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From puppy mill hell to doing quite well

From Animal Sheltering Magazine September/October 2013

Audrey was one of 51 Maltese abandoned on a country road in Flower Mound, Texas, in October 2012. All the dogs found were in poor condition and matted with feces and urine, and some had medical conditions that needed treatment. There was no doubt in our minds the dogs came from a puppy miller, who dumped them in the wake of a new law requiring the inspection and licensing of commercial breeders.

The dogs were in such a state of neglect that it could only have come from living for a long period in a cage. They had been living in their own waste for so long that many of them had what amounted to years of matted hair growth. They also had injuries and behaviors that are standard fare for dogs living in puppy mills—horribly bad teeth from eating urine-soaked food; nails grown out and into the pads of their feet; foot and toe injuries from living on wire flooring; housebreaking issues that will be a lifetime struggle for the adopters; scarring and growths from untreated mastitis. The males were much more fearful about being handled than the females, which is typical since female breeding dogs are more used to being touched.

I have worked on dogs taken from puppy mills before, but because Maltese hair continues to grow, these dogs were suffering more than many breeds would. (Two days earlier, a group of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had been dumped in the same area—we assume by the same breeder. There were about 40 of them, and although they probably lived in the same conditions, they were not in the terrible physical condition as the Maltese.)

We were inundated with applications to adopt these dogs—literally hundreds and hundreds—but worked very hard to make sure people really knew what they were getting into by adopting a puppy mill dog. We held two seminars on dealing with fearful dogs, led by a local trainer, and did a lot of counseling before and after adoption to provide them with the support they needed.

Most of these dogs will never be “normal.” They’ll always be somewhat fearful and will probably always have housebreaking issues, but we gave the adopters a lot of tools to work through those issues and education to help them understand why the dogs are the way they are. The dogs are still making progress and hopefully will continue to do so throughout their lives.

Audrey was one of two dogs who were too pregnant to spay—she had her pups the day we took the dogs in. Like all of the dogs, she was quite shy, but in her foster home she slowly came out of her shell and she was adopted in January of this year. Her puppies were all adopted, of course. One was adopted by one of our volunteers and is now living like a princess. None of Audrey’s pups will ever know the horrors of life in a puppy mill.

About the Author

Stacy Smith is vice president of animal advocacy for Humane Society of Flower Mound in Flower Mound, Texas