She is lying in the gutter that forms between my foam pillows and the decorative pillows that I have pushed up again the headboard to give her more cushion. She found this sweet spot within about two months of her arrival. It took her at least a week or two to move from the very furthest corner of the bed, sitting up most of the night watching me, to the present completely relaxed pose she now occupies.
Prior to her journey north, Sofie’s Foster Mom shared with me that they had no concrete history. All she knew was that Sofie along with hundreds of others were regularly being rescued from puppy mills across the country and that her existence up until that point would likely have meant that she never came out of a cage. Her future would have been likely that of a mass breeding machine to fill the vast orders coming in from various pet shops. Those cute little adorable puppies in pet shops are for the most part originating in a puppy mill. Not all puppy mills might be as horrendous as the pictures I have in my imagination- most coming from images I have seen on the internet. But very many are that bad. I have heard that in some cases, they don’t even take the dogs out of the crates to wash them down with gushing water from a hose. There is likely pulling, grabbing, pushing and general harm coming at the hand of the owners of these mills, making the idea of the human hand conjure up all kinds of scary for these little dogs. If a female is not sent to the pet store for commerce, then likely she will live years of her life cramped into a crate – her only exit for breeding if necessary.
Sofie was seven months already when her puppy mill was shut down, so she was set-up for a life of breeding. Now, almost two years later, I bring my hand to her face slowly, she bats my fingers with her quarter sized little paw. Her mouth opens just slightly and so slowly- she wants to bring my finger to her mouth to gently gnaw on it. She has come such a long way. And still, when now lounging with me in the morning, any noise, any intrusion, anything unknown will send her back to her fear zone and generally she would run to her crate in our den to seek safety. Her crate in our home is small enough for her to sleep in but big enough for her to turn around, she has her toys in there, a small water bottle that one would imagine providing to a rabbit or a hamster– it was interesting to see that the bottle’s packaging when I bought it had a little picture of a papillon on the cardboard backing. Just like my Sofie. She loves sitting in her crate- we always have the door open, just in case she needs to rush to it during the day or if she simply wants to take her midday nap. We have also provided her with a soft bed that sits at the foot of my armchair in the den- I can dangle my hand down to her while I watch TV and stroke her soft coat, which she enjoys.
A colleague of mine is a Foster Mom for Rottweilers that are rescued from Puppy Mills. She just took another one in (her pack now counts 3). This new arrival of hers has legs that are premanently bent because her crate was way too small for her and she had been locked up in one for around 3-4 years. Pictures on my friends’ iPad show that Kona has one of the sweetest faces but there is concern over her health as she keeps losing weight and she is already so emaciated. I learned over he weekend that Kona had turned a corner and that things were looking good. What a blessing to have these Fosters that are willing to put everything they have into these souls.
I am learning so much from Sofie and so grateful to have the privilege of helping her become better, freer. I signed a contract two years ago that suggested that Sofie might never be a normal dog.. she might never play. She may never want to come when I call her, she might never want to really snuggle. Sofie suffers in my view from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- every display of fear, her body tensing up, her flight responses to something as little as opening the kitchen cabinet and accidently letting it close just little too loud, filling a glass with icecubes from the refrigerator dispenser, having the TV on too loud- never mind the construction work on our road these past few weeks. The other night, I attempted to take Sofie out for her walk but the neighbor and his daughter were throwing a Frisbee and laughing – having a great time. The Frisbee was often careening out of control- banging into the newly laid asphalt and the mailboxes. Sofie tensed up completely and would not walk down the driveway- too scared. I picked her up gently and walked her a block away to a safer space and let her down into the lush grass. She tentatively walks on the grass always looking back to the pair down the street at play- making sure they were still at that safer distance. When I walk her along the paths at the nearby lake, it is marvelous for her. There it is quiet, there are not that many people – it’s a pedestrian only zone, so no cars And here, she relaxes completely, sniffs grass and branches dangling down and walks normally with me. The only challenges she faces here is that she is just so darn adorable that any families with kids results in these squeels of joy as they come running towards us. “Can I pet your dog?” – at least they asked. Still, they have given themselves permission to quickly rush in close to examine her, and Sofie is backing up… backing up… looking at me. Help. I gently tell the children that my dog is very scared of people and I am so sorry …and I go to Sofie and pick her up. Depending on the children and the situation, I might engage a bit longer to help educate and give them an opportunity to learn and then I tell them the rules “always bring your hand to them first slowly from under – not top, do not hover over her head, it’s scary… yes, like that- let her smell you first.”
I am hopeful that over time, she will continue to heal. We already see progress almost every day. But then, there are set backs and we then work patiently with her at her pace- to come back forward towards being safe and healthy and loved.