The first time that I ever saw Valentino, my family and I were sitting outside in a large dog run. Pomeranians skirted past us, excited to be outside on that warm sunny day. Some of them avoided us, as many of the dogs at NMDR do. NMDR stands for National Mill Dog Rescue, an absolutely wonderful organization located outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Valentino was the most skittish out of the group of dogs that my family chose to visit that day. As soon as he was brought into the enclosure, he found a safe place to hide and kept as far away from us as possible. As someone who had already lived with three other mill rescue dogs, I wasn’t surprised when he hid himself away.
For those of you who don’t know, a puppy mill is defined by the Humane Society as “an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers.” (humanesociety.org) The adorable puppies that you see in pet stores often come from a puppy mill. Puppies from puppy mills can also be found online, in newspaper advertisements, and even at flea markets (humanesociety.org). Mill dogs spend their entire lives crammed into wire cages that are often stacked on top of one another. These cages often house multiple dogs at a time, so the dogs are often forced to fight over food, and in some cases such as Valentino’s, to eat excrement in order to survive. Because the cages are stacked on top of one another, the dogs that live in the lower cages are often coated with the urine and feces of the dogs on higher levels. The dogs that are lucky enough to be rescued by organizations such as NMDR often have serious medical issues and have never been examined by a veterinarian.
We never intended on taking Valentino home with us that day. Our main interest laid in a little red Pomeranian/Papillon mix named Zoe. She was the friendliest out of all of the dogs in the group, and she took to my brother right away. We were, however, well aware of Valentino’s history when we went there that day, and my father and I wanted to see him. Valentino was one of the most difficult dogs at the rescue at the time; it was recommended that he go to an experienced family. He was incredibly fearful of people, he was a flight risk, and he was very difficult to catch. The person who had previously adopted him had actually returned him to the rescue because she wasn’t able to handle him. I couldn’t blame her really, as I understood the difficulties associated with adopting a mill rescue.
But there we were, sitting in that dog run, hoping that we could get a chance to see Valentino. Something gnawed away at me inside. I kept thinking about how after everything that he went through at the puppy mill, he deserved to find a home as much as any of the friendlier dogs. I also knew that he would have a difficult time finding a forever home because of his extreme fear of people.
Finally, one of the employees was able to grab Valentino and she brought him over to us. The second that I held that toothless little dog in my lap, I knew that we had to take him home. He quivered uncontrollably in my arms as my father and I pet him. Ultimately my father and I convinced my mom that Valentino should come home with us. We would foster him until he was able to find a permanent home.
The first several days after we brought Zoe and Valentino home, things were a little rough. Zoe settled down fairly easily into the new environment and she got along swimmingly with our three other dogs. Valentino, on the other hand, hid in the corner of the room, which was as far away as he could get. When we let the dogs out into the backyard to do their business, we had to keep a leash on Valentino at all times, otherwise we couldn’t catch him to bring him back inside. We also had to block off any means of escape so he didn’t get out.
Throughout the six months that we fostered Valentino, there was an inquiry or two by people who were interested in adopting him. Nothing ever came of it. I guess they were turned off by how anti-social he was. He had made small improvements over the time that he had spent with us, but he reverted back to his old ways when he saw strangers. I wasn’t too sad when they never called back to go through with the adoption process.
December of that year marked the six month anniversary that we had been fostering Valentino. We had to finally admit that we had failed as foster parents. We had fallen in love with the little guy, and none of us wanted to see Valentino leave us. So, we decided to adopt him instead and give him his forever home. To this day, my dad says that Valentino is the best Christmas present he has ever received.
It took the family an entire year to completely build Valentino ’s trust. We eventually won him over with treats and love, but it took a lot of work. His first year at our home brought him good experiences (belly rubs and treats) and trying ones (scary leaves blowing by in the backyard and worse yet... the big, bad vacuum). Determination on our part and a little tough love eventually taught him that the world isn’t such a scary place. I remember the first time that he finally walked away from his corner and came up to me for affection. I wanted to jump for joy!
Valentino has been with our family for about five years now. Our experience with Valentino was difficult, but highly rewarding; we couldn’t imagine our family without him. Over the years, he has transformed into such a sweet, loving boy. He is confident in his environment, and he isn’t afraid of almost anything. He loves mealtime so much that he literally vibrates with excitement, but he does his best to wait patiently for his food. And he is definitely a daddy’s boy.
The issue of puppy mills is something that I am very passionate about. According to the Humane Society, there are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills still in operation throughout the United States (humanesociety.org). My hope is that with this story I can help spread more knowledge about the topic to all of the animal lovers out there, so that more dogs don’t have to suffer because of commercial breeding.
I would also like to take a moment to point out that not all dog breeders run a puppy mill. If you choose to purchase a puppy from a dog breeder, I simply ask that you do it in person and request to tour their facilities. That way you can see for yourself what kind of living conditions your animal is coming from. If the breeder isn’t willing to show you their facilities, it’s a red flag. And please, if you can help it: adopt, don’t shop!
If you would like to know more about puppy mills or NMDR, here are some links that you can follow:
I do not represent the National Mill Dog Rescue or the Humane Society in any way, and have not been paid to write an article about their organizations. I am simply an animal lover who is passionate about this topic and wants to help spread awareness.