Yesterday, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), a lobby group for pet stores, puppy millers and pet product makers, announced they had hired the former head of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Ed Sayres to lead their group.
Shocking? Yes, but maybe not as much as we would like to think. After all, Ed left the ASPCA under less than positive circumstances. He and the board were in disagreement over several things, among them Ed’s half a million dollar salary and which legislative battles to pursue. And if one close to the situation is to be believed, there was also a battle going on over focusing more on animal welfare than fundraising. I’ll let you guess where Ed fell on this disagreement.
The decision to hire an industry insider who may have the ASPCA playbook is no accident. The puppy mill industry is running scared. They know that the tide has been turning, and not in their favor. Cities, towns and counties are taking action where national and state legislators have failed. They are banning the sale of cats and dogs and requiring pet stores to follow the rules, move or close down. If the puppy mill industry hopes to have any chance of turning things around they have to act now. Their hope is that Ed Sayres will be their savior.
The question is… can they turn back the tide? Can they stop social media from continuing to educate the average consumer about pet stores and puppy mills? Can they stop local grassroots organizations from working with their city, county and other local officials to stop the sale of puppy mill dogs in their towns and cities? Can they ever encourage the average consumer to buy a puppy mill dog once they have seen what a puppy mill parent goes through? Can they get people to un-see what they have already seen or forget what they already know?
It will be some time before we know if Ed will be the savior PIJAC hopes he will be, but my bet is on you, the average consumers and pet lover.
You and I, we care about our pets. We care where they came from and the conditions they were raised in. We want to make a difference. We believe in fighting for those who have no voice. We also believe puppy mills need to go. We may not win every legislative battle, but if we change people’s minds, and their spending habits, then we still win. Ed or no Ed.
Want to learn more about this story?
I’ve been a bit sporadic in my posts lately, but I wanted to at least give an update on little Miss Maggie.
Do you know that it has already been a year since Maggie was rescued? On July 16, 2013, she and her babies were rescued and taken to the Animal Humane Society (AHS), where she received medical care, food, water and kindness. In the days that followed, she learned that people could be kind and gentle. She learned it from her first foster mom, Sabrina, who taught her about leashed walks, living in a real home and that steak tastes quite good (the steak was in celebration of a judge awarding her custody to AHS).
With this new freedom came opportunities. A new place to live, time to heal and a chance to learn how to be a real dog. She came into Minnesota Sheltie Rescue and soon after that into my home. I have given her time and space. I let her learn from my dogs what a dog’s life can be like. So far, she has learned bones and ice cream are delicious, and everyone goes outside in the morning and again at night. She has also learned that cheese is good, but it is even more interesting and fun when it is hidden in dog puzzles or comes after touching my hand. She has learned how fun it is to roll in the freshly cut grass and that one must be quick if they want to get a treat before one of the other dogs. She is learning new things every day and in the process becoming more of the dog she was meant to be.
Here are just a few highlights of Maggie’s progress. Don’t miss Maggie’s two videos at the end of this post!
Maggie learns Watch me
Hand targeting with Maggie (She has only done this once outside. Too many noises outside.)
Since December, I have been sharing updates on Maggie and how she is progressing after being rescued from a puppy mill in Pine River, Minnesota.
Most of my updates have been about the things I am doing to help Maggie adjust to life in a home – hand-targeting, showing her how to tell me when she wants to be touched, chewing on bones, adjusting to all the new sights and sounds she has never experienced. What I probably haven’t shared enough is all that goes on behind the scenes.
Let me just say, fostering and rehabing a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient.
While Maggie is making great progress, there are still things that she does that remind me every day that she is still dealing with the remnants of her former life:
- Unusual or loud sounds and sights during the daytime will send her scurrying for her two favorite hiding spots – the kitchen and bathroom. She prefers her kennel during the day because it is dark and quiet and safe from the reflections of light in the house. Seeing a car driving by the front window is frightening to her. She has no context for such a thing in her previous life.
- She still drags a leash behind her because she is still a huge flight risk. If feeling cornered or faced with something scary (and let’s face it, everything is scary to her right now), she will run. Fast and far.
- Doorways are still scary – she needs a lot of space to go through them on her own. In the past, I could catch the end of her long line and lead her inside (always keeping my back to her, because facing her while leading is still very scary for her), but now that she has progressed to a shorter leash, it is about pretending I don’t see her. In the winter, I would bundle up in coat and boots and go outside and slowly usher her in by corralling her towards the door until she would go inside. Now that it is warmer, I go outside in pajamas and slippers and play ball with Jasper, because that allows her to head towards to door on her own and cautiously make her way inside. If I turn and look at her while she is doing this, she will freeze and/or run away from the door. If that happens, we have to begin the process again. On days where the doorway is really scary and she won’t go inside on her own, I will coral her from a distance in the yard. This is always done from a distance because I don’t want her to feel as if she has to run from me (and all humans). I think the longest time it took to get her inside was 30 minutes, but on a typical day it can be anywhere from 5- 10 minutes.
- Touch is not alway a welcome thing. Maggie is definitely not keen on being held. Many times, she prefers not to be touched at all, especially when highly agitated or fearful. (This is when we focus on hand-targeting and using cheese to change how she feels about whatever is making her fearful at that moment.) She is learning however, that touch can be good and will seek it out from time to time (like right now, as I am writing this post).
Daisy was like this in the early days too. She has made amazing progress in the 6 years I have had her, but it did not happen overnight. I already know that.like Daisy, some of Maggie’s unusual behaviors will fade with time while others will remain her entire life (even now, Daisy still has problems with doorways from time to time). What I do know is that Maggie’s quality of life is better than what it used to be. She is learning how to be a real dog, not just a miserable being just trying to survive in a puppy mill.
Franklin D. McMillan DVM, of the well-known Best Friends Animal Society, recently released a study on puppy mills that was quite enlightening (Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs). It’s probably the most comprehensive study I have seen on mill dogs since I first adopted Daisy. It reaffirms most of what I know and have experienced with mill dogs myself.
Behaviorally, puppy mill dogs are very different from normal, well-socialized dogs.
- Have many more fears and phobias – strange people, sights, sounds, movements and objects
- Soil in the house more frequently (this has not been the case with Daisy or Maggie)
- Have compulsive and repetitive behaviors
- Are less likely to have aggression
- May be less trainable because of their fear (anti-anxiety drugs can often help them get beyond the fear so they can progress)
- Have less excitability and low energy levels
- Are less likely to chase small animals
- Have less desire to be touched or picked up
- Often have a vacant or blank stare (this faded over time with Daisy)
- Do better in homes where there is another dog or dogs
This does not mean that puppy mill dogs cannot make progress or should not be saved (in fact, McMillan’s study suggests the opposite), but rather that they need time, patience and a safe place to land, so they can adjust to life outside the mill.
If you are looking to foster or adopt a mill dog your first skill you need to practice is PATIENCE.
Maggie has made some great progress over the past few weeks and month. She might not be ready for a new home yet, but she is definitely heading in that direction. She eats and drinks comfortably in and outside of her kennel. She no longer needs to be led inside and outside the house most days. She now follows the herd, and sometimes, she even beats them to it and gets to the door first!
One of the things she does well inside the house, but not outside, is coming to me for treats. She will hop up on the couch next to me when called and she will engage in hand-targeting easily, but outside she keeps her distance from me.
Like many shy dogs, Maggie is afraid of someone approaching her while they are facing her. It is scary to have someone looming over you when you are a shy dog (actually many dogs hate looming, not just mill dogs). To have someone come towards you and loom? Terrifying. Maggie will run to the opposite side of the yard to maintain a comfortable distance from me at all times. She trusts me, but only so far. There is safety in distance.
To help Maggie with this I have been slowly working her up to being more comfortable with looming. This is something I have been looking forward to trying now that we all can be outside without freezing our patooties off. Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldog’s Blog, first shared this idea with me soon after I started fostering Maggie. She did the same thing with her dog, Nibbles. (Thank goodness for her Nibbles videos!)
I started by tossing cheese to Maggie and my dogs while sitting in a chair on the patio (Maggie loves cheese and the word “cheese”). Then I started asking my dogs for tricks for cheese while Maggie watched and got tossed a few pieces here and there. This drew her nearer to me as she wanted very much to have more cheese (“More cheese, please!”). Over the past few days, she has been steadily getting closer and closer to me in anticipation of getting more cheese.
Yesterday, I decided to switch it up a bit and stand in the yard and toss cheese to all four dogs. Of course, my dogs were ALL over that. Maggie kept her distance, but she would run in to nab a piece the other dogs missed. After doing this intermittently throughout the day, last night I decided to try to see if she would participate in a game of hand-targeting with me looming over her. She watched for a while as the other dogs all touched my had and got a piece of cheese., then started moving closer and closer. From time to time, I would offer her a chance to touch my hand, but always she would back off. Then, just as I was starting to run out of cheese, she did it! She targeted my hand twice while I was standing and looming over her! Yay Maggie!
I think we’ll keep working on this one for a while, until she feels much more comfortable with looming, but I am hoping we’ll be working up to walking on a leash in the yard soon. Cross your fingers!
Curious about looming and what Debbie Jacobs did to help her dog, Nibbles, become comfortable with it? I’ve attached the video here, but to read the whole story on Nibbles and looming, go to her post titled, “Learning to like looming.”
That is the question I posted on my Facebook page last night. I asked the question after seeing a posting for a missing dog that listed the breed of dog as Teddy Bear. Ummmm… What?
Two thoughts immediately ran through my mind when I read that posting:
- What the heck is a Teddy Bear?
- Who the heck is going to know what a Teddy Bear is so they know what to look for?
I can reassure you that the dog has since been found (thank goodness), but it led me to ask the question of my friends “What kind of breed is a Teddy Bear dog?”
Here are some of the answers I received:
- A pom mix?
- Never heard of it.
- Shichon or cross between a shih tzu and bichon.
- Also called a Zuchon.
- Bichon and Pom and Shitzu (I think).
- It can be any mix usually toy anything that will sell.
I Googled it and came up with this:
Teddy bears are “designer dogs,” hybrids of two or more breeds. Most commonly, their parents are Shih Tzus and bichon frises or bichon-poodle mixes, although breeders continue to experiment with adding other dogs, such as schnauzers, to the gene pool. Because of their small size and sweet nature, teddy bears can be perfect pets whether you live in an apartment or a large house.
Apparently, according to this page, they are also great therapy dogs, perfect for people with allergies (yeah, right), and smart and easy to train.
The most likely reality is they are also mutts (yes mutts) with a cute name and numerous health issues that cost thousands of dollars and were raised by puppy millers looking for another quick buck. I can’t wait for the new waves of puppy mill breeding dogs soon to be headed to your local shelter (after a raid of a breeding facility).
To steal a phrase from a friend (Thanks Marie!): “Good Grief. People will do anything to say they have a “rare or special” dog breed won’t they?”
Yes. And, people will pay anything for a dog with a cute name.
I’ve been wanting to give a shout out to my dog’s veterinarian for some time now. She is truly one of the best, especially if you have a shy or fearful dog. My visit with her yesterday just reminded me why I love her so much.
I first discovered Dr. DeWoskin back when I first adopted Daisy (almost 7 years ago). In those days, Daisy was a very scared puppy mill girl. She was fearful of people and new places, and cowered at the slightest sound. Dr. DeWoskin and the staff went out of their way to make Daisy feel more comfortable. They gave her space, shared treats to help make things a little less scary and used slow movements to check her out. Because of their efforts and kindness, Daisy now looks forward to going to the vet. She is only too happy to see Dr. DeWoskin or the staff because she knows yummy treats and gentle hands will be the experience of the day.
Yesterday was Maggie’s first visit with Dr. DeWoskin, and once again she reaffirmed to me why I continue to bring all my dogs to her. Here is how Maggie’s first encounter went with Dr. DeWoskin:
- She came into the exam room and instead of coming right over to Maggie, she sat down on the floor opposite from her.
- She talked with me and watched Maggie as she opened a package of string cheese.
- As we talked about Maggie and how she was doing and where she came from, Dr. DeWoskin tossed her pieces of the cheese.
- Maggie might have been unsure about the room and the sounds in the clinic, but she was more than happy to eat the cheese. (Serious progress for a puppy mill girl!).
- Dr. DeWoskin didn’t stand for some time, but when she did she moved slowly and watched Maggie’s body language the whole time (Oh yeah. Did I mention that both she and the staff make an effort to understand dog body language? That is such a huge a win for the dogs!)
- She then laid a mat out on the exam table, so Maggie wouldn’t slip and slide, and examined her slowly while sharing cheese bits with her throughout the exam.
- When she was done, she gave Maggie her space and let her settle in.
As a result of her efforts, Maggie left her office much calmer and comfortable than she had been when we first got there.
I could be totally generalizing here, but I think it is pretty rare to find a vet who understands shy and fearful dogs. Dr. DeWoskin just “gets” it. I never feel like I am putting my dogs in a situation where I end up feeling guilty for subjecting them to their care.
I love that she watches a dog’s body language before making a move towards them. I love that the staff are as gentle as she is in caring for my pets. How often do you hear about veterinarians and their staff studying dog body language as a part of their day-to-day work?
So a big shout out to Dr. Melissa DeWoskin! This is why I continue to drive across town to see you. You totally rock!
I should also mention that Dr. Lillie and Dr. Mead are great too!