Written by Becky Monroe
From Numbers to Names
The other day I was cradling Alice as I was putting in her daily eye drops. Alice is a small Shih Tzu about 9 years old. She only weighs 8 pounds and her tongue hangs out all of the time. It was about 3 years ago, she had to have one of her eyes removed. She’s a bit of a hot mess who is also scared of most everything.
Alice was rescued at an auction. No one, not even the rescue, intended on taking her in, but once they saw this small, frail dog whose tongue hung, they knew she needed out of the breeding world.
She was 89. A number.
Yet, as I held her gently putting in her eye drops and telling her how she is the prettiest Shih Tzu in the world, she was Alice, my Alice – a dog who has come to mean the world to me.
Alice isn’t my first mill dog. I have had 3 of my own and fostered others. No matter how many come through my door, I will never understand how a dog is just a number. Whether I am a temporary foster or a long term foster or ultimately, the adopter, within a day that dog becomes a soul to me. I learn their needs, what makes their tails wag, what they are afraid of and what makes them feel safe. I snuggle them and love them almost instantly. It is hard to imagine someone throwing a dog away simply because it can no longer produce a profit.
It has been so inspiring these last few weeks not only seeing the interest in people wanting to share their mill dog’s story, but hearing about the dogs’ and their families’ transformations. Reading about dogs who were merely stock in a breeding facility becoming the most important part of another person’s life.
It has made me re-visit why puppy mills still exist. If a single dog can literally change someone’s life so positively, what is the disconnect between puppy mills and dogs?
Perhaps, while we try to educate others on the mass numbers of dogs in breeding facilities — the thousands of them across the country, we are, instead, normalizing a very cruel business by demonstrating how very many of them exist.
We have always wanted others to know that there isn’t just this one dog in front of you who survived years in a mill, but hundreds of others every day facing the same grim reality. Maybe that is too overwhelming for people to fathom?
I guess I am just trying to understand (I have been for over a decade) why something so awful, so inhumane still exists in the United States.
Yes, we have made progress and the progress we are making today is leaps and bounds ahead of ten years ago, but I still feel like more dog families should feel the need to speak out and take action than do.
I am hoping that as people read the individual stories of the dogs who have survived the mills, they will begin to see the individual faces within puppy mills instead of an overwhelming group of dogs who need rescue.
I want readers to see the transformations of both the dog and the person or family who adopts them. The amazing impact these dogs, who meant nothing to the miller, can have on the people who choose to make them important and to give them unconditional love.
I want readers to start to look at not the thousands of dogs in cages as a whole, but when they see the pictures of mills, to look, individually, at each face and think about how that dog could be free and changing the life of someone they know.
Maybe seeing mass groupings of mill dogs makes a person believe that those dogs are different from dogs not living in cages. As though “those dogs” were born to do that and that is the life they were meant to lead.
However, as we break down the stories of individual mill dogs, we teach people that these dogs are exactly the same as their “non-mill” dog counterparts. Yes, their history has often scarred them and prevented them from freely doing normal dog things, but when given time to decompress and unconditional love to learn to trust, mill dogs begin to thrive and quickly show off normal dog traits like playing with toys, romping in the grass, snuggling with their family.
Perhaps, the term “mill dog” has created a stigma. One that not only defines them but has created a bias that mill dogs are mill dogs and all other dogs are better or at least deserve more. For example, mill dogs are meant to be mass breeding dogs and don’t have a purpose outside of that, while all other dogs deserve to be free and loved.
I know with all my heart that isn’t true. It is why I write these blogs and try every single day to educate people. But, again, I am just searching for the disconnect as to why more people aren’t demanding mass breeding be illegal.
I think the term “mill survivor” better demonstrates that living in a mill is not normal. It is a battle every day to survive. It shows that dogs do not belong in these places. “Mill survivor” is a badge they wear for all they endured and all they will overcome.
As avid Bailing Out Benji supporters, I hope you will share our Mill Survivor stories with your friends and family who aren’t as dedicated to ending puppy mills. I hope you will flood your social media platforms with them as we hope to put faces and names to the numbers as a way to breakdown these possible barriers and demonstrate the direct connection these mill survivors have to all the other dogs living in people’s homes and sharing their beds and playing in dog parks.
I know I have said it like a million times as a way of educating others, “This is Alice. She is mill dog.” But, perhaps what I need to say is, “This is Alice and she was rescued from a puppy mill because she did not deserve to live like that. She is a dog just like the one you adopted from a shelter. She loves to go on walks and to play with toys.”
They are not “mill dogs,” but instead dogs who survived living in puppy mills. They were meant to have names all along. They were just born in the wrong place by no fault of their own. Their beginning should not define them nor should it be an excuse to ignore the reality of mass breeding facilities.
It is my genuine hope that the faces and the stories of these beautiful souls will help awaken the hearts of those who have not yet had the honor or the pleasure to meet and love a dog who survived the mill and will create a desire within them to speak out against mass breeding.
“Tails and Truths” is Bailing Out Benji’s new blog authored by Becky Monroe with the intention to cover the latest puppy mill news and puppy mill survivor stories.
If you are interested in having your mill survivor featured, you can email Becky at firstname.lastname@example.org
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