Families learn that dogs from puppy mill need time, patience
All but two of the 25 dogs rescued from an alleged puppy mill in southern Virginia have found a home through Montgomery County Humane Society adoption services, but for those who adopted the rescued dogs, there is still a long road ahead.
Proper socialization of puppy mill dogs can take months of careful training, and the 23 area families are learning that it can take patience to meet the needs of their new pets.
Several owners of the rescued dogs met at a workshop at the Potomac Community Center Sunday to learn about the challenges their new pet may face. The workshop, organized by a Montgomery County dog advocacy group, was deemed mandatory by the Montgomery County Humane Society for all families who adopted the dogs.
‘‘When he first came to the house, we took him outside on a leash, and he was too terrified to move,” said workshop attendee Rhona Schwartz Shapero of Gaithersburg, who adopted an 8-year-old Shih Tzu in early December, now named Chester. ‘‘He would run away if you tried to go anywhere near him — he was absolutely terrified.”
At 8 years old, Chester was the oldest dog at the Montgomery County shelter that had been rescued from the alleged puppy mill. There were no applications to adopt the dog because of his age, so the family decided to take him in. They were told to expect the dog to be nervous and aggressive.
‘‘I spent a lot of time with him,” Schwartz Shapero said.
The dog also took some cues from the family’s toy poodle, Boo Boo. Chester has shown significant improvement, Schwartz Shapero said, and can now run outside on a leash. He allows his owners to pick him up, but only from two ‘‘safe spots” he has designated within the house. ‘‘He still has some trust issues,” she said.
The alleged puppy mill was uncovered in November in Hillsville, Va., after an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States. More than 1,000 dogs were discovered living in cages in tight-knit quarters. Junior Horton, the operator of the alleged puppy mill, only had a license to breed 500 dogs, according to Ashley Owen, communications director with the Montgomery County Humane Society, but he has not been charged with any crime.
Most of the animals were distributed to shelters or other organizations along the East Coast, and 25 of them found their way to the Montgomery County Humane Society shelter in Rockville. More than 250 families initially applied to adopt the dogs, Owen said.
For a dog that has spent its life in a cage, learning to acclimate to the outside world can be a challenge, said Dan Christian, an adopter of a rescued dog. The dog, Teddy, was not affiliated with the Hillsville operation, but Christian shared some of his experiences with new owners at the workshop.
Whereas a healthy dog might have no problems running up and down a flight of stairs or crossing through a doorway, Christian said, for a puppy mill dog, these seemingly small actions can be daunting feats.
‘‘Every detail is going to be new and potentially terrifying,” he said. When Teddy refused to climb the staircase, Christian said he taught him to climb one step per day — for each step in each staircase his house — until the dog was comfortable enough to navigate the steps on his own.
‘‘It was really shocking — the road back took so much time and care,” Christian said.
‘‘I would argue any dog kept in a cage its whole life suffers physiological abuse,” said Kathleen Summers, a program assistant with the Humane Society of the United States, based in Gaithersburg.
Puppy mill dogs often experience health problems such as urinary tract infections and hearing loss from untreated ear infections. Dogs are often emotionally scarred as well, Summer said.
‘‘These dogs have never seen grass. They have never had a toy, or a treat or slept on anyone’s bed,” Summers said.
For some of the dogs’ new families, glimmers of hope are already evident. Margy Callaghan, a Rockville resident who adopted a 7-year-old male Lhasa Apso, said the dog is adjusting well. Callaghan described watching the tiny Lhasa Apso, a Tibetan breed whom she named Tashi on the advice of a friend who had just returned from Tibet, walk in and out of his crate several times.
‘‘He just realized he could go in and out without anybody bothering him,” Callaghan said. ‘‘I almost cried when I saw it.”
For information on adopting a rescued dog, visit www.mchumane.org⁄puppymillrescue.shtml