The Surprise Inside
The moment I heard about the puppy mill/hoarding bust in Arizona, I knew I would have one of the rescued dogs. Authorities had found 800 suffering, toy breed dogs, neglected and living in squalor, in a triple-wide mobile home. Many were giving birth as animal control quickly whisked them away, and several had severe injuries like paws chewed off from fights. Their living space appeared to be indoor plastic crates crammed with dogs or equally crowded outdoor pens.
The Arizona shelter simply did not have the capacity to accommodate such a huge influx of dogs, so the Marin Humane Society in California stepped in with “Operation Tiny Teacup,” a rescue effort to pick up several hundred of these little passengers and relocate them to California to find forever homes.
I already had two Chihuahuas: an older girl named Smidge, and younger girl named Tidbit. Tidbit needed a younger playmate, as Smidge preferred sleeping away the days. The timing was perfect, and the Marin Humane Society was only an hour away, so I submitted an application to adopt one of the “Operation Tiny Teacup” dogs. To my surprise, the waiting list was in the hundreds! This was good news for the dogs, but bad news for me.
A week later I received word that there were a few remaining special-needs dogs for whom the shelter was hand-picking homes. These dogs were extremely under-socialized—not surprising since they had been raised with very little human contact—and their new people-filled environment was causing them tremendous stress. Because I had been in the animal care industry for so long and am knowledgeable about working with dogs with unique issues and temperaments, the shelter staff was willing to consider me as a potential adopter.
The adoption counselor had a particular dog in mind for me, a little Chihuahua named Rosey, whom I went to meet the next day. Rosey was a shaking, four-pound ball of blonde fur, and I was in love. When I picked her up, she buried her head in my arm, and instantly I knew Rosey, now Olive, would be coming home with me.
Olive spent our first month together hiding under my couch. I fed her under the couch, put potty pads under the couch, and gave her treats under the couch. Finally she started feeling a bit more adventurous and would poke her little head out to see what was going on in the world around her. I was always careful not to push her too fast and let all interactions be on her terms. When she was feeling a bit bolder, I took her to a panel of behaviorists to evaluate her and advise me on the best ways to help her relax. That appointment was the beginning of my long journey of helping to heal Olive’s emotional scars, so she could have the quality life she deserved.
I soon learned that Olive’s quirky behaviors are common among puppy mill dogs. These dogs, who are stuffed into very small cages with other dogs and only given minimal human contact, get the equivalent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and will often have funny little triggers that send them into high-stress mode. For Olive, the sound of plastic being scraped (like soup being stirred in a plastic container) sent her into a frenzy, from which it took her up to 20 minutes to recover. I often wondered if it was because the sound was strikingly similar to nails on the side of a plastic crate (which I am sure she heard frequently in her former environment). She also was severely copraphagic, meaning she constantly ate her own feces. This is common with mill dogs because they often have to compete with many other dogs for food. When dogs don’t receive adequate nutrition, they are likely to eat their stool to try and get it the second time around.
Ordinary experiences were extraordinary for Olive, since she had only seen the inside of a mobile home her whole life. She found the television fascinating—staring intently at it while tilting her little head from side to side in the inquisitive way dogs do when they are listening. On the other hand, cars absolutely terrified her, and I had to work very slowly to get her used to car rides.
I have now had Olive for a year and have seen an amazing transformation. Just as some olives are hiding tasty pimientos in their center, my shivering, terrified Olive had a playful, outgoing dog stashed inside! She loves nothing more than to cuddle with me in bed, solicit belly rubs, and keep my elderly dog, Smidge, on her toes. She has brought a warmth and playfulness to my household that was never there before. From her dismal beginnings to her amazing recovery, she is a shining example of the resilience and forgiveness that is the true nature of a dog. –Jessica Stout