health and some are already friendly—we try to refer to this type as breeder surrenders, but sometimes we slip up and call them puppy mill dogs too.
The saddest puppy mill dogs are the ones that have been neglected. They may have health problems or untreated injuries. Almost certainly they are dirty stinky messes with matted fur when we get them. Many have been in cages for their entire lives, rarely given a break and usually only for the time required to breed them to get more puppies. Some have been in crowded conditions and some have suffered physical abuse. Some have had poor diets—not enough food or poor quality food—that leaves them with skin conditions. They are frightened of people because they have rarely seen them but they usually get along well with other dogs.
ARF took on a group of these sad little creatures in early December, 2010. It included five Pekinese and a few Long-Haired Chihuahuas and Yorkies. We named the one of the male Pekineses Hector. He was three years old and so frightened of people that if you opened up his crate and reached in, he would turn his whole body away from you and plaster himself against the back of the crate, holding on the best he could with his paws. Hector had a severe infection in his right eye and it had to be surgically removed. So in addition to learning how to live a civilized life, little Hector had to adjust to life with one eye.
If you think about it, a life in a cage in the back of a veterinary office is a better life by far than the one Hector had before he joined ARF. He was cleaned up, fed good quality food twice a day, and learned to walk on a leash so he could begin the process of housetraining. He was not fond of cold weather but he made good progress and by early March, he would come to the front of his cage to get a treat and wag his tail in approval.
So it took this little guy three months to get this far and it was time for him to learn about home life. I took him to my house on March 3 where he joined my two permanent dogs and one other foster dog. He may have been the head stud dog at the puppy mill, but he was sweet and submissive to the rough-house crew of dogs he met here. His “role model” is Max, a 12 year old miniature poodle I adopted from ARF two years ago and the calmest of the group.
I kept a short soft leash on Hector so I could catch him in the house or yard. At first he would run from me but he always ran back to his crate and dived in as he felt safe there. In a couple of weeks, he was happy to come up and lick my hand if I reached down to him, but he was still scared about being picked up and would flop around like a fish once his feet were off the ground. He still wasn't fond of being outside and would sit by the back door as soon as he was done with the business he went out to do.
In a month, I could pick him up with no flopping and he would sit in an easy chair with me while I knitted fancy socks for up to half an hour at a time. He recognizes his name and wags his tail when talked to. Usually he will come when called.
However, Hector slept most of the time. Hey, I know dogs sleep way more than people, but Hector was the most consistent snoozer that I ever had. I am certain of this as he snores, not sounding like a freight train but you can hear him with the TV on. So I think Hector was pretty happy but still not a snuggler and still too shy for most people to consider adopting him.
I started taking him to ARF's Saturday PetSmart show. At first he was definitely scared but in the course of a couple of months, he has come to like it as long as he is in his crate. He is alert to all the PetSmart commotion and will lick any fingers that are stuck in his crate where he can reach them. He is no more frightened of children than of grown-ups and he continues to improve slowly.
A little more than six months after Hector first arrived, I took him to Bent Arrow Vet Clinic for a blood test to see if his sleepiness might have its roots in some kind of infection or illness. Happily, there were no signs of serious illness, but he was somewhat anemic. A course of antibiotic pills was prescribed.
Now Hector is a terrible pill taker. Traditionally, I can throw a heartworm pill down a dog's throat and gently hold his muzzle closed until he swallows it. A Pekinese has such a short nose that this maneuver is almost impossible. So I have to wrap Hector's pills in a small piece of cheese—he likes the individually wrapped slices of American cheese very much.
As of yesterday, Hector has been taking his antibiotic for a week. He knows what time of day he gets the pill and waits by the refrigerator until the cheese comes out, then gobbles up pill and cheese in just a few seconds.
Yesterday Hector jumped up against my leg while we were outside. Just a little thing in one way but now that you know all the background, you can see how far he has come in six months time. He did not have enough leg muscle to jump up then nor did he have enough pep then nor did he feel the happiness toward a person then that I could see in his big-mouth smile yesterday. Just a little thing but it touched my heart in a big way.
You can read more about Hector and the puppy mill in ARF's July 2011 Newsletter.