by LJ Hodek Creapeau, Circkles Managing Editor
Elsie’s life looked grim indeed until one Colorado woman gave her a new one. Elsie was born and doomed to live out her life as a puppy mill brood dog: kept in a 6×8 cage, day in and day out, with no chance to run and play like normal dogs would. She never learned to play fetch, catch a ball, what it felt like to roll in the grass, or not be pestered by flies constantly from which there was no escape. The evidence of what her life was like in the mill will always be with her. She has several broken and missing teeth from chewing on the bars of her cage to try and get to freedom. She has emotional scars as well; for the first 24 hours after her new family adopted her, Elsie was so afraid of people that she was unapproachable. She hid in every dark, obscure corner of the house and cowered every time her new owner approached her, “Getting close to her was almost impossible as Elsie would always stay a good 10-20 feet away from anyone who tried to approach her, and she was very suspicious if anyone would crouch down next to her. She had obviously learned from past experience that when people assumed this position, it usually meant they wanted to catch her and do things to her she didn’t like,” remarked her owner.
When the Larimer County Humane Society shut down the puppy mill Elsie was in, they found her in a desperate and debilitated state. If they hadn’t taken drastic measures, Elsie would not have made it. She was so impacted with fecal matter due to lack of exercise and poor diet that the vets had to flush her out with a garden hose. She had ulcers around her rectum and stomach, and digestion problems, tumors on her neck, the skin on her nose was covered in fecal matter and ulcerated and peeling off, and her muscles were so weak from atrophy that she could barely walk more than a few yards without having to lay down and rest. In addition to her physical neglect, Elsie was 3 years old and had never been properly socialized with humans, so getting her to cooperate was a major ordeal. If a 170 lb female English Mastiff decides to be stubborn and not move, there isn’t much a person can do about it.
How Elsie’s new owner finally brought her around:
“For the first 2-3 days, I just let Elsie get used to her surroundings and pretty much left her alone so she would start to feel comfortable in her new home and not threatened in any way. Then I would gradually approach her with a treat so she would start to recognize that not every time someone approached her it would be associated with something bad. I didn’t even think about, or try to train her for the first couple of months – it was more important to earn her trust before we could even think about training. It was obvious she had not been socialized with people and saw them as a constant threat. Everyone she was around at this time was instructed to either give her her space, or lots of loving, depending on how Elsie reacted to them. She still has major trust issues regarding men. Even though Elsie connected to me right away – within a few days – it took her about 2-3 weeks before she would go near any man. It has been about a year now and I keep working with socializing her, but she will still not approach strange men and will often hide behind me.”
“Elsie went from a 6×8 foot cage to a 40 acre ranch in the Colorado Rockies and she is in 7th heaven. She has complete freedom to roam around the ranch as she chooses and every day she loves to roll in the grass and will always remind me when it’s time to go for our walk. At first she wouldn’t even explore the yard and was not curious about anything like a dog would naturally be. She’s still very wary of strange objects and I realized after having her a few months that she has serious issues regarding fly swatters. If I had one in my hand, she would walk way around me and avoid me, never taking her eyes off of the fly swatter. If I have a strange object in my hand, she will still cower until I let her sniff it and she realizes it is not some instrument of torture or pain: just an object. I am pretty familiar with the conditions and procedures puppy mills use because I have followed them for years, and I am certain with a dog as big as Elsie that the puppy mill used a cattle prod or other object to get her to go where they wanted and do what they wanted because it’s obvious they definitely did not take the time to train her in the least. Given Elsie’s trust issues and the way she will still cower when she sees strange objects, I know it wasn’t a favorable form of persuasion that they used.”
“Elsie has made enormous progress in just one year. She didn’t know how to play like a normal dog and she still doesn’t get the concept of playing fetch, but then, that is not a game mastiffs usually care much for anyway. They are typically couch potatoes. I call her my 170 lb shadow because she follows me all over the ranch and is never more than 20-30 feet from my side. She is now a total love-bug: she likes big bear hugs, loves to lounge in her new swimming pool, and is gaining more and more confidence every day. I will even catch her trying to play now and then although she’s still not quite sure how to go about it. When I first brought her home, she couldn’t walk to the end of my driveway, which is about 200 feet, without laying down. Her back legs were very weak and could barely support her weight. I had to gradually build up her strength and endurance and now she will walk up to 2 miles with me. Due to her stomach problems and lack of strength, I decided it was best to put her on a raw meat diet and I was astonished at how quickly she gained back her strength and how much her digestion improved. I’ve kept her on a raw meat diet because I believe that is what dogs were meant to eat. With dogs I have had in the past, and breeders I know who raise dogs, there is a huge improvement in their physical condition and mental attitude on a raw food diet. Their coats get very soft and have a much healthier look to them. Their eyes and expression are much brighter and they have a great deal more energy. I have had mastiff mixes in the past and know they are prone to stomach and digestive problems – as many breeds today are – so a raw meat diet was the best thing in the world for Elsie. I believe if I would have kept her on commercial dry dog food she may have lived another 1 to 2 years and that would have been it for her. She certainly would not have been as healthy as she is now. We would have been in and out of the vet’s office continually until she finally passed away. I just didn’t see that as much of an improvement regarding her quality of life. At her one-year vet checkup, her vet said she was ‘miraculously healthy.'”
“Elsie is almost a completely different dog now. We are still working on her socializing and she’s getting to know the neighbors every time we go for a walk. They all love her too. I doubt she will ever get completely over the trauma of being caged up for 3 years under the horrible circumstances that I know are associated with puppy mills, or any of the other horrors I don’t even want to know about, but at least she will live out the rest of her life happy; and that brings a warm glow to my heart every time I look at her and see her rolling in the grass or enjoying all the things she was deprived of: things normal dogs who are loved and cared for get every day.”
~ LJ, Circkles Managing Editor and Elsie’s new owner.
From Circkles: So the moral to this story is please don’t subject precious dogs like Elsie to the cruel and inhumane treatment of puppy mill breeders by purchasing dogs or any animal from pet stores that are supplied by pet mills. Please only purchase dogs from reputable breeders, and preferably adopt.
Also, it’s astonishing how many people are unaware as to where the pets in pet stores come from, and specifically the cruel conditions the breeding animals are subjected to. So please spread the word, by sharing this page, to help dogs like Elsie who are euthanized after only 5 to 6 years when they are no longer deemed useful by the pet mills. If Elsie had not been rescued, her life would have been ended 2 years ago without her ever having had a chance to be a normal dog; just a breeding machine. Please help stop the madness. There are literally millions of animals waiting to be adopted in the shelters. We should not be breeding more animals with so many being euthanized daily in this country.
Photos by L.J. Hodek-Creapeau