During the holiday season, I've asked my rescue friends and contacts to share their stories about how a rescued pet has changed their life or to update stories I've shared earlier in the year. I'm thrilled that the first guest post does both. And, I'm excited that it's about Mimsy - a puppy mill rescue from Southern Illinois that many of my friends were instrumental in making happen. Thank you Kristin for sharing the story of your foster failure - Mimsy, a puppy mill dog that finally is home.
By Kristin Lueke
Mimsy shivered into my life sometime in the early afternoon of April 18th. By late afternoon, I was toast. Done for. Smitten as all get out, and it would take me two weeks to admit to everyone—my roommate, my parents, my boyfriend, and the fine human beings at Be Fido’s Friend—that I was a first time foster failure.
Tiffany Fraley at BFF had contacted my roommate and I a few days before, asking if we could take in a tiny, traumatized shih-tzu just rescued from a puppy mill. She’d been a mill mama for all eight years of her life, bred countless times and severely neglected. The photo Tiffany sent us showed a filthy, matted mass that looked less like a dog than a ragged mop left to soak in the gutter for the better part of a rough decade. In front of the creature, a disembodied hand held a sign. It read “Dog #79.”
Of course, we answered without hesitation. We had been eager to begin fostering, having adopted Bonita, a sassy senior shih-lhasa, from BFF a few months before. We wanted Bonita to have some playmates. Our first task—give Dog #79 a name. After that, the rest was “easy.” Just shower her with affection and help socialize her so that when the right family came along, she’d be ready to go home at last. It wasn’t our job to save her—she’d already been saved. It was our job to give her a name and help her prepare for the rest of her life.
We quickly settled on “Mimsy.” Fitting, we thought, given the word’s origin in the poem “The Jabberwocky” from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. In the novel, Alice describes the poem as “very pretty, but hard to understand.” Not unlike, as we would find, our sweet-faced new guest.
Mimsy’s first day was a challenge. The first week was a challenge. Truly, these last seven months have been challenging. Not because Mimsy isn’t a total doll and a real, live angel—she absolutely is and I’ll duel anyone who denies it. But Mimsy, like all dogs and cats and most birds, can’t speak English. Or Spanish. Or any language I understand. She has no way to tell me what she needs, or what frightens her, or how to help her calm down and trust that she’s safe.
She has no way to understand me when I tell her that it’s all going to be roses from here on out. When human beings are stressed, we talk, scream, drink more than we should or eat less than we must or write bad poetry or punch walls or cry until the feeling’s worn itself out. When dogs are stressed, they might growl or bite, they may lick everything compulsively or poop on anything in the way. In Mimsy’s case, she cowered in dark, silent corners and shook uncontrollably, refusing food, water, or even the gentlest of hands.
That first day, Mimsy spent hours in the quietest corner she could find, facing the wall and staring into the middle distance, quaking. All of our victories that first day were small ones. She sniffed the food in my hand a few times and even looked up at me once or twice. But any sudden movements or new noises, and Mimsy was back in the corner, shaking, staring at nothing in particular.
She wouldn’t eat or drink water. Getting her into a harness and on a leash was enough of a dilemma, let alone convincing her to go on a walk. She would dig her paws into the ground, rear up like a tiny stallion and writhe wildly trying to free herself. Sometimes she’d stretch her slim, awkward body long and flat on the sidewalk and let her weight go dead at the end of the leash. For as twisted and atrophied as her muscles were from so many years in cage, she knew how to make a point.
She was a nervous wreck. Her fur was patchy and dry skin flaking. No one on the planet could tell us that Mimsy would be okay and that eventually she’d eat, walk, explore, sniff, and play. But I fell completely in love with her in a matter of hours. Maybe it was her giant dark eyes, always shimmering as though on the verge of tears. Or her down turned mouth and melancholy, though beautiful, face, which I’d gladly wager could make a grown man cry. Maybe it was her determination to find the quietest corner in the whole house, a habit I too indulge when I’m overwhelmed.
Late that evening on the day she arrived, she cautiously crept out from under the chair in the quietest corner to investigate her new surroundings, and in her exploration, delicately crawled into my lap—I sat on the floor a lot in those first days. Maybe it was then. The first time she let me pet her, even for a minute, I knew I could not possibly let her go.
We took her to a few adoption events. A couple of people saw her face and took interest, but it quickly disappeared when they noticed how emotionally distant she was, or how unhealthy and frail her tiny body appeared. Good, I’d resolve to myself silently; anyone who couldn’t see her for the treasure she was beneath all that wreckage didn’t deserve her.
Though terrified of literally every new thing, with Bonita’s help, Mimsy slowly learned the ropes and picked up some good—and some bad—habits. She learned that taking care of business is an outdoor affair, and that hovering around legs in the kitchen sometimes results in an unexpected treat. She learned it’s bad etiquette to pee on guests’ shoes and that the pillow is the comfiest spot on the bed.
I would report on Mimsy’s progress to anyone who would listen—Tiffany, my family, my coworkers, strangers on the sidewalk—all while affirming that of course I knew I couldn’t keep her and I’d be able to let her go once she’d been adopted. They knew, like I did, that I was a big time liar, just lying my pants off about the possibility of giving up this creature I so clearly adored.
When I did finally make it official, no one at Be Fido’s Friend had me arrested, which was nice. I don’t know what I was expecting, that a dog rescue organization would be mad at me for adopting a dog? I’d wanted to be a foster SUCCESS, but when a Mimsy shivers into your life, you don’t just let her go. The folks at BFF not only understood, they were overjoyed. I’d spent two weeks worrying that someone would come along and snatch Mimsy away from me, while the whole time they were probably hoping I’d fall in love. And I did. Of course I did. That first day and every day since.
It’s been over half a year, and in these last few months, Mimsy and I moved into a home with my boyfriend and his beautiful rotty-lab mix, Lolita. We’ve found the right diet and regiment to keep her healthy and happy, and discovered she’s a bit blind in one eye—she has no depth perception and can’t see much in the dark; she still gets disoriented at night sometimes. Mimsy’s met many new dogs. She isn’t too interested in most, though she seems to have a crush on a pit bull across the street and a paralyzing fear of the yorkie a few doors down.
She’s completely shut down at a few doggy socials and suffered through the terror of her first Fourth of July. But she’s also grown very comfortable in our new home, and prefers the warm bed by the fireplace over any quiet corner. We’ve discovered that Mimsy loves having her bangs brushed, sleeping in, and being scratched just above her tail and on her elbows. Do dogs have elbows? Well, Mimsy likes being scratched on and around her elbows. She also enjoys long daily walks alongside Lolita. No playing dead or tiny stallion.
We spent Thanksgiving in St. Louis, where we gave sweet Mims her first taste of turkey and let her off leash for the first time in a wide-open field. She went absolutely mad with delight, sprinting and frolicking this way and that. We could only guess she’d never really run wild before. She stumbled frequently but never slowed down, chasing Lolita and tumbling recklessly toward me, tackling my knees and doing a little dance on her hind legs in hopes of a treat.
The bright winter sun hung high overhead, bathing her darling face in warm light as she ran faster and farther, grinning and panting, leaping left and bounding right, turning around every now and then to make sure I was still there. And I was. I always will be.
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