I've always envisioned myself working with animals someday and have been interested in animal welfare initiatives my entire life, so I was very familiar with stories from individuals whose life was changed monumentally after adopting their dog from a rescue. It should come as no surprise then that I chose to adopt from a rescue when the time felt right for me to bring a dog into my life.
I'm a believer in that "gut-feeling" that tells you when to make a move, and something about his picture, his story, and the rescue itself in Indiana grabbed me. He's a French Bulldog, now named Scooter, who was rescued from a puppy mill in Indiana with a handful of Yorkies. I contacted the rescue, figuring that I could fly to Indiana from my home in NJ if this were to work out, and the more I thought about it, the more I was willing to do to bring him to our good home. I even called up my mom and asked her "Mom, how do you feel about 30 hours of bonding in the car, like we did during my college hunt?" She thought I'd lost my mind. I received a call the next day from Tri State Yorkie Rescue telling me about Scooter's experience and that coincidentally a small breed rescue nearby drives to New England once per month. My gut nearly flew out of my chest. Three weeks later we met the rescue on its drive through New York at 3 am, a massive leap of faith for both parties.
The emotional and physical scars from Scooter's three-year life in a puppy mill have been evident from day one, but somehow he has been able to keep his spirit and continuously proves to be the cuddliest, most loving dog I've met. In the puppy mill, Scooter's food was mixed with sawdust; apparently this cheapens their diet because it fills them up, therefore requiring less dog food to be served to each animal. Not only must this be detrimental to their internal health, but Scooter's teeth rotted resulting in the loss of seven teeth with he was first vetted in Indiana. All of his front teeth are now gone, from time to time earning him the nickname "Mr. Gums." When he first arrived home four weeks ago, we tried feeding him age-appropriate Blue Buffalo brand dry food. After watching him repeatedly attempt to eat this food with his raw gums and missing teeth, we tried alternatives, finally discovering Stella and Chewy's freeze-dried formulas. Without front teeth, the hard food would bounce right out of his mouth, and he would become discouraged, giving up on eating altogether. The freeze-dried food is soft enough that he can learn to chew with his remaining teeth and is gentle on his gums. He has learned the art of eating without teeth, tilting his head up goofily to move the food to the back of his mouth. Four weeks later he finally gets excited for meal times.
What many don't realize about puppy mills is that the older dogs, even Scooter who is only three years old, have never had the opportunity to play with toys and when they are adopted it takes a long time for them to understand what they should do with them. After three weeks, Scooter chewed on his first bone, an exciting step celebrated in our household. He still doesn't understand what the squeaking frog is, despite our attempted demonstrations and enthusiasm each day. This will come in time, I've read.
Scooter learned to run around the yard with us during his second week, and the joy in his eyes made my heart melt. Having never exercised in the mill's cages, he seemed to lack the muscle to support running and would face-plant as he ran. He'd get up each time though and continue on even faster as though it hadn't happened. His favorite activity is to run into our arms. This zest for life and love I attribute to his ability to come out of a puppy mill without hostility towards the species that forced him through that horror in the first place.
After spending three years of his life caged in deplorable conditions, each and every smell, sound, and movement is exciting and new. Scooter and I often sit together outside, just to help him understand that the sounds and sights are not scary or threatening, and I love watching him lift his head to the sky as a gust of wind approaches, bringing with it countless smells I'll never notice the way he does. I will never know the extent of Scooter's living conditions before he was rescued, or what he felt or witnessed during those long three years, and it pains me to imagine them as I find evidence of past struggle on his body. What I do know is that he was one of the lucky dogs freed from unimaginable cruelty and neglect, and I'm even luckier for having had that gut feeling that told me to go for it.
It's important to know that rescuing a dog is a roller coaster with rewards greater than your wildest dreams. Scooter has good days and not-so-good days, hours where he'll run like mad through the dog park and others where he sits like a statue by my side, wary of each minute ticking by. Slowly he is coming out of his shell and revealing the funny, stubborn, always loving personality he has hidden for so long, and I consider it a gift to witness his growth. I knew that this experience would be special for us both, but I never imagined the profound impact this would have on my outlook on life and my recognition of the things around me that need help. Each day I smile knowing that Scooter is in a better place, finally receiving the love and nutrition that he deserves.
I share Scooterâ€™s story whenever possible so that people realize that puppy mills exist. By promoting education about this topic, I hope that we can all do something to make sure that no living creature endures what Scooter has. Today marks one month of having Scooter in our home and we could not be happier with the incredible way this journey is turning out.