It was almost five years ago to the day that I brought Emma home. I wasn’t even looking for another dog when I found her but they say our pets always find us.
I walked into the PetSmart to get some supplies and a rescue group had several dogs in pens. And then I saw them! Two toy poodles. One was white and one was a color I had never seen before, which I now know is called apricot. That little apricot girl was the calmest, sweetest thing I had ever seen and I was sure she was meant to be mine.
I was warned about Emma. She came from a puppy mill. She was a breeder who, like many other breeder dogs, had been cast aside now that she was too old and no longer producing puppies. If there is one cause I would live or die on, it’s the humane treatment of animals. My heart had been lassoed and I knew that whatever challenges Emma threw my way, I could handle it. I was out to prove that no dog should ever be cast aside and treated like a commodity.
I wasn’t trying to be a hero. I guess I was simply trying to be her saviour.
I wish I could paint a rosy picture. I wish I could tell you how every puppy mill survivor is an amazing and wonderful pet just waiting to be adopted. But that’s not always the case.
When I first got Emma, I had a whole new world to deal with.
She had a dense cataract in one eye that rendered her vision almost obsolete. I had to take care to approach her on the side of her seeing eye so as not to startle her. I also had to “steer” her a bit when we went for a walk since she didn’t really have depth perception.
She didn’t have any teeth. After five years of absolutely no dental care, her teeth had all but rotted. The rescue group had to remove all of her teeth and I had to learn what I could and couldn’t feed her.
She was a runner, at least at first. Whenever the front door was open, she tried to run. She wasn’t trying to escape. She had simply never learned that she could run and I would imagine just a taste of that freedom was intoxicating.
She peed everywhere. Not something I’d like to readily admit to the world, but most people that have been to my house know this. When you’re cooped up in a cage where you eat, sleep, and pee for your entire life, it’s very difficult to change habits. The same held true for Emma. We did eventually teach her to go to the bathroom outside but it wasn’t an exclusive relationship and our carpets have suffered heavily as a result.
She had anxiety. She was scared of my husband and anyone who looked like my husband. She would hide all the time – under beds, under tables. She did her best to remain invisible.
And that was all just for starters. She didn’t know how to play. Didn’t know how to go for a walk. Didn’t know what to do around other dogs.
Over the years, she started to come out of her shell. We would catch her playing, like we did in this little video Evan and I made. She would do her best to gnaw at treats and bones, like she did in this video about dog treats. When she was happy, it made our hearts swell.
But being overbred and kept in the conditions she was in for the first six years of her life took its toll.
Two years ago, she completely lost vision in the eye with the cataract due to glaucoma and a very expensive trip to the opthalmologist. Shortly thereafter, a dense cataract developed in her good eye and her world went dark.
Last year, she nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion and after very expensive trip to the veterinary ER, she spent the night in an oxygen tent. That was the first time I was worried I would lose her.
She had been previously diagnosed with a small heart murmur but my vet said it was time to see a cardiologist. And, you guessed it, after a very expensive trip and an ultrasound, Emma was diagnosed with a collapsing trachea and congestive heart failure and put on meds to help sustain her life.
It can be a long term condition that simply needed management. I was prepared for that. But I would have never expected that eight months later, she would develop a high level of fluid in her lungs, and despite all the best medications, pass away late one Friday night in March.
She was a mess, but she was my mess. She was the most expensive ragamuffin dog I’ve ever owned or, should I say, who has owned me.
And after all that, with all of her issues, conditions, and expenses, I actually thought I’d feel a sense of relief at her passing.
No need to tell people to please keep their shoes on when they come to my house because they never know what they’re going to step in. No need to crush up four kinds of medications twice a day. No need to watch your feet so you don’t trip over the blind dog always hovering in the kitchen. No need for more sleepless nights as her meds made her frequently wake up for water or potty breaks.
There is a relief in that all of that goes away. But the relief doesn’t outweigh the grief. She was my baby girl and she never let me forget it. She was mine and I was hers. Now that she’s gone, free from pain, free from whatever nightmares of her early life still haunted her, I simply miss her presence.
Special PSA: I’ve written before about Emma’s story as a puppy mill survivor and it’s not pretty. I’ve lobbied in North Carolina against puppy mills and in favor of legislation that would require licensing and regulation for the industry. The bill, while receiving much support, was eventually shot down by pork lobbyists. That’s right. I said pork.
In an effort to help me with my grief, I decided to look at other toy poodles on Petfinder.com. This was not to find another Emma. I’m a long way from wanting that kind of burdened love again. But I just needed to see other puppy faces. And I found a photo that reminded me so much of my Emma.
What broke my heart was the description of Cammie:
My name is Cammie. I am a 5-6 year old poodle, and weigh about 15 pounds. The most amazing thing about me is that I am a survivor…….a puppy mill survivor. I was rescued out of a horrible mill in Missouri and MMR stepped up to help me, and two other dogs. I am one of the lucky ones…I am safe. It is not unusual for millers to kill dogs they no longer want or who are not ‘producing’ for them. I am so happy to be out of there.
I have been completely vetted, spayed, and given a much needed dental. I am heart worm negative and now take a monthly preventative to make sure I never get that awful disease. I have also been given several baths and a professional grooming. It is believed that these baths were the first ones I have received……I was gray when my rescuers saved me, but after several baths, you can see that I am actually a beautiful white poodle.
Like most puppy mill survivors, I know nothing about life because I have always lived in a filthy cage. I am curious about everything, but still very, very timid. I love people, but am learning to trust them. I am a very, very gentle girl who just needs some time to feel safe and gain some self confidence. I have just been introduced to the leash, and so will need continued training from my new family. I will also need help with my house training, as the idea of going outside to potty is also something new to me. I am improving with each and every day, and like most poodles, I am extremely smart and eager to learn. I am responding well to patient, positive, and loving reinforcement, and my new family must commit to doing the same. It will take time, and whoever adopts me needs to be aware of that.
MMR is looking for a home for Cammie that does not have any children under the age of 12 who live in the home or who visit often. Young children may not understand that Cammie needs her space and some time to get acclimated to all the new things in her life. In addition, another small, quiet and friendly canine living in the home would help. Cammie needs the companionship, and it will help her self confidence to ‘learn the ropes’ from another canine. A fenced yard is a must for Cammie. Her family will need to practice walking her on the leash in the fenced area until she is comfortable with it. It will also give Cammie and her new family a safe place to play and help her learn all about the great outdoors. Families or individuals with current or former Poodle ownership or those who have experience adopting puppy mill survivors will be given preference in selecting Cammie’s new home.
If you would like to welcome this amazing little girl into your home, please fill out an application to begin the approval process. Hurry, because this little one is a true diamond in the rough, and won’t be around for long!!!
Five years ago, that was exactly Emma’s story. It sickens me that innocent little animals continue to be used in this way. In Emma’s memory, I urge you to consider opening your home to a second chance pet. And more importantly, don’t buy dogs from puppy mills or even pet stores, which only encourages the continuing cycle. If you want more information about what a puppy mill is and how to find the right dog for you, I encourage you to spend time reading the puppy mill section for the Humane Society of the United States and find ways to get involved at your local level.