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Fostering a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient

May 22, 2014 16 comments
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Maggie thinks I am too close and is making to create some distance

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.

They

  • 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.

Cheese please!

Cupcake and Maggie waiting for some cheese. She keeps her distance from me, but that distance has been decreasing lately.

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Puppy mill news we can all cheer about

October 25, 2012 9 comments

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a story on my Facebook page about work being done to ban the retail sale of animals in Los Angeles, California. Well, guess what? It passed!

On Wednesday of this week, the Los Angeles City Council (by a vote of 12-2) approved an ordinance that bans the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in the city.

This is really great news for many reasons, including:

  1. It stops the flow of puppy mill dogs into Los Angeles, and essentially closes down another avenue in which puppy and kitty mills can sell their dogs and cats.
  2. It increases the chance that a a dog sitting in a shelter, or being cared for by a rescue, will get adopted, thus finding homes for the dogs and cats who really need them most.
  3. It provides a model for how we may be able to stop puppy mills at a local level.

Already other cities and towns are calling to find out about the work done to pass an ordinance like this, and you can bet people are already thinking about how they can organize and pass one in their communities. Chicago, in particular, appears to be the next big municipality to consider such a progressive ordinance.

This definitely looks like a model for the future. One thing we know for sure, it will hit puppy mills right where it hurts them most – their pocketbooks.

Want to know more about how Best Friends and local Los Angeles city leaders led this change? Read “At long last, pet sales on the way out in L.A.”

My kudos to the Best Friends Animal Society, and most especially Elizabeth Oreck, for leading this work. I have great respect for all you do. You continue to lead the fight for animals in such new and creative ways. Thank you for leading from the front.

Is your dog mentally ill? Maybe.

August 21, 2012 16 comments

Dog Health

My friend Hilary shared this link a while back (The Signs of Mental Illness in Dogs) and I thought it was worth sharing. It’s a piece highlighting a new textbook on canine mental illness and some of the mental illnesses being found in our furry friends.

Reports like these always interest me because they provide insight into a dog’s mind and behavior. They also allow me to be more aware and better educated about dogs in general.

As dog owners, I think we most often attribute dog behavior to the dog or the owner (i.e.,  “bad dog” or “bad owner”), but as this piece demonstrates, sometimes the behavior can be mental illness. I have known some dogs who have suffered a mental illness, I just never realized that so many different types exist.

Among the many illnesses described by the author, Diane Garrod, are:

Schizophrenia

Depression

Unprovoked acts of aggression

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Separation Anxiety or Panic Disorder

Extreme fear

Neurological diseases and disorders

Symptoms vary, but among the ones mentioned are:

Appetite suppression

Aggressive behavior

Increase or decrease in water intake

Stress Hair loss

Fatigue

Obsession

Accelerated hyperactivity

Garrod also references a new textbook by Dr. Franklin D. McMillan (the Director of Well-Being Studies at Best Friends Animal Society), titled “Mental Health and Well-being in Animals”. Although textbooks aren’t usually my favorite reading material, I have to admit that this one sounded interesting.

One of the statements on the publishing site caught my eye: “Recent research shows convincingly that an animal’s physical health and immune system function are strongly influenced by its mental state.” It makes sense doesn’t it? A dog that is mentally stressed is likely to show it in their physical being as well. A dog that is balanced and happy is less likely to show symptoms, but not always.

Understanding how a dog’s mental health can impact behavior is just as important as understanding how their physical health can impact behavior. I am so glad that now veterinarians and animal behaviorists will have one comprehensive place to find this information. In the end, it benefits us and our dogs.

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