One of the things I love most about rehabbing puppy mill dogs is watching them bloom and start to become real dogs. They might never become the dogs they were meant to become, but they get close as time goes on. The difference between puppy mill dogs and other dogs is that they spend a lot of time watching and absorbing everything around them before actually trying it themselves.
They act like little sponges, filling in all the holes left behind by their lack of socialization on early life, and then suddenly, a switch turns on and they start to put all the pieces together and act out the behaviors they have seen in other dogs.
Daisy was like this when I first brought her home. When we would go to the dog park, she wouldn’t interact with the other dogs (and most definitely not with people), but would sit and watch and observe them. She would take in their behaviors and the repercussions. She would watch how they played and drank and interacted with each other. From these observations, she slowly started to fill in the gaping holes in her knowledge of how to be a dog.
I still remember how she would watch her friends, Prince and Princess, drink from a water jug at the park. She watched them for weeks, and then one day, she tried doing it herself. It was clumsy and messy, but she tried. She pulled on her past observations of their movements and mimicked them as she attempted to drink water out of the water jug.
Cupcake has always been an observer too. She’s never had an issue with “speaking dog”, but interacting with humans was something she has always been fearful of, until recently. All those years of watching other dogs approach strangers for treats and a butt scratch has paid off. She is starting to mimic their behaviors. If you had asked me if Cupcake would let strangers pet her two years ago, I would have said NO WAY. But now? She does it more than I ever expected. And, with strangers too! She’ll follow behind them and wait for them to offer her a piece.
Maggie is no different. For the past year and a half she has been absorbing tons of information about her environment, dog behavior, and me. It started slowly with just learning the routines and knowing what to do when.
She learned how to put herself to bed at night by opening the kennel door herself. She learned that she gets fed in her kennel and being in it brings good things. She also learned that scritches feel good and now seeks out my touch daily. (I love her little nose nudges for attention.)
But even more recently, Maggie seems to have flipped a switch and decided that she wants to be like the other dogs.
Last Saturday, I updated the Sheltie volunteers (at our Sheltie Meet and Greet) on where Maggie was at in her rehab. I told them that Maggie had “watch me” and “touch” down, she had yet to learn “sit.” I also told them that she still needed a long line on when she went outside because that was the easiest and quickest way to get her inside.
I guess Maggie felt she had something to prove, because Saturday night I held out a treat and asked for a “sit” and she sat, several times! In the past , I had worked on sit without the cue word by holding a treat over her nose (like you do in puppy class) but each time it was met with nervous lip-licking and look-aways. It was too much pressure for her. She would back away or shut down. This time she not only sat, but she did it when I said the word! She had put the two things together on her own.
Then, on Sunday and Monday, I thought I would see if she knew the word “down” and asked for a down while also holding a treat near the floor. She did a down too! Not just once, but several times!
Then yesterday, Maggie’s long line broke in half while I was bring her inside. I groaned because I knew that I might be late for work since I would need to herd her inside. (This has taken me anywhere from 30-45 minutes in the past.) But apparently, Maggie had something else she wanted to show me. She took her usual route around the lilac bush and behind the chairs on the patio, but she went inside all on her own! I was shocked. She has never done that without me herding her in. Holy cow Maggie!
Last night I thought I would see if it was a fluke and let her out into the yard without a long line. Not a fluke. She did the same thing! She went right inside. On her own. And, this morning? She did it again. Could it be we are permanently done with long line? I hope so!
I am so proud of her. Maggie is pulling on all that information she has been collecting for the past year and a half and using it. Her sponge might not be completely full yet, but she definitely has filled a lot of holes. This is the very best part of working with a puppy mill dog. It makes it all worth it. Go Maggie Go!
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
We usually notice the big changes over time, but when we are too close to the person or animal or event, the subtle ones get missed.
If you have ever had a puppy you have probably experienced this very thing. Someone comes up and exclaims their disbelief at how much your puppy has grown since they last saw him/her and suddenly you see, as if for the first time, that your puppy has indeed grown several inches. How did you miss it? How did you miss seeing those subtle signs?
I would argue that we only notice the big changes because they are concrete packages of time that tell us time has passed The smaller changes are so subtle and so woven with the other moments of our days that they don’t stand out (i.e., we notice when the puppy can no longer crawl under the coffee table, but not when his back starts to touch the bottom of it).
The other night I was texting with a friend and was telling her about bringing Maggie to a friend’s house. I told her how shocked I was by how well she did.
The little dog who would run from my outstretched hand just a few months ago actually approached two people she had never met and touched them, several times. Even more shocking to me was that she chose to do so all on her own. She even stayed for quite some time so she could get some pets and butt scratches. I was seeing Maggie’s small steps of progress all in one moment and in my eyes, it was as if she took a giant leap!
My friend responded back that she had seen the subtle changes in Maggie too. I was so surprised. She told me that I should look at Maggie’s early pictures, from when she first came to stay with us, and compare them with the ones I have taken of her more recently. She said you can see the subtle differences.
And you know what? She was right! I pulled several photos of Maggie from the early days and compared them to ones I have taken in the past few months. She looks different now. Some of the changes are really subtle, but I see:
- A less worried look in her eyes
- She looks like she is less in a “high alert” state now.
- She often laid closer to Daisy than me in the early days. Now she actually chooses to be near me when she sleeps.
- Here eyes and body position seem indicating a curiosity that was not there in the early days.
What do you see?
Maggie getting some loving at my friend, Cindy’s, house.
The more you dig into puppy mills, the more you learn about the physical and physiological repercussions it has on the mother dog (and that doesn’t even take info consideration the genetic issues) and her puppies.
Last fall, when Dr. Frank McMillan spoke at an event (hosted by Animal Folks MN), he shared some data on the behavioral issues that show up in puppy mill puppies sold in pet stores. The results were quite startling:
- Out of 14 behavioral variables measured across puppies from responsible breeders and those sold in pet stores, the pet store puppies were found to have fared worse in 12.
- As they grew up, pet store puppies showed more aggression towards their owners.
- Pet store puppies also displayed more aggression towards other dogs.
- Puppies who are purchased in a pet store are more likely to escape and run away.
- Pet store puppies tend to be under-socialized because they are taken away from their mothers too early and are likely to experience trouble as they grow up.
You can read more about Dr. McMillan’s study via Penn State here: Penn Vet study finds pet store puppies come with increased risk
Puppy mill breeding dogs have their own set of behavioral issues – almost all due to a lack of socialization and fear and ongoing abuse, but now we can show that the puppies they bear have problems too. Why is this the case?
New evidence suggests that mother dogs experiencing extreme levels of stress can pass that stress on to their puppies, and that stress can impact their lives long after they have been weaned and adopted into loving family homes.
The body is designed to protect the puppies from normal amounts of stress:
“Normally, an enzyme inactivates cortisol at the placenta, protecting the fetuses from the level of cortisol that the mother is experiencing. But when the cortisol level is extremely high, some passes through the placenta to the developing puppies. They receive the extra cortisol as information: The world is scary. We should be prepared. “
You can read more on this in the Whole Dog Journal from their November 2014 issue, titled “How a Mother’s Stress Can Influence Unborn Puppies: A highly stressed mother dog may influence her unborn puppies and affect their adult behavior.”
That pet store puppies are more likely to carry this stress message in their systems should not be all that surprising. After all, past evidence has shown that the stress of the mother passes down to the baby, both in humans and rats.
Puppies born in mills experience the stress of the mother in utero and after they are born. When you add in the fact that they are then pulled away from their mothers at a very young age, shipped across country in trucks with other sick little puppies, manhandled and placed in a pet store window, where they are on display and handled over and over again until they are adopted, it’s a wonder any of them survive, much less make it into a home as a normal dog. That they fare poorly on 12 of 14 behavioral variables should not be surprising either. It makes one wonder why anyone would want a dog from a pet store at all.
Daisy’s last litter of puppies were kept by the organization that saved her life. They were going to be trained to be service dogs. I wonder how many of them failed to make the cut? I hope not many, but the more and more I learn about puppy mills and their impacts on the dogs and their offspring, the more I believe that they were doomed from the start.
Now how sad is that?
It’s been a while since I provided you with a Maggie update. So how is she doing? Take a look!
Maggie is starting to seek out my touch. She often will approach me in the morning so I can pet her (like the picture below). She also is starting to enjoy belly rubs.
She will do almost anything for cheese. Although we started working on hand targeting and “watch me” using cheese, she can now do them on cue (whether there is cheese available or not). She is also learning “sit” which is HUGE for her since she can shut down if she feels too pressured (read more on pressure sensitive dogs). She gets rewarded for sitting every time she does it and I mark it by saying “yes”.
Maggie has also learned that she gets “cheese” when she comes inside the house from her potty breaks. I am still leading her in with the long line, but she now does not resist coming in. She also knows the word “wait” (Thanks Debbie Jacobs!) and will come to a complete stop when she hears the word. It makes it easier to grab her long line and lead her inside now.
She is making eye contact more often too. In the past, she would look away, or give me a quick glance and look away, but now she will hold my gaze and seems almost interested in what I am saying to her. Maybe she is thinking I am saying “cheese”?
Maggie loves Daisy. She will sleep next to her whenever Daisy is on the couch, and when she is outside, she will run to Daisy with her tail wagging like crazy. It’s really cute.
She loves chewing on small bully sticks or pre-chewed bully sticks. She will wait until Jasper gets up from the one he was chewing and then steals it. Smart girl!
In the evenings, Maggie dozes on the couch or on a dog bed, but when it is time for bed she will put herself to bed(in her kennel). As soon as I turn out the lights, she wakes up, jumps down off the couch and goes to her kennel and opens the door and goes inside. She even waits for me to latch it shut. (I used to leave it open, but she jumps up on my bed and then back down over and over again because she is afraid of the shadows and sounds that come at night.
The one thing I have been waiting for her to do is bark. The only time I hear her bark is when I just arrive home and I am still in the garage. She always stops as soon as I open the door. But on Saturday morning, she heard me playing with Jasper and Cupcake in my bedroom and started barking! That was a first. And today, I swear I heard her bark outside. I suspect her true Sheltie personality is starting to come through. :)
Now we just need some extra evening sunlight and warm weather and we can practice walking on a leash!
It’s hard to believe, but in a few days Maggie will have been with us one whole year. Puppy mill dogs can take a long time to rehab, so I am not surprised that she is still with me, but I am more surprised at how far she has come… and how far she has to go. Seeing her progress through pictures is quite encouraging. I had forgotten how much fear was in her eyes in those early days.
Back then, Maggie spent her time hiding from shadows in the daytime (she often hid in my closet or the quietest spot in my bedroom) and sitting next to me or Daisy at night. She was afraid of every sound, every movement and every reflection that came through the bay window. Doorways were scary, The sound of cars driving past the house was unsettling. Barking from neighbor dogs was terrifying.
But over the past few months, Maggie has discovered that she likes being outside, “cheese” is good, and ice cream is even better. She loves watching my dogs do tricks for treats, and solve doggie puzzles, and she has discovered that she wants to play too. She is learning that life in a home can be good and that a being a dog is much more than just living in a box.
It’s been a lot of fun to celebrate the successes. I hope you will enjoy this short video I put together highlighting her progress.
I can still remember the very first time I noticed Daisy wag her tail.
It was in the garage after she had just come in from outside. I was standing by the kitchen door, about to let her inside the house, when I noticed her tail up and wagging freely. Who would have thought that something so innocuous to so many other dog owners would be so amazing to me? It was one of the most beautiful moments I can remember and one I will always cherish. It meant Daisy was happy.
When caring for a puppy mill dog, you start to pay attention to every little step forward. It’s all about watching the subtle changes in behavior – the slight turning of their head to indicate they want to be petted, the tentative movement towards you when they have always run away, the increased confidence in how they carry themselves, the very slight reach out for a treat where there was none before.
Last night I realized that Maggie was spending less time with her ears at the back of her head (a sign she is nervous and stressed) and more time with her ears perked and forward (a sign that she is curious). It might seem like such a small thing, but it is a sign that she is feeling more comfortable, and perhaps even a little more confident, about her environment and living in a home with us. For me, it was one of those moments worth remembering.