Project Home Life
Imagine a beautiful Golden Retriever, bred for loyalty, companionship and enjoying the great outdoors confined to a wire kennel not much bigger than a rabbit hutch, devoid of human interaction. It seems unthinkable, but it’s normal at puppy mills and factory breeding operations where the focus is profitability, and dogs’ well-being is ignored. Sadly, we’re all too familiar with it. DVGRR’s Golden Gateway is located in Lancaster County in the heart of the “puppy mill capital on the East Coast.” In our geographic footprint, these dogs are simply another “crop.”
Puppy mill existence takes a heart-breaking toll on the dogs forced to live in those conditions. But it’s the only thing they know. When removed from their lifelong surroundings, puppy mill breeder dogs typically cower or flatten out on the ground. They have no idea how to walk on surfaces other than wire; they avoid eye contact; they freeze; they tremble when people attempt to touch them.
Getting these Goldens into our program is only half the story. Rehabilitating them to transition from the horrific conditions they’ve endured to a loving household is a challenge we meet with our Project Home Life program.
First Steps Toward Normal
Upon arriving at Golden Gateway, puppy mill breeder dogs often get their first baths and begin acclimating with warm blankets, dog beds, soft voices, nutritious food and the typical daily routine. Trained staff conducts a behavioral assessment, and within 72 hours, 90% of our dogs begin “class.”
At Level 1, volunteers slowly introduce the dogs to petting and brushing. For many dogs, that is a huge step. For some dogs, even the ability to make eye contact is a giant leap forward. They are encouraged to approach people and take treats. Progress varies, but it’s usual very slow. Sadly, these dogs must learn to associate humans with positive experiences, not abuse and neglect.
Next, we introduce the dogs to normal household things and sounds: Furniture, appliances, mirrors, televisions and radios, carpet, kitchen settings. And we read to them. Despite seeming far-fetched, it’s proven to help dogs relax.
As puppy mill breeder dogs develop trust, we begin to work on their confidence. We work with dogs on steps, teach them to walk through hula hoops to help overcome fear of doorways, and work with them to balance on unstable structures to make car rides easier. Learning to walk on a leash or be comfortable in a harness are the next steps in the rehabilitation process. Ultimately, we try to take them for car rides and into public places, so they have experienced these things before going home with adoptive families.
As their confidence grows, these formerly terrified dogs are able to approach new situations and “a normal life” with a positive outlook rather than fear. Because of the PHL program, these dogs have taken huge strides in the transition needed for successful adoptions.
Volunteer. Donate. Adopt.
Our PHL program offers a unique and rewarding experience for the volunteers who work with puppy mill breeder dogs. Learn more about PHL volunteer opportunities and complete a Volunteer Application.
Puppy mill breeder dogs are typically at Golden Gateway for extended periods of time because of the acclimation and training they need before being matched with an adoptive family. You can help these special dogs with a donation to our general fund, by sponsoring a dog, or by becoming a member at the Golden Star level that includes sponsorship of one of our PHL dogs. You can also check out our wish list for current PHL program needs.
Adoptive families who have opened their hearts and homes to PHL dogs have told us what a life-changing and awe-inspiring experience it has been. PHL dogs are not right for every family. Those who make the commitment to adopt these dogs find the experience challenging, yet intensely rewarding. We continue to counsel these adopters and provide resources to continue the journey. Learn more about puppy mill breeder dogs and factors to keep in mind when sharing your home with one.
DVGRR’s Project Home Life Director, Heather Hatt, blogs about puppy mill breeder dogs, their challenges, latest training tips and information as well as legislative information on her blog.
Other suggested books and resources include:
Help for Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde
A Guide to Living with and Training a Fearful Dog by Debbie Jacobs
Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK! by Chris Shaughness & Chris Slawecki
UNCAGED, Second Chances for Puppy Mill Breeder Dogs
Produced by Ann Metcalf, Independent Filmmaker and Chris Shaughness, Pet Behavior Specialist (UncagedDVD@aol.com)