In December 2006, I was approached by a magazine columnist to share some insight into rehabilitating my first dog, Lola. She was a puppy mill survivor and my husband and I were first-time adopters. We were clueless. I believe Lola started me on the path to rehabilitating dogs all those years ago. Even though Lola is gone from my sight, I know she guides me every step of the way with dogs. xo
A Mother's Love by Dianne Marcinizyn
My husband and I knew we had so much love to give a dog and quality time to spend with it. We started doing our research and asked a lot of questions before making a decision to adopt our first dog. We didn't even know what a doggie door was! We have several friends who have dogs and through talking with them, learned of the over-population problem and just how many dogs are on euthanasia lists because of something as simple as a shortage of housing. I had a client who was fostering a Lab. During my visits, I watched this dog come to life before my eyes. It took weeks for my client's Lab to build the confidence she needed to raise her head to look at me. We started sniffing through the web and attending public adoption events to see what kind of dog would fit our lifestyle, but we knew that we really wanted a female Lab. We contacted DLRR, applied for adoption and were accepted. For the record, I'm allergic to dogs...
We found Lola on the DLRR website and immediately fell in love with her picture. She had this goofy grin, floppy ears and webbed feet that melted our hearts. It wasn't until later we would learn that her webbed feet were from living in a crate for six years and the silly look on her face was actually fear. We contacted our Home Visit volunteer who scheduled our meeting with her on November 5, 2005. We were told she was a puppy mill dog, had quite a big belly and had been dumped at the pound by her breeder. We had no idea what a puppy mill dog was but quickly learned what it meant. After she served her purpose for profit, she was left for dead.
The day she arrived to meet us, she sort of sashayed up the sidewalk; her behind wiggling one way and her belly the other. Her baby belly swung from side to side and she couldn't have been more beautiful to us. We burst into tears and wanted to adopt her on the spot! Belly or no belly, she was our six year old baby from that moment forward.
Lola arrived with tick fever, ear mites and a double ear infection. She slept almost all day and night. Her hind end was very weak and she had difficulty getting up from a lying position. She did not know how to play with toys, was not housebroken, refused to leave the house for a walk, refused to walk through the house, refused to go anywhere near the car. She would cringe at the sight of a yardstick or even if we moved near her too quickly. We suspected she'd been abused in more ways than one. She could not bring herself to cross the front door threshold nor could she walk out back through the sliding door exit. She would not leave the house through the side gate to the street. She had some real phobias going on and we were such novices. But we never gave up.
She was so disconnected from us. She would not leave her spot by the back door. She was unsocialized and did not understand that she was allowed to roam through the house. She was as sweet as ever and would wag her tail at us, but trying to get close and snuggle was not an option. She just couldn't handle too much human contact. If we got too close for too long, she would get up and move away from us. All we could assume was that it was probably her first experience with human contact. She has a tattoo in her ear which most likely represented her crate number for breeding; she never had a name. She would not allow strangers to approach and would run and hide. We learned from an acquaintance that hand-feeding her meals would help to create our bond. It definitely did. In time, she was able to allow me to massage her and give her sponge baths nightly.
Every day, I took her by leash to the backyard and made a game of "get the bickey" which is short for biscuit/kibble. I would stand at the end of her six foot leash, squat down, drop the kibble and encourage her to take it. Over the next several weeks, I got her used to being on the leash and would walk her around our backyard pool. I started using my husband's arrival home as a means to coax her outside. After nine days, she finally crossed the front door threshold to meet my husband after work. She promptly turned around and fled inside. We consulted with a nutritionist and started Lola on premium wet food and supplements. I fed her small protein meat snacks every three hours to help her body heal after so many litters. She improved very quickly.
Three weeks later, on Thanksgiving day, she came to life. The smell of home-cooking woke up our girl and we realized that food was the answer to help her move forward. As my husband took out the trash to our back alley, we decided to put her leash on and give that exit a try. It worked! She gingerly stepped through the back gate, took a look around, then took off running, full speed ahead! She was in hog heaven! She started to run with joy, her little yellow ears-a-flappin'! Dogs were barking at us and she stopped to sniff every single one of them. We had our answer...walk through garbage alley every day to build her confidence to face the world....and bring food to entice her out into the world. That night, I finally coaxed her into the living room and our bedroom for the first time with the smell of warm cornbread. She finally made her bed next to ours. We also learned on those walks that she loved dogs and needed a playmate. We adopted our second baby on January 31, 2006. His name is Luigi, a two year old black male who was found wandering by himself and picked up by animal control on Christmas Day. They couldn't have been a more perfect fit.
Over the course of the next several months, both Lola and Luigi got very comfortable with us and we truly became a family. Lola was afraid of the new doggie door we installed. I trained her to go through it by going through it myself first and showing her it was no big deal. Halfway through I prayed that I didn't get stuck! Then she would barrel through it behind Luigi. He proved to be a real asset in helping Lola build her confidence. We started to take very slow and short walks as a family. Luigi needed a second walk to give him his proper exercise for a two year old. Each week, we extended our distance by a block, pushing Lola ever so slowly, week after week. At about the six month mark, Lola started to chew the house! We had a hard time figuring out why. Hmmm....maybe she's ready for more exercise. We started power walking in May and doing a mile in 20 minutes plus an extra 10 minutes for pottie visits and socializing with everyone who passed by. By this time, Lola and Luigi became the unofficial welcome wagon on our walks. She was no longer afraid of anyone and would run to greet new dogs and their owners. She was alive!
She still needed to conquer her fear of cars. We started challenging her by walking her between two parked cars in the driveway. By the time we achieved this, the Arizona heat settled in. We wanted to get her into the car, but needed to wait until fall when the heat passed. When it did, I fed her dinner in the backseat for 16 days straight. She did not want to get in, but the smell of salmon overpowered her mind and she was finally able to do it. Our first car outing was 11 months after she arrived. We promptly drove her to get a grilled hamburger! Car = food = fun. Over the next few weeks, we managed to take both dogs to the Blessing of the Animals, local pet shops and out to a patio restaurant lunch. We now RUN on our walks!
During this whole year, we have come to learn so much about rescue dogs. They can have so many needs and fears. They sometimes come with emotional issues. It takes love, discipline, and patience. Morning, noon, and night. And even in the middle of the night when they whimper for who knows what. Six year old dogs can act like puppies; especially the ones whose puppyhood was taken from them. Or the stray dog who is just desperate for affection and will do anything to be noticed.
Almost one year later, we decided that adopting our two dogs was the best thing we ever did, but it was time to do more. We had built quite a bit of confidence over the year with overcoming so many of Lola's challenges. We are proud to say we became a foster home for DLRR this past fall. In our first eleven weeks, we successfully re-homed five hairy babies! We take one dog at a time, work with it, and do our best to find its forever home. Lola's job is to play mommy to the foster dogs and Luigi's job (in his mind) is to maintain order in the pack. Both dogs have a new purpose in life and they seem to understand that they are permanent members of our family and the foster dogs are here temporarily. I sit them down for our quiet "mommy and me" talk before a new dog comes in and explain that we have to be calm and patient...this new dog doesn't have a family and it's our job to help it feel at home. On some level, I believe they understand me.
I cry at every adoption I do. My tears are not of sadness but rather joy and pride in knowing I'm doing the right thing and have found the right family for my dog. My foster dog will sometimes shoot me a look as if to say "thank you for saving my life. This is my new forever home. I'll be just fine". The confident look in its eyes is priceless....