Reading about hoarding or puppy mill situations can be heartwrenching. You put yourself in their paws for a moment, then quickly block out how devastating and hopeless their lives must have felt before their rescue.
Meeting the victims in person is different.
Earlier this week I walked into a Mentor backyard to find eight rescued chihuahuas — and my first thought was: how delightful!
Tiny tails wagged frantically behind Dallas and Denver. Carmella pranced with joy. Stanley Miller barked hello.
What I was expecting? I thought. This isn't sad at all!
Then I noticed Janis, Demi and Greta hiding quietly in the laps of their foster parents, the timid bunch whose dark past still lingers in their eyes.
All eight chihuahuas were rescued by Mentor's own Marilyn's Voice, Inc. from a breeder-turned-hoarder situation in Shelby, Ohio.
Their owner died five weeks ago, and with his ailing wife in hospice, these dogs — packed into cages stacked two high in a flea-infested building — survived a week without food or water before rescue.
No one knows how long they'd been without vet care. Janis' rotting teeth caused ear and upper respiratory infections that left her deaf at 4 or 5 years old. Her toenails had grown so long they were curling. Stanley Miller's had embedded back into his pads.
All the dogs seem to have been bred, some possibly as many as 10 to 15 times. Descriptions I've heard of the fleas — later infesting the rescuers — would make your skin crawl (and make you that much more grateful for the fearless work these rescuers do).
Yet everyone involved remarked at the resilience of the dogs.
“You would think after the way they've been treated, they would just bite you and hate you, but they don't,” said Karla McCullough, who hosted the meeting at her lovely Mentor home.
Sure, these eight don't play like normal dogs. They don't know what a toy is. They don't even know what grass is. Many poop on the driveway.
But canines have been bred for over 10,000 years to be human companions; it's in their DNA to search out human companions. So with feet soft as puppies' because they've never walked outdoors, these dogs just try to be normal the best way they know how.
Trying to explain the joy of caring for them puts instant tears into foster mom Kathy Harmon's eyes.
“So many people have told me, 'You're such a good person, how can you do that?'” said Marsha Bateman of Old Brooklyn, with her foster dog Demi relaxing unprotected in her lap after weeks of preferred a snug pink safety blanket wrap. “But it's not what I'm giving. It's what I'm getting. When you see a dog like this that won't come out of her crate and now she's sitting in my lap — it's just joyful.”
“You're teaching them that not everybody's bad,” said Karla.
“And they just have an amazing capacity for love,” Kathy, a Lyndhurst resident, finally manages through her tears. “For some it can take weeks for them to learn. Some it can literally take years. But you have to accept them and love them the way they are today, and just hope for the best, hope they come out of their shell. These dogs may never jump into your lap or lick you in the face, but they show you love the way they know how.”
Meet the eight Shelby dogs still seeking forever homes, with more information on the Petfinder pages I've linked. If one steals your heart the way they all stole mine, fill out an application at www.marilynsvoice.org.
Janis' story is one of hope. First responders thought she was crashing due to a loss of blood from the fleas or general shock from the situation. Her teeth were the worst Kathy has seen in five years of working with puppy mill dogs. But she's since put on 5.5 ounces, now a whopping 3 lb 12 oz., and loves to eat and be held by her foster grandmother.
“She's perky and spunky and barks when my mother's not holding her — her Lauren Bacall-too-many-packs-of-cigarettes bark,” Kathy said with a laugh. “She's actually quite inquisitive. She just happily explores.”
Due to her deafness and very petite size, Janis will need a special home with no young children. Still, finishing up her antibiotics, she'll be healthy enough for a safe spay and a new home.
Consider sweet Janis in honor of Petfinder's “Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week.”
Second most playful of the remaining rescues, “Denver is a charmer,” said his foster mom, Marsha. “He's very friendly, he plays on his back legs, and he's just an all-around good boy. He's also had his teeth cleaned already, and I don't think he had any pulled, so his teeth look pretty nice. He and Dallas were probably in the best shape (of the 14 fostered by Marilyn's Voice).”
Denver is likely between 3 and 5 years old. His trademark is his silly little tongue. Just look at him. It doesn't get much more ridiculously endearing than that, folks.
Demi sports a mohawk now, but peach fuzz growing in where the fleas once overrode her.
When at home, Demi sports a cute little prance when she walks.
Just last week she wouldn't let her foster mom, Marsha, touch her at all. “Now she stays like this,” Marsha said, Demi resting comfortably on her lap the entire meeting. “This is new today. She's already come a long way.”
Speaking of prancing, Carmella defines it. Like a miniature pony, she pulls her legs high up when she walks, and ducks her head down if someone delivers a good neck scratch.
Carmella's name came easy: doesn't she look like a carmel? Her sweet, curious personality fits her name, too.
She's likely a bit younger than the others, perhaps less than 3, and seems less traumatized because of it. But she had a tough go of it, too.
“When we took her to the vet, her white cell count was way high,” said Kathy. “Doctors say she must have had some kind of long-term ongoing infection, so she was on antibiotics right away. But she was able to get spayed last week.
“She was initially one of the kind of scared ones, but obviously that's turned around. Her foster mom takes her to the dog park.”
She may move slowly in a foreign environment, her tail between her legs, but at home Tullulah is just a sweet, loving dog who prefers to be around people she knows. She follows closely at their ankles and snuggling right up next to them as soon as they sit down.
For what it's worth, Tullulah also does very little barking. She would love a home where she gets tons and tons of love and well-deserved attention — stains on the fur of her hind quarters prove she's spent too much time is conditions no dog deserves.
Kara Linsenmeier of Mentor has fostered 76 dogs that have all gone on to good second homes.
But Kara's husband, Tom, said Greta might be her first “foster failure.”
Proves what an amazing dog Greta is, though you wouldn't necessarily know it as she rests timidly on Tom's lap.
“She's a different dog with my wife,” Tom insists. “When she comes home, Greta's a little bundle of energy, bouncing and following her around. But this is how she is with everyone else so far — a lover, just not of men so far. Every time she sees someone at the park she just sits down and starts shaking.”
Likely younger than 3, Greta currently prefers a quiet night watching TV on your lap to the park. She's definitely coming around; the transformation will just be at her pace.
Every group needs a poster child.
With a handsome black mask and long mane, Dallas is the most playful of the group, but loves cuddling just as much.
“Only thing is, he's a runner,” joked Marsha, who had to round him up and bring him back to the party when he wandered.
Likely also younger than 3, “Itty Bitty” also has a great way of communicating, said Marsha: “A very cute little howl, usually when you're out of the room and he wants you with him.”
So nice they named him twice — well, accidentally, but still — Stanley Miller is last but certainly not least on our list.
He's overcome severe skin issues, ear infections and shyness to begin barking for attention and wagging his tail with joy.
Take the time to get to know this little one and he could be the biggest success story of them all.
For ongoing updates on these eight from Marilyn's Voice, click here; adoption applications can also be found from that site.