The battle rarely ends with one victory. There are always those opposing forces to deal with, the ones who don’t want you to succeed: factory farms, big Ag, local communities and politicians, and the ones who may not care, the always underfunded and under-motivated government agencies charged with enforcing the change.
You can work hard to close all the loopholes and to ensure that animals are being saved, but one failure along the chain of implementation and suddenly the fight takes a few steps back, or is put right back to the beginning.
Last year, when we passed the Minnesota Dog and Cat Breeder Law, most people thought we had won the fight. I think it would be more accurate to say we won ONE victory in the war against puppy mills and animal cruelty. Remember those opposing forces? They are always there, looking for ways to slow your roll. Progress is passing a law, but making that progress “stick” takes time, diligence and lots of dedication and follow-up.
As an example, take a look at who the Minnesota Board of Animal Health gave breeder licenses to this year:
Debbie Rowell of Country Pride Kennels – Debbie is the Pine River facility that was raided a couple of years ago. 130 dogs were seized in July 2013, including Maggie, my foster dog, and several other Shelties so damaged they will likely be in foster care for life. A Facebook page has been set up to keep an eye on Ms Rowell’s activities. We can’t know for sure, but given her past conviction, I suspect she will be in trouble again some day soon.
Wanda Kretzman of Clearwater Kennel, Inc. – This kennel was one of three kennels on the Humane Society of the United State’s (HSUS) Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. Wanda’s kennel has had so many violations that the USDA filed an official complaint in March 2015. She even made the worst list for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) in 2013. Her violations go as far back as 1997. The lovely Wanda has one of the largest puppy mills in the state (with more than 1000 dogs). Needless to say, it is hard to believe she passed an inspection by the MN Board of Animal Health. How does someone with this kind of history pass an inspection by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health? My mind is filled with theories.
John & Lyle Renner of Renner’s Kennel – Also on HSUS’ Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. USDA inspectors have found numerous injured dogs in their facility, including swollen red skin, eye and dental issues, damaged paws, etc. This kennel is so bad that it has made HSUS’ list numerous times. And yet, they too got a license from the MN Board of Animal Health.
Michelle Sonnenberg – Also on HSUS’ Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. Repeated health and sanitation violations litter Michelle’s dog kenneling history. Sounds like a place you want to get a puppy from doesn’t it? You have to wonder why she refused inspectors into her facility back in April of this year. Maybe she was cleaning things up in anticipation of a visit from the MN Board of Animal Health? Hmmm… maybe so. After all, she somehow was able to get a breeder license from them. Don’t you wonder how?
(Side note: Both Michelle Sonnenberg and Renner’s Kennels sell to the Hunte Corporation which is a broker for Petland stores.)
Eighty plus breeders have received licenses thus far. They had to submit an application and go through an inspection in order to be licensed.
You can read what the inspector looks for when inspecting these facilities in the Commercial Dog or Cat Breeder Inspection Guidelines.
You’ve got to wonder how the 4 breeders above passed inspection for item number 12, which states: “Exercise. All dogs and cats must be provided the opportunity for periodic exercise, either through free choice or through a forced work program, unless exercise is restricted by a licensed veterinarian. (346.39)”
How much you want to bet Wanda Kretzman didn’t pass that part of the inspection? I can’t imagine how she is exercising 1000 dogs, but hey she got a license, she must be exercising them right?
You probably can tell that I am disappointed in the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, but what I am not is surprised. Like I said, we only won the victory, not the battle.
What the opposition doesn’t understand is that time is on our side. More people are getting knowledgeable about puppy mills and how they work. Petlands, and other pets stores like them, are failing (the Petland in Shakopee closed last year and I am hoping the St Paul store isn’t far behind).
And, as more people get educated on what these places are like, they are also taking action. When people realized that Debbie Rowell was back in business, her Yelp profile and Better Business Bureau status took a hit. (If you think Walter Palmer, the dentist who killed Cecil, is an aberration, think again.) People are getting involved and when they do, they take action.
So, the fight goes on. The battle is not yet won. More work needs to be done.
Want to help?
- Share the information about this and other substandard kennels
- Educate others that pet store puppies come from these kennels
- Encourage friends to adopt
- Contact legislators to support legislation with tougher penalties
- Educate others about what responsible breeders do and don’t do
- Volunteer with or donate to Animal Folks MN & share their posts
- Volunteer with Minnesotans Exposing Petland & share their posts
- Report substandard breeding kennels to the authorities
- Do not shop at pet stores that sell animals of any kind
- Support pet stores that support adoption
- Contact the Minnesota Board of Animal Health: Phone: (651) 296-2942
Long ago and far away, when crop yields were low and the American farmer was struggling to make ends meet, a government organization looked for a way to help them out. The government agency was the USDA. Their solution? Encourage farmers to raise a variety of livestock that could then be turned into a cash crop and allow them to thrive.
The “livestock” the USDA encouraged them to sell were dogs, cute and cuddly, little purebred puppies that could be sold to an ever-growing American middle class, who had begun to see the dog as a part of the American dream (a house, a fence, two kids and a dog).
What we couldn’t know then, but know now, is that this industry would grow and spread across the United States, and it would increase in scope and size and numbers. It would become a burgeoning industry that made farmers money and would feed an ever-growing American need for a dog – a purebred dog, a designer dog, an -orki and an -oodle, and every other kind of combination of dog possible.
Farmers, including the Amish, benefitted from this cash crop in tough times. They found this type of farming appealing and one that could supplement their incomes and help their families. To them, dogs really were livestock. They were just like cattle or sheep, only smaller and cheaper to raise. They could be kept in cages and bred and their offspring could be sold to pet stores across the country. The adults could be harvested for their pups, and when too old to produce, could be sent off to the slaughterhouse, much like a dairy cow, only in their case the slaughterhouse was out back of the mill, the one in which they had lived for their whole life.
For years, the argument has been made that dogs raised in puppy mills are livestock, not pets. They are bred for one purpose, profit, and thus should not be afforded the same kind of care as a dog raised in home. Viewing puppy mill dogs as livestock and not as companion animals, allowed farmers (a.k.a. puppy millers) to argue that they should be treated the same as a farmer raising beef cattle. It allowed them to argue that additional regulations should not apply to them since it did not apply to farmers who raised cows and sheep.
And this argument has worked, for a very long time (and continues to do so, if you live in Missouri).
But in Minnesota, there is reason for hope. There is reason to believe that this argument (that puppy mill dogs are livestock) may be changing.
Recently, a dog breeder, Dayna Bell, was convicted for animal cruelty. And this year, she tried to make the argument that her breeding stock of dogs were not companion animals or pets, but in essence “livestock,” and thus she was not subject to the state statutes that were used to convict her of felony animal cruelty.
Unfortunately for her, the Minnesota State Court of Appeals disagreed.
You can read the full background and history on the case against and the conviction of Dayna Bell and the recent Minnesota State Court of Appeals opinion on the Animal Folks MN site, but here is an excerpt from the court papers.
“….Under Bell’s interpretation, so long as her subjective “enjoyment” of a dog at her kennel amounts to use of the animal as a vessel for conceiving, birthing, and rearing puppies that would be sold as pets, the breeding dog would not qualify as a “pet or companion animal” under Minn. Stat. Sec. 343.20. We presume that the legislature does not intend results that are a “absurd, impossible of execution, or unreasonable.” Minn. Stat. 645.17(1)(2012). Just as a farm cat that is kept in a barn to kill mice or a hunting dog that is used to retrieve game can still be a pet, some of Bell’s dogs may have served incidental roles that imparted some economic benefit. But these animals continue to qualify as pet or companion animals under Minn. Stat. 343.20, subd. 6. In every objective sense, the dogs and puppies that Bell “enjoyed” at her kennel were small-breed, household dogs raised to be and treated as domesticated pets, and Bell sold many of them as pets. Each of these dogs, colloquially referred to as “man’s best friend,” qualifies as a pet or companion animal under the non-exhaustive definition of Minn. Stat. 343.20, subd.6, which is sufficiently definite such that “ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited.” State v. Newstrom, 371 N. W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. 1985) (quotation omitted).”
Puppy mill dogs are not livestock. They are pets and companion animals, and yes, man’s (and woman’s) best friend.
Do they look like livestock to you?
On Friday, I was alerted to this Action Alert from the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS):
PLEASE ASK USDA TO ENFORCE THE ANIMAL WELFARE ACTSeptember 30, 2014 – In a stunning setback in their efforts to increase enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), USDA has suddenly reversed course and decided to, once again, tolerate substandard conditions at puppy mills.Dr. Chester Gipson, USDA’s chief of enforcement for the AWA, recently told animal advocates that the USDA needs “to enable breeders to sell their dogs to pet stores” and citing violations is an impediment to such sales…..Shockingly, USDA has made the decision to help substandard breeders circumvent these ordinances and to continue to sell puppies in spite of continuing violations.
I found myself at complete odds. The idealistic activist side of me wanted to scream in outrage at what appears to be a setback in the fight against puppy mills, while the veteran, and somewhat jaded, side of me could only sigh and shake my head in resignation.
If you have any knowledge, understanding or experience with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), then you know this is simply par for the course for them. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say they are probably one of the worst agencies in the federal government.
Whether it be the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and for inspecting puppy mills, or the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, the USDA seems to excel in their inability to perform their job.
In 2010, the Office of Inspector General issued their latest audit (one of many) of APHIS and their performance as it came to enforcing the Animal Welfare Act with commercial breeders. The results, while not surprising, were damning.
They found the following deficiencies:
- The Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers -The agency believed compliance could be enforced through education and cooperation and thus took little or no enforcement action against most commercial dog and cat breeders
- Inspectors Did Not Cite or Document Violations Properly To Support Enforcement Actions – inspectors did not correctly report all repeat or direct violations and did not take pictures or document properly. As a result, some problematic puppy mill dealers were inspected less frequently and in many cases got off easily.
- APHIS’ New Penalty Worksheet Calculated Minimal Penalties. Although APHIS previously agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to produce “significantly higher” penalties for violators of AWA, the agency continued to assess minimal penalties that did not deter violators. In other words, puppy millers received minimal penalties a majority of the time.
- APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators – Inspectors misused its guidelines so that violators would be penalized more lightly than warranted, even for repeat offenders with serious violations.
- Some Large Breeders Circumvented AWA by Selling Animals Over the Internet. (This was recently changed, but given their past history, I doubt it will be enforced or treated any differently than today.)
- Did Not Adequately Establish Payment Plans for Stipulations – Payment plans for violators were not adequately established so they rarely paid, and if they failed to pay, there was no process in place to follow up. (What a joke.)
- Enforcement Policies Do Not Deter Repeat Violators
- Some Inspectors Performed Insufficient Post-Mortem and Sanitation Inspections
- Swine HIMP Pilot Program Lacks Sufficient Oversight (HIMP = HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) for swine.
- FSIS Could Not Always Ensure Humane Handling at Swine Slaughter Plants
Or look at the Office of Inspector General’s report on Verifying Credentials of Veterinarians Employed or Accredited by USDA or the Office of Inspector General’s report on FSIS and their E. Coli testing on boxed beef or numerous other reports related to APHIS or FSIS.
Yes. The USDA’s supervision of animals (in puppy mills and/or other animal facilities) is a complete and utter failure and has been for a very long time. Maybe that is why I am not surprised by this most recent setback. The truth is this is not a setback at all. It is simply a new iteration of what they have always done – let the violators go free, unchecked, with little chance of ever having to face charges for their violations. Same dance, different dance hall. If anyone thinks the USDA or APHIS is going to start enforcing the law now, then they are sadly mistaken. They haven’t been doing so for years.
I don’t discourage from contacting Secretary Tom Vilsack, as CAPS requests, just that you not expect much from this agency. This is just the same dance in a different dance hall.
You can contact Secretary Tom Vilsack at AgSec@usda.gov or leave a message at (202) 720-3631.
Maybe the best plan of attack is to take the middle guy out and just take the fight to your own local town and city governments. The more you support ordinances and laws that outlaw the sale of pets in pet stores in your community the less power the USDA has to influence anything. Let’s take the fight where it is most effective. Lead the charge locally and eliminate the need for the USDA at all.
It’s sad that even though Missouri passed a puppy mill bill four years ago, they remain one of the top states for bad breeders (22 of the top 100 are from Missouri this year).
Over the past few years, the Missouri puppy mill bill has been weakened by local by politicians, individuals who caved under the pressure of big Ag and the puppy millers themselves. The truth is one cannot be assured that passing a puppy mill bill will lead to an end of puppy mills or to animal cruelty in puppy mills. The battle may be won once a puppy bill passes, but the war goes on. There will always be those who prefer to take dollars from deep pockets than to do the right thing, and those deep pockets have no interest in keeping laws pertaining to puppy mills in place. They will do what they must to get rid of the bill or make it weaker so it is no longer effective. We must stay ever-vigilant if we want to see puppy mills go away.
Most of those who made the list were cited for extremely bad care and treatment of animals. According to HSUS, some of these citations included:
- A breeder in Missouri who admitted to leaving a gravely injured and nearly unresponsive Pomeranian named “Woofie” lingering for three days without taking him to a vet (Johanna Steele);
- Four breeders who listed gunshot as a method of euthanasia on their official veterinary plans (Barker in AR; Mamma’s Minis in CO; Tietz and Williams in NE);
- A breeder in Illinois who had five beagles euthanized rather than providing them with warmer shelter as directed by his inspector (Melton Christiansen);
- A breeder in Missouri who was found with a dead, four-week-old shih tzu puppy frozen solid in the outdoor portion of an enclosure when overnight temperatures had recently been as low as -9 degrees (Johnny Dake);
- Breeders who left their dogs exposed to heat indexes as high as 109 degrees or bitter cold temperatures as low as one degree Fahrenheit (Hines in SD; Pesek in NE);
- USDA inspectors photographed a Yorkie with an eye disorder at a facility owned by Andy Troyer in Fredericksburg, Ohio, in 2011 after the operator repeatedly failed to get adequate treatment for the dog. Additional problems were found at the same facility in 2014. /USDA 2011.
- A breeder in Missouri who admitted to slaughtering downed cattle (cows unable to walk and who could be ill) from a local slaughterhouse in order to feed the raw meat to her dogs; rotting meat infested with maggots was found in her kennels (Barbara Neubert); and
- A breeder in Nebraska (listed in our appendix because she was in last year’s Horrible Hundred report), who was found with no fewer than 54 dogs in need of veterinary care during a single USDA inspection (Linda Hager).
Yes. Lovely people aren’t they? I can’t imagine how one becomes okay with treating an animal this way, but I suspect your soul has to die off a bit first.
There were five Minnesotans that made the HSUS list this year. One of them is from Pine River, but strangely enough, it is not he one who ran the place Maggie came from (that one was run by Deborah Rowell). It makes me wonder – just how many puppy mills are in business in Pine River?
Here are the five Minnesota puppy mills that made the list:
- Gloria Brouwer, Jasper, MN – Three dogs died after not being treated properly. Brouwer received an official
warning from the USDA in February 2013 for failing to get proper care for three dogs who were observed to be sluggish with poor appetites in July 2011. A USDA Director of Investigative and Enforcement Services noted that Brouwer took the dogs inside when they seemed ill and attempted to treat them herself with Baytril. All three of the dogs died. The incident occurred in 2011 but the USDA did not publish its official warning until February 2013. In January 2013, the USDA cited Brouwer for several new problems, including expired veterinary drugs and unsafe housing. In February 2014, the USDA went to check on the kennel but was not given access, which is a violation. USDA #41-A-0364.
- Paul and Sheila Haag, Valley View Kennel aka A Maze N Farmyard LLC, Eden Valley, MN – Mega mill, repeatedly cited for dogs with injuries. Although it passed one USDA inspection in 2013, Valley View Kennel was cited for violations during four previous inspections in a row, including repeat violations for lack of adequate veterinary care for issues such as limping dogs with swollen feet (common in facilities where dogs are forced to stand on wire cage floors), a dog with “a red ulcer-like mass in the eye,” unsafe and unsanitary housing, and numerous other problems. The Haags appear to have an enormous amount of dogs; in July 2013, the USDA counted more than 800 dogs and puppies on the property, indicating it may be one of the largest puppy mills in the country, and the second largest in the state next to Animal control officers found deplorable conditions at Chien d’Or Kennel in Farmington Hills, MI. The kennel has registered AKC breeding stock and sells online. In recent years, the AKC has opposed more than 100 bills designed to crack down on puppy mills. /Oakland County Animal Control, 2013. Clearwater Kennel in Cushing. The facility has not been inspected yet in 2014 (as of April 10). Concerned local advocates are calling for action via social media: facebook.com/pages/Shut-down-A-mazen- Farmyard/175238609266415. USDA #41-A-0281.
- Sharon Lanz, Pine River, MN – Dogs in the freezing cold. In November 2013, USDA inspectors found a number of issues at Lanz’s kennel, including dogs outside in the cold without adequate protection when the temperature was only 29 degrees, expired vaccination drugs and accumulations of wastes and clutter. Records show that USDA inspectors attempted to re-inspect the kennel three times in February 2014 and made calls to the owner each time, but were not given access during any of their attempts, a repeat violation. Violations were also found in 2011 and 2012. USDA #41-A-0027.
- Deloris and Dick Richards, Marshall, MN – Ten dogs found with injuries; dogs repeatedly exposed to freezing cold and walking in their own feces. In January 2014, USDA inspectors found three different repeat violations at the Richards’ kennel, including dogs without adequate protection from the bitter cold, safety issues and excessive feces. In August 2013, USDA inspectors found no fewer than ten dogs in need of veterinary care at the Richards’ kennel for issues such as hair loss, bleeding wounds and blackened scabs on their ears from fly bites. In addition, the Richards have been repeatedly cited by USDA inspectors for inadequate cleaning of feces in their dog runs (Jan. 2014, Dec. 2013, Aug. 2013, April 2013, and March 2011) and for dogs with inadequate protection from the weather. In December 2013, a USDA inspector noted that dogs were not properly sheltered when “the outdoor winter temperatures and wind chills are frequently falling below zero degrees,” and that some dog runs were so soiled with feces that “there were no clean areas for [the dogs] to step without coming into contact with the waste.” USDA #41-A-0016.
- Michelle Sonnenberg, Detroit Lakes, MN – “A foul odor” and standing water was mixed with feces and maggots. USDA inspectors found multiple violations during five inspections in a row at Sonnenberg’s kennel between December 2011 and September 2013. In September 2013, inspectors noted a “foul odor” due to standing water mixed with feces and maggots, a “prevalent ammonia [urine] smell” that was “strong enough to make the inspector’s eyes burn,” dogs without adequate space, and sanitation problems. During the September 2013 visit, more than 430 dogs and puppies on the property. In February 2013 an inspector noted an “ammonia level strong enough to make the inspector cough and feel a burn in the back of the throat” and other problems. In December 2011, inspectors found underweight dogs, dogs with matted fur, numerous unsafe conditions and puppies with their legs falling through wire flooring, which, as the inspector noted, “risks malnourishment” because puppies whose legs are stuck through the wire gaps may not be able to reach their mother to feed. The HSUS has received two complaints from buyers who reportedly purchased sick puppies from the facility. USDA #41-A-0021.
Want to stop puppy mills? Don’t buy from a pet store. People who have started following and commenting on the FB group “Shut down A maze’n Farmyard” (the 2nd mill on the MN list), have mentioned buying sick puppies from a pet store that were sourced from this place. Buying a sick dog from a pet store may be saving THAT dog, but it is sentencing the parents to a continued life of misery, pain and cruelty. Just don’t do it.
Don’t shop, adopt.
Monday could very well be the day that our Minnesota State Governor signs the Dog and Cat Breeder bill into law. Even if it does not happen today or tomorrow, it will be signed into law soon, and that is amazing in and of itself. It has taken close to ten years of hard work to make this happen. From those who did the heavy lifting (you know who you are) to those who called their legislators and rallied at the capitol and committed the time and effort to get us here, you have my (and Daisy and Cupcake and Maggie’s) thanks and gratitude.
So what happens with this bill and when does it begin?
- Dog and cat breeders operating in the state of Minnesota will be required to be licensed, regardless of whether or not they are a USDA breeder. The licensing process will begin in July. (This means those who sell over the internet can no longer drop their USDA license and think they are safe from scrutiny. It also means that we will have a more accurate data on the breeders that operate in our state.)
- The Minnesota Board of Animal Health will now have the authority to inspect commercial dog and cat breeding facilities and enforce existing State laws to ensure animal care standards are met and they will be funded to do so. (This can begin as soon as licenses start coming in or they can start next year, June 30th, the deadline for breeder licenses to be submitted.)
- The state will also have the ability to apply civil, administrative and criminal penalties for those who violate the law.
I have no doubt that many breeders will be thinking about whether or not they want to stay in business. For those who do not, there will be the issue of closing down their business. I expect we will see more animals coming into shelters and rescues. We must be ready for them.
For those who stay in business, it will be an adjustment. They will need to pay a license fee, establish and maintain a written protocol for disease control and prevention, euthanasia, and veterinary care of their animals, and identify all known owners of the business. They also must make any USDA violations available to state inspectors, report whether they have ever been convicted of animal cruelty in the past, and subject themselves to an annual inspections. In other words, they will face more scrutiny than ever before.
Change is coming to Minnesota breeders. They only question is how successful will it be? I guess that is dependent on the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and us. Our vigilance will be required. There are those who will gladly look for ways to weaken this law.
My personal hope is that people like Deborah Beatrice Rowell will find it harder to do business like they did before. She owns the puppy mill that Maggie came from and is back in business today. If this law makes it hard enough to make her quit, then that would truly be a blessing, especially for the dogs like Maggie, who have not yet escaped.
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.
If you read my post from last Thursday, then you know about Maggie, our new foster dog.
That post provided you with some general information on Maggie’s background and her fears and shared some videos of her outside.
If you don’t know, Maggie came from a puppy mill and has been staying with us just a little over a week. Dogs like Maggie, are often damaged – emotionally and physically. Building trust with them is difficult. It takes time, patience and dedication. Oh yes, did I mention time?
My Lab Daisy took almost three years to come out of her shell. People who meet her now would never guess how emotionally damaged and scarred she was when she came to me just over 6 years ago. I still see it sometimes, it never goes completely away, but she is miles from where she started. For that, I am grateful.
When Daisy first came to live with me, I made sure to give her a lot of time and space – time to get used to me, Aspen (my dog) and our routine and space to decompress and adjust to this new life she had. I wanted her to have a say in what she felt comfortable doing and I wanted it to be on her timeline. Building trust with her was my goal, but that could’t be done completely on my terms. That had to be done on her terms. If I forced her to do something just because I wanted her to do it, I would have risked her shutting down or regressing, and I most certainly would have destroyed any trust she had with me. So instead we worked together, in tandem, with Daisy telling me when something was too much for her and when she felt she could trust me enough to push past her discomfort. it required me to listen to her and to watch her body language in order to know I needed to stop or move forward.
What I did with Daisy is similar to the approach I am using with Maggie. The only difference between then and now is that I have a little more wisdom and experience this time around, and I have a few more resources at my disposal.
In Maggie’s first few days with us, I tried to give her some space, some time to adjust – to me, to my dogs and to our routine. Now I am focused on building her trust. There are two things I am doing to help build that trust (with more to follow as she progresses). The first is modeled after a video I shared on my blog a year ago showing how you can determine if your own dog likes to be petted by you. I recommend watching it, if you haven’t already, and trying it with your own dog.
Briefly, what I have been doing is petting Maggie for a short period of time and then letting her tell me if she wants me to continue or stop. It’s taken some time for her to figure out that she has a say but she has started to realize that if I pet her and stop, she can tell me if she wants me to continue by simply nudging her nose at my hand or by touching my hand or making a movement with her nose towards my hand.If she does not want to be touched she stops nudging me and I stop petting her.
Here is a video demonstrating that behavior. As you can see, there is one point at which she becomes distracted by a noise and looks around. I let her and wait to see if she chooses to come back to me for more petting. I don’t try to get her attention back, I just wait and let her decide, which she does. This is Maggie choosing on her own what she wants from me. Pretty cool huh?
The second thing I am doing is similar to the first, except I am asking her to do something in return for some cheese. It’s called hand targeting. I don’t have a video of this with Maggie yet, but Debbie Jacobs from FearfulDogs.com was kind enough to direct me to some of her videos on hand targeting that she did with her dog Nibbles, who came from a hoarding situation. I have included one video below, but I would really recommend going to her post titles “Nibbles” so you can see a few of the videos of her work with Nibbles and hand targeting.
If you are working with a dog like Maggie or Nibbles, you should absolutely check out the rest of Debbie’s videos and blog posts about Nibbles. He has made such amazing progress in her expert care. To me, Nibbles is proof that sometimes you can rehabilitate dogs like he and Maggie and give them a good quality life.
I will continue to work with Maggie to help her along her journey, but I know it will be a slow process that will have its ups and downs. It just takes time and patience.
Note: Maggie is one of the lucky ones, she got out of her puppy mill, but there are many more still living a life of hell. Please continue to spread the word about puppy mills and the damage they do to dogs like Maggie. Not every dog can be saved, but every dog should have a chance.