One of the greatest joys of social media is making an unexpected connection that you know was meant to be. Last week, while on vacation, I had woken up in the middle of the night and just couldn’t go back to sleep. Reminiscing about the old days of “vampire moms” on Twitter, I checked to see if there were fellow insomniacs out there.
And just like that, I started a conversation with Kirsten Akens about a documentary she’s working on called A Voice for Lil Olive. It’s the story of Lil Olive, a puppy mill survivor, and how, after more than 12 years as a breeding momma in most horrible of conditions, she changed the lives of so many. Immediately, I thought of my sweet girl, Emma.
Almost two years ago, my dog Emma died in my arms. As heartbreaking as that sounds, it was probably the best gift I could ever give her.
Emma was an adorable toy poodle who came to me when she was six years old. What happened in the six years prior to our meeting was mostly a mystery but I have enough details to fill in the blanks.
When you adopt a secondhand pet, you’re giving them a new lease on life (and somehow they know it) but you’re also accepting whatever baggage they bring with them. Much like children, adopted pets can bring bad habits, anxieties, fears, aggression, and other unwanted behaviors that are a result of their desire to survive in whatever conditions they belong.
Dogs that were starved seem to have an endless appetite. Dogs that were beaten either become extremely aggressive or extremely submissive. And dogs that were caged their entire life have to learn to deal with and understand what freedom means.
All of these behaviors were seen in my beautiful dog Emma for one reason and one reason alone. She was a working dog. She was what you might call a behind-the-scenes worker at a puppy mill.
For those of you that may not know, let me explain for a minute what a puppy mill is. It’s a production factory for adorable little puppies. But the closest you may have ever been to one was seeing those adorable little puppies for sale at a farmer’s market or in the window of a pet shop. They are commodities. And why not?
I won’t deny that puppies are adorable. Plain and simple. They can’t help where they come from. And they deserve a loving home as well, right? Absolutely. But there is a bigger problem that you and every dog lover out there needs to be aware of. It’s the environment in which these puppies originate.
Emma’s job was to produce puppies for a puppy mill. The puppies were the commodity and she was the machine. She produced probably two litters every year, until she could no longer produce puppies, usually around the age of five. At that point, they serve no viable role in the business and their life is extinguished.
The lucky few find their way into the hands of rescue groups where they may be placed with families (like me) that have no real idea of what their background means. Emma, while chock full of baggage, was a little light in my life. She taught me how fragile living creatures can be – not just physically but also emotionally.
In her five years with me, I hopefully erased a lot of the pain she endured. She never had to worry about food (and she certainly loved her table scraps). She had freedom when she wanted it and security when she needed it. And she probably had better healthcare than I did.
She learned to love and to trust and eventually to play. One of her favorite things to do was to head outside on a warm Spring day, find a patch of sun, and roll around in the grass uncontrollably. Every once in a while, she’d stop and look around – almost like she was afraid to give in to the pure joy she felt. And then she’d go right back to rolling around.
While I miss her terribly, I know that holding her in my arms and telling her I loved her as her overtaxed heart eventually gave out was the best ending I could give to her short life.
Because I had the privilege of help Emma realize the life she should have been living, I feel extremely passionate about putting an end to puppy mills. Dogs are not a commodity and shouldn’t be forced to live in inhumane conditions. But more importantly, we need to show that dogs deserve better.