Life of a Retired Puppymill Production Line Worker
I have two female
puppymill rescues, and their are some things I have
learned about these special cases for adoption. I don't know how general my
experience is, but maybe it will help you understand your baby better.
In my opinion:
I've learned that I can't think of my two as dogs. They never learned how
to be one. They lived in a box, without exposure to grass, had to worry
about other dogs getting the food, never had exercise, never learned to
play, apparently weren't taught normal "dog" things by their mothers, and
were so conditioned to react to or fear the hands or tongs or anything else
that came into the cage or box to grab them.
Savannah, lived in a cage with an actual wooden floor, but she was one of
about four in a basement of 81 dogs when the place was busted. She has an
"F" tattooed in her ear so that they could just look at the ears and know
whether they were grabbing the female or male from a box. Her mouth didn't
get the care she needed, and she had regular c-sections to protect the
expected puppy stock from birthing accidents. Twinkie has tattoos in both
ears, but they are numbers, and less obvious as to the inventory control
Inventory control is the point. They were treated like stock on a shelf.
Rotated occasionally, but not played with, and not worth individual
attention. When they become to worn, dispose of them, or just dump the
existing stock for newer models.
The dogs "want" comfort, but they don't exactly know what it is or how to
get it. Your efforts to deliver succor can just scare them, because it and
you are unfamiliar. Chis are pack animals, (not a lot of body heat in a
single chi) but these have never learned the comfort of a buddy. They have
been handled and tossed from one cage or box to the next. They have
probably seen a variety of people, what with someone feeding them regularly,
and then hopefully a vet, maybe technicians, and maybe someone to help with
the care of the cages. All these people have represented are hands
reaching, not necessarily gently, grabbing and "Doing things" to them. When
you think of the chi to human scale, they never had a chance to be any kind
of dominant or pack animal, and the scale kind of warps their basic instints
about living in the world. Of course, their puppies got totally screwed up
messages in the short time they were with these parents, because the mothers
never new what it was to be a dog in the first place. Leaving the pups with
the moms for a longer period of time wouldn't help the bottom line, OR the
pups psyche because the dams didn't know the "how to be a good chi" message
in the first place. AND if they did, their circumstances ground it out of
To the new owner. You are hands. You and your home don't have the
overwhelming smell of too many dogs cramped in a tight space. The world has
suddenly become an infinitely sized place and the chi is still a tiny
creature. IF the chi (who as a breed tends toward being a one-person dog in
the first place) begins to accept ONE person as a non-threat, anyone else is
still a threat and a stranger. Rotating who provides food is probably the
best way to spread the positive, safe feelings. The chi doesn't get "love"
from a person or other dog, so will have to learn this new concept from the
strange new others in this scary HUGE world.
Give them toys, and they have no idea what to do with an inanimate object.
If it moves on its own, "what the ^&* is that?" If you try to play with
them, you are DOING to them again, and they either submit to your hands, or
reach their fear place because its THE HANDS again. Don't be surprised if
the chi doesn't respond to anything that looks like a rope, Including
leashes. Don't be surprised if the chi has a fear reaction to long handled
tools: barbecue tongs, reachers, fireplace tools in hand... they may have
been handled by long grabbers as a way of being moved from box to box
without the hander being bitten.
What DO you have? You have an animal that still needs all the basic care
and health considerations of any dog, if not more because of their prior
neglect and abuse. You have a baby that craves comfort and responds well to
having a small world, crate or other hole, under a desk, a bed, in a closet
or a box... whenever the bigness of the world gets to be too much (and they
can squeeze in there - YOU can't - except to reach and grab. You have a
critter that, if it gets past a fear stage, will sponge up every bit of
comfort you can offer, but may never entirely get past the ingrained fear.
The only comfort the baby has ever known is that which soothes a growling
Offer free access to the measured amount of food prescribed by the specific
diet. Try using kibble for treats, as opposed to higher calorie, garbage
filled "dog treats." This associates the "comfort" i.e.: food with the hands
offering the enticement. Don't try to entice and then GRAB the dog, because
this breaks the trust of the food and adds a fear element to the basic
concept of COMFORT/food. The dog may have been in an situation where it had
to share a community feeding trough, in which food aggression has been
rewarded by actually getting to eat, straining to acquire the comfort.
It's a fine line to walk, to allow the dog access to as much comfort as it
can accept, while noticing how much dominance it gains over its space. As
it begins to feel in control, you must set the limits, and train the animal
without triggering the fear responses.
After five years, Savannah still prefers "Daddy" over me. I feed her, and
she lives on my bed, where I am with her 95% of the time, but she will not
come to me. She will let just about anyone pet her, and OH, how she LOVES
belly rubs. After all, she had lots of belly stimulation because of the
many litters she bred. Me though, I am the HANDS. I am the one that has to
do the hygiene/health stuff. I have to "pill" the dog when it comes up, try
to clean her ears and her mouth and do all that other handily stuff with the
negative triggers of being wooled around. She will "COME UNDER" the covers
and spends lots of time snuggled against me, but my hands are taboo. Grass
and the huge outside is fearsome, attempts to play are frightening, and so
her life is lived on her terms, cuddled and snuggling, and worrying her
"MOMMY" about her activity level, etc. I accept that I give her a
non-threatening world as comfortably as possible, and am thrilled when she
chooses to snuggle up near my shoulder instead of down near my knee (her
version of "I'm ready to let you cuddle me, if you do it right.") She
comforts herself by licking: she chooses what are where - the dog version
of twiddling the thumbs Even though I haven't been able to transfer the
behavior to toys, chewies or anything else, I just love her for all of it.
Twink... has been with me 17 months. She is finding her puppyhood, at 10?
years of age. She has just recently started to chew. Anything and
everything. She finally reached the point where I could put her on the
floor and tell her to "go potty" and she would head to the designated spot,
instead of hitting the floor and running back to the bed. (She figured out
her own way up, using shelves and such near my bed.) She is MY baby,
Velcro, that is. A new treat is watching her get all wiggly-squiggly on the
bed when I ask her if she wants to come with mommy, go potty. She rolls and
dances and laughs, but it doesn't transfer to just play time. They both
have learned a few commands, and dance for (kibble) treats. Twink... cowers
behind Mommy as her safe zone, and still growls or barks every time she
hears or sees Daddy, and most men. She doesn't try to bite, just hollers
and ducks for cover. She however does not seem to resent the HANDS that DO
things to her.
Both dogs live on the top of a king-sized waterbed, but not together.
Savannah has her area, and Twink... has hers. Its the kind of thing that
whenever I see them lying where they actually touch each other, I need to
call somebody and cheer! A few days ago, for the FIRST time, I saw Savannah
lying with her feet across Twink...'s back, licking her; the FIRST time. I
was so happy I yelled for Daddy and was nearly in tears. Of course, by the
time I grabbed the camera, the moment had passed. Today I have an
appointment where I have to leave, and just dread what I will come home to
(see MOLLY'S AWARD DAY story), now that Twink... has found her puppyhood,
and the joy of digging for things fun to chew up.
Such is our family. Sorry I can't offer you any real solid advice, but I
can tell you that Jack is not necessarily going to respond as a "normal"
dog, but is a dog deserving of HUGE amounts of love to get him past the
memories/training he has experienced.
Jel - mum to Savannah (rescued at age 5) & Twink... (adopted at age 9)