I thought I would share more about Ginger, my little puppy mill survivor. As I said on the “about us” page, Ginger has been with me a little more than two years now. She lived her first 9 years in a puppy mill, producing babies. I knew very little about puppy mills or puppy mill dogs when she came to me. When I picked her up from the rescue she was so afraid. She shook horribly when anyone touched her, and the shaking continued no matter how long she was in your arms. The slightest movement would make her jump and try to hide. She was especially sensitive if you touched her shoulders and neck area, the area sometimes referred to as the scruff. I took her in as a foster and thought that within a few weeks she would be a happy dog like all the others had been and move on to her forever home. I was wrong.
Instead, I found out that I had much to learn about puppy mill survivors. I am a psychiatric nurse practitioner and have worked with kids the majority of my career. I have worked with kids and adults that have endured horrible things in their lives. Because of what has happened to them many develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I’ve watched people that have it and I’ve listened to their symptoms and I’ve tried to help. I can absolutely tell you that Ginger displayed all the symptoms we think of when we diagnose PTSD. It was very evident to me that she had lived through trauma. And it was very hard for her to believe that things could be different for her.
As my usual, I decided that I needed to educate myself as much as I could about puppy mill survivors so I could help her. Below are typical behaviors/symptoms of dogs obtained from puppy mills:
- They are terrified of human hands. In some puppy mills they are handled very rarely and when they are it is common that they are handled roughly. They are frequently grabbed by the scruff and moved with quick, harsh movements.
- They have an aversion to eye contact. They are shy and timid.
- They are afraid of food if offered by a human hand. One source indicated that this may be due to food being used to entice them to move forward in their cage, and then grabbed when needed to be vetted or bred.
- They do not understand the concept of being house trained. Dogs will typically not potty in the area that they view as their home or bed. But puppy mill dogs, who live in small cages, have no choice.
- They are a very high flight risk. When given the opportunity they will run and being afraid of humans they will continue to run if approached.
- Fear of water. They tend to be very frightened by water coming from hoses.
- They will bite out of fear. It is not uncommon for them to cower in the presence of humans and if they feel cornered they can bite out of fear.
- Many have missing teeth/significant dental issues. They are commonly feed lower quality foods and have little health maintenance.
Ginger fit all of the above. Many of those things are still present today. But she has made progress. I have learned that I have to be patient. Yet, at the same time, gently push her to move forward. Ginger is still very shy and gets frightened easily. Even after two years, and ongoing prompting, she will not approach me. In the evening when I am watching TV she will enter the living room and sit/lay about 10 feet from me, often watching me the whole time, but she won’t get closer. If I get up from my chair she will run. I do “make” her sleep in my bed. I let her know that it is time to “get in the bed” and she runs to my closet and waits for me to come and pick her up. Once in bed she gets excited as she knows she will get a treat. She seems to enjoy our special nighttime ritual of tummy rubs and massage. I move very slowly when I touch her. It took 1 1/2 years before she became comfortable enough to lay on her side and raise her front paw so I could rub her chest. But now she loves it. She will even occasionally “ask for loving” by gently touching my arm if I get distracted and don’t start the tummy rubbing fast enough. Ginger is still not completely housebroken. She uses the doggie door about 95 % of the time. And honestly, I didn’t think she would ever make even that much progress. The other dogs I’ve had in my home within the last two years – one of my own plus fosters – have helped with the house training. It has seemed to me that since Ginger had no idea how to be a pet/family member she looked to the other dogs to learn how to do it. She is still too afraid to even consider playing with any toys. But she definitely knows what the word “treat” means.
Before I met Ginger I had no idea how bad puppy mills were, or how the dogs that lived in them were treated. I, myself, raised Shih Tzus for many years. I had a male and a couple of females who were allowed to have no more then one litter per year. They were pets, part of the family and deeply loved. I guess I thought that is how it was done. But Ginger has taught me just how awful it is for these parent dogs. I will never again buy a registered puppy as I will never again take the chance that it could have come from a puppy mill. I would encourage each and every one of you to adopt from a rescue or shelter when the time comes to add to your family. Ginger, would greatly appreciate it!