We made a weekend trip to meet Skye and Kira, who were in separate foster homes several hours apart. Although I loved both dogs and I could have easily taken either, I probably already knew somewhere in my heart that Kira would be the one I would bring home. Ever since writing the story about the rescue, she had been on my mind. The descriptions of her laying in a catatonic state, paralyzed by fear, were heart wrenching. When I interviewed them, her fosters had told me that if they hadn’t known she was alive, they would have thought she was dead when they first saw her; she laid motionless and stared straight ahead with completely empty eyes. I had never seen a dog so damaged and the image haunted me. I often wondered about how she was doing and found it hard to imagine what she must have been through.
Once Kira and Skye were rescued by Almost Home Dog Rescue of Ohio (AHDRO) they were placed in foster homes. Kira’s foster home was with a wonderful, patient couple and their 2 year old dog, Sadie. Having another dog in the home is a requirement for dogs from puppy mills. While they have had no contact with people, they have generally spent their entire life living in very close quarters with other dogs. They depend heavily on well socialized dogs for cues about what to do in a home and how to navigate the world of people. Long before Kira responded to the people in her foster home, she responded to their dog Sadie. Kira had even attempted to briefly play with Sadie a couple of times, which was reason for great hope and showed that she was capable of moments of joy.
When I finally met Kira in person, lying quietly in the corner of the kitchen where she spent her days, I was immediately struck by the calm, gentle expression in her eyes. I knew that her foster family had spent hours each day talking to her and gently petting her and in the course of two months she had begun to trust them. I sat next to her on the floor and she allowed me to pet her. With a tiny, soft tongue she gently took a treat from my hand. A few seconds later I felt her nose touch me, either looking for more treats, or wondering who I was. The next day she was curled up on the floor of my car where she stayed for the 4 hour ride to her new home.
Because I know a fair amount about dog behavior and dog training, but next to nothing about working with puppy mill dogs, I decided that the best strategy when I brought Kira home would be to do as little as possible until I could read and research and begin to understand how to approach a dog suffering from extreme fearfulness. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I knew enough to know that mistakes on my part would not be easily undone later, so my mantra was ‘first, do no harm’. In that spirit I decided that while I spent the first week pouring over everything I could find about puppy mill survivors, I would provide Kira with a place she felt safe and try not impose myself on her too much. I would feed her, take her out to potty, talk to her as I went about my day, and otherwise just leave her alone and allow her to acclimate to her new environment without asking anything of her.
The first decision I had to make was whether to use a crate with her. I knew from her rescuers that it had been nearly impossible to get her to leave her crate at first and they had to tip it up and basically dump her out. This clearly would not be a good situation! After consultation with a trainer her foster family had decided to put her crate away. When they did, Kira found a corner in the kitchen where she felt safe and spent all day, every day, in that spot. They put a bed there for her and worked around her. I decided that I would reintroduce her to a crate and see how she did.
Our house is quite small and the layout is very open so that you can see every room, with the exception of one bedroom, from any other room. Had Kira been permitted to choose her own safe place, it likely would have been in the closet of the farthest room and we would never had seen her. Her crate, however, was in a part of the house where she could always see and hear us and we passed by countless times a day. She was thrilled when she saw the crate and raced in. From her vantage point she could watch us in safety. She had a soft dog bed and flannel blanket and the first night she tucked her collie nose under her blanket and fell happily asleep. As I looked at her sleeping, she was so beautiful, and I thought, “If she never gets any better than this, it would be ok.” She was already a world away from where she had been. She was safe, perhaps more importantly she felt safe, and she had someone to love and protect her.
A rescue organization that takes in puppy mill dogs, A New Start on Life states:
“Occasionally, we see the survivor who has survived the mill, but at such a great cost that they can never be “brought around.” These are the dogs that have endured so much suffering that they remind us of children who are abused and survive by separating their mind from the body. These damaged dogs will never fully trust anyone. So where does that leave these poor souls? Most are still capable of living out a wonderful life. They need a scheduled environment but most importantly, a home where they are accepted for who and what they are. They may never jump up on a couch and cuddle with you, or bring you a ball to play catch, but you will see the joy that they take in living each day knowing that they will have clean bedding, fresh food and water, and unconditional love. To them, those small comforts alone are pure bliss. These “broken ones” are the ones that normally never leave their foster homes. Ironically, these types of dogs normally do very well in a group-dog setting. They seem to have shunned the world, and most certainly mankind, and have created their own little world without humans.” http://www.anewstartonlife.com/puppymill.htm
I think that one of the temptations in taking a puppy mill dog is to “save them” and/or “fix them.” I did a lot of soul searching before I adopted Kira. Of course I hope that I can help her to heal and become whole again, and I have high hopes about how her journey will end, but I had to honestly ask myself: If she never got any better than she is right now, would that be ok? It is not fair to adopt a dog based on what they could be or because ‘they have potential.’ You have to commit to the dog you see in front of you. You then do everything in your power to help them grow into something more. Our dogs have always amazed me by growing so much more than I could have ever imagined. I hope Kira will too, but as I watched her sleep the first night I was captivated and I knew with certainty that I would do anything humanly possible just to know that every night for the rest of her life she could nuzzle her nose in a soft bed and feel safe.
Yesterday, less than a week after she arrived, I turned in the kitchen to see her peeking her soft head around the corner to look at me and Obi. I stayed still and quiet and didn’t look directly at her so that I wouldn’t scare her and she quietly turned and went back to her crate. I stood there with tears running down my face. She is going to ok, I thought. Not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but she is going to be ok.