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Trauma remains after puppy mill

Weekend voices: Ruminations

Mindy was 7 years old when the first tumor was found. It saved her life.

Mindy is my dog, a designer bijon frise-poodle mix. She was born and raised in a puppy mill. For the first seven years of her life she was repeatedly bred for her cash-crop puppies. She lived in a wire cage, stacked three-high and was fed a combination of leftover people food and cheap dog food. She never felt grass under her feet, she never felt the wind blow through her fur, she never felt a kind hand of love on her body.

When Mindy was in her seventh year of existence, a mammary tumor was found, and to their credit, the breeders gave her up to a rescue organization rather than put her down. Surgery was performed to remove the tumor, she was spayed, and when she healed she was put up for adoption. I saw her on a website and read her story, and it was decided we would go to Cuba, N.Y., to see her.

She was pathetic. Her fur had been trimmed haphazardly, and unevenly. Two of her teats hung almost to the ground, distended with years of nursing puppies. She plodded along after the volunteer who brought her to us, unsure of the grass beneath her feet. Making no eye contact, her head hung down in submission or misery; it was hard to tell which.

We were warned that it may be some time, if ever, before she came around to accept love and affection. And we were warned that she may at some point in the future develop another tumor. There were no guarantees with this dog. We were undaunted. We had to bring her home. She trembled the entire way back to Ripley.

We have had Mindy for a year and a half now. She is just getting the hang of being house-broken; or perhaps it is us who is getting better at reading the signs that she has to go. She never goes to the door, or barks when nature calls. She may very softly whine, but there is no other indication besides being a bit restless.

She is content to lie in a chair with either of us for hours. She doesn’t know how to play, and attempts at tossing a ball or a squeaky toy send her scurrying for the nearest corner in which to hide. Her tail didn’t curl up and over her back for months, and a year had passed before she started wagging her tail. She still doesn’t lie with her tummy exposed for the cherished tummy rubs, but lies on her side with her front leg up so we can stroke her gently.

Grass frightened her. Wind frightened her. Loud noises sent her into a panic. I dropped her leash once on the sidewalk and as it clattered, she took off running, terrified of the “thing” following her, right into the road. Luckily no traffic was coming. It took more than a year for her to stop trembling every time we put her in the car to go to the vet or groomer.

We agreed early on, before she even came home, that we wouldn’t feed a dog table scraps but only nutritious dog food. She didn’t know what to do with hard nuggets of food. She followed us at mealtimes, begging for scraps with those big brown, sad eyes. We discovered she loved canned cat food, so we tried soft, canned dog food. Although very picky as to the flavor and texture, she became used to eating properly.

Mindy sleeps in bed with us, sometimes cuddled up to me, sometimes my husband, and always between us. We don’t have the heart to move her because she has chosen this spot and she has never known a pack, or love. In the middle of the night, not long after we brought her home, we were awoken by a low pitched, mournful howl. Evidently she was dreaming, and it must not have been a pleasant dream. She has done this on a few occasions and each time it breaks our hearts to think she has a memory that causes her to cry out.

We have discovered the long-term effects of being caged for years. Her toes are splayed from constantly standing and walking in wire cages. Also due to being raised in a cage, she has developed patella luxation, a condition where her knees pop out of place. For now she can stretch her back legs and realign her knees, but there will come a point where she may require surgery to correct the painful condition. Mindy has also developed another tumor. We don’t know if it’s cancerous but surgery will be performed in October to remove it. If it is cancer, Mindy will only know love for what remains of her life.

Mindy has grown to be a loving, attention seeking, adorable companion. She has only known love and affection for the last year and a half, but it will take a long time to overcome the neglect she knew. Some puppy mill breeding dogs never recover from the emotional trauma. We are lucky.

My message? Please don’t buy pet shop animals. Not all, but a large portion of these animals come from puppy mills, where sanitary conditions, living conditions, and health concerns are largely unregulated. Little thought is given to interbreeding and congenital defects. And the mothers of these adorable pet shop puppies live in misery. I’m not saying all breeders are bad, but how do you know? The animal shelters are overflowing with dogs and cats that need a forever loving home. Please consider giving them one.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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