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From Rescue to Rehab: A Puppy Mill Survivor’s Incredible Journey (Part 1 of 2)

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 2:00pm
Tan chihuahua

In January, the ASPCA was called in to assist with the rescuing, sheltering and placement of more than 40 dogs from a large, substandard breeding facility in Nancy, Kentucky. The dogs were discovered in filthy, deplorable conditions, with little or no shelter from the below-freezing temperature. Many suffered from untreated medical conditions. Others were living in overcrowded conditions inside the home, without proper care or socialization. While 37 of the dogs rescued were placed into local shelters for adoption, six others were suffering from deeper psychological trauma that meant they couldn’t be placed in new homes just yet.

Dusty Bottoms, a three-pound, tan-and-white Chihuahua, was one of these dogs. ASPCA experts at the scene noticed immediately how fearful Dusty was. When they reached into his cage, he would cower against the back of the enclosure to avoid contact at all costs and would yelp and cry even without being touched. Dusty and five other pups like him were transferred to the ASPCA’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Madison, New Jersey, where they underwent intensive rehabilitation to help them learn to trust people.

After a lot of patience, love, and hard work, we’re happy to report that Dusty has made a full recovery! In honor of Monday’s No Pet Store Puppies Day, we want to share with you his amazing story, in the words of the staff at the Behavioral Rehabilitation Center that cared for him after his rescue.

ASPCA staff caring for puppy mill survivor

March 5, 2014:  Dusty Bottoms—named after one of the Three Amigos!—is just beginning his treatment with us after arriving at the ASPCA Behavioral Center from a Kentucky puppy mill raid. Dusty has some challenges that we will need to work on. He is fearful and suspicious of everyone. When on a leash, he is reactive to strangers and often barks, lunges and snaps when handled. During his time with us, we will focus on reducing Dusty’s fear of walking on a leash, petting and handling, and new environments and people.

March 30, 2014:  Dusty is coming along nicely. He is becoming very comfortable with me and the other rehabilitation trainers and is even serving as a “helper dog” for another dog from the same case! We frequently pair fearful dogs with more confident, friendly dogs who have made progress in our program. The presence of "helper dogs" reduces anxiety and speeds along treatment. To overcome Dusty’s hesitation to approach new people, we are incorporating the use of “real-life rooms” and other scenarios that he’ll encounter when he’s adopted.

April 5, 2014:  Dusty continues to make progress. During treatments, unfamiliar people toss him food while sitting on the floor in a non-threatening manner. Most times, Dusty builds enough confidence with them to be able to approach an outstretched hand and touch it with his nose to earn food rewards. This is helping Dusty build a positive association with people and their hands, which frighten most dogs with Dusty’s background.

Please check back on Monday for the conclusion of Dusty’s story.

In the meantime, get involved! Enter our No Pet Store Puppies Day contest to win a one-year subscription to BarkBox and join us on Twitter on Monday, July 21, from 3:00-4:00 P.M. EDT to chat with our experts about the issue of puppy mills. Once on Twitter, just follow the hashtag #NPSPday to join the chat.

Excited chihuahua running