What a long, strange trip it’s been in many ways for Pia the dog. Just one year ago, she was languishing in a cinder block cell at an Amish Puppy Mill in Southern Illinois. She embarked on a long journey from her puppy mill rescue only to end up in a home very close to where she started…where a different journey began – learning to be a dog. In one year, Pia has come a long, long way.
Pia’s story started last summer when the owner of an Amish puppy mill in Southern Illinois opted to make a career change. She reached out asking someone to take her dogs after she decided to “get out of the dog business and move into chickens” instead. The puppy mill rescue was underway.
The puppy mill rescue
The seven poodles came into the care of a groomer in the community. She cleaned them up while The Puppy Mill Project made arrangements for the rescue. They reached out to the Little Traverse Bay Humane Society, which agreed to take in all seven dogs.
The Puppy Mill Project also connected with Pilots N Paws to help transport the dogs to Michigan and reached out the Bissell Pet Foundation to pay the cost of veterinary care for the dogs – around $2,000.
“When the seven dogs came in, they were so scared they just shook,” says Janie Jenkins of The Puppy Mill Project. She helped work with the dogs their first days at Little Traverse Bay Humane Society. “They huddled in packs and would move around the yard almost like a swarm of bees. The longer they were there, the braver they became, and they started to explore a bit more, spinning off from the group.” Jenkins says you could see their confidence grow a bit each day they were there.
A long trip home
When the dogs were ready for adoption, one of the dogs – Martha – drew interest from an adopter in Illinois. Marilyn Spenard had lost a poodle that looked very similar to this apricot colored dog. She had also rescued puppy mill dogs in the past and knew what would lie ahead on this journey and stepped up to adopt her.
Soon, Martha was in a car headed to Central Illinois, not far from where she had spent her entire life in the cinder block encased puppy mill. She was renamed Pia and the long journey of becoming a dog began.
The journey to being a dog
“Whenever I get a new dog, I leave an open crate for a sanctuary, in case they are scared,” says Spenard who has rescued between 20 to 25 dogs over the years. “Pia stayed in that crate for a good three days and wouldn’t leave. She only came out because I physically got her out. It was tough, she was so scared because she’d not had human contact in the mill.”
Most dogs have their puppy years to tap into their curiosity. They pick up on the cues of being a dog – how to play, how to interact with people and other animals, house training and just training in general. When they spend those formative years and more in a puppy mill, they’re starting from scratch. And, they’re dealing with the demons of being abused and unloved. These dogs are in a sense senior puppies with lots of baggage.
“Little by little, she started to come out and be a little bit nosy,” add Spenard. “When she’s startled or afraid, she still goes back in there…it’s her safe place. When there’s a lot of barking or noises she will retreat there or another quiet room in the house. She had no socialization and Pia is still very skittish. She may always be that way.”
No one knows what all Pia endured in her life in an Amish puppy mill…it’s believed she was born around 2004 and she was rescued Labor Day weekend last year. In puppy mills, socialization, play, proper diet and care are just not in the picture. Physical and mental abuse is common and proper veterinary care for an expectant mom isn’t part of the plan either. Even when dogs are injured in mills, they often go untreated.
“One of Pia’s front legs appears to have been broken at some point,” says Spenard. “It was probably never taken care of and didn’t heal properly. One leg is a good two inches shorter than the other and she seldom uses it. So, her front side is lower than her backside.”
A matter of trust
Building trust has been a very gradual process. It took a month before she trusted Spenard and she is still very afraid of men. Although she now loves treats, it was eight or nine months before she’d take one from Spenard’s hand. She won’t allow herself to be picked up from the floor, but will let Spenard pick her up from the couch or chair.
“She is very much my dog and will cling to me when I hold her and follow me around outside,” says Spenard. "She won’t go outside for a potty break if I’m not home because she still doesn’t trust men, even my husband. But, we have another poodle in the house – Anna – who has become her constant companion. So much of the success of her journey has been thanks to Anna, who is also a puppy mill rescue.
While Pia caught on to potty training pretty quickly, she took awhile to step on the grass – it was such a new concept. Like many mill dogs, her teeth were in bad shape, but her heart is good – in so many ways – and each day she gains a bit more confidence
“You have to have remarkable patience when you bring a puppy mill survivor into your home,” she adds. “You can’t expect them to do anything because they know nothing except being in that cage. You need to teach them how to go up and down stairs, in and outside, on the grass to play. They watch the others and it helps."
With the love of Spenard and Anna, Pia has settled into the pack after her puppy mill rescue. And, another dog is about to start the same process. This next week, a new rescue will be coming home to the family to hopefully make the same progress that Pia did in the past year.