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Sep 12, 2016

Josie's Journey: From Hell to Home

You know how sometimes you just know? You know it; you feel it in your bones and you know it's right. The universe is throwing it down and you just gotta pick it up. That's how it was with Josie.

I first saw her face...this face,on December 23, 2015, when the feed from the National Mill Dog Rescue came up on my Facebook page.

I hit the “like” button and commented, “I'll take that baby,” and it was pretty much in that instant that I knew she was mine. Or maybe I was hers. I'm not sure which, but I knew we would be together. I was in love with that little face.

She's mine...she just doesn't know it yet.
Less than 2 weeks later, on January 6, 2016 (over 8 months ago!) I was approved for adoption, so you know I was all over it. But then the proverbial shoe dropped. I didn't have a dog proof fenced yard and Josie was a flight risk, as are most of the mill dogs. Looking at my 2 acres of fenced-un-dog-proof yard I didn't really see how I could make that happen, short of putting in an ugly chain link kennel.

I have to admit, thoughts of having to leash a dog to take it out to pee at 2 or 4 or whatever AM, in the snow, gave me pause. An un-potty trained adult dog who wanted to run away from me in the dark on a minus zero degree night gave me a severe panic attack. Especially since now that I just open the door and Elvis and Gracie run out, take care of biz and run back in. On a really cold night, if nature calls, Elvis will just pee in the shower (it's a guy thing) and Gracie will just hold it until a kidney ruptures (girl thing).

Gracie and Elvis
So last January and February and March, I tried to put Josie out of mind and accept the fact that I really wasn't the perfect person to be adopting a dog, especially one with needs that I couldn't meet. But I couldn't stop thinking about her and looking at pictures of her and calling and e-mailing the people at NMDR, to the point that a restraining order against me wouldn't have been out of the question.
     Was she more socialized? Still a flight risk? Was a fence really that big of a deal? No. Yes. And yes. Could I sleep at night thinking that I may never be able to adopt her? Could I just give up on her? Could we build a fence? No. No. And yes. Do they issue restraining orders for dog stalkers? Ummmm????

The Big Guy knew the thought of not being able to adopt her was making me crazy(ier). I constantly talked about her and showed friends pictures of her, as if she had already joined our pack. After 38 years he knows me well; and he knows when I get something in my head that it's gonna happen and he knew I was prepared to go to the ends of the earth to get her. 
     He knew it; even when he said, “we don't really need another dog,” that I was already planning the dog proof fence and that he would be the poor sucker building said fence. (He's got that whole "happy wife, happy life" thing nailed!) In June, bless his chihuahua loving heart, the fence went up and I went to Colorado to get Josie.

The new "Chihuahua" fence
The meet and greet was not like I had envisioned. She didn't love me; she didn't run into my open arms and lick my face and thank me for rescuing her. Instead, she was terrified and wanted nothing to do with me. She wouldn't even let me touch her, let alone pick her up.      

This is the face of a dog that doesn't want to come home with me. 
As Claire, her foster mom, put her in my car for the drive home, I was thinking that I had made a grave mistake and was only adding more misery to the already horrible life she had endured. During the six hour drive home she settled in next to Elvis but kept herself pressed against the car door, as far away as possible from me, recoiling at my touch. My heart was breaking for her and I cried most of the drive home.

Elvis and Jo...the long ride home. I'm thinking they both hate me. 
For the first week she had to drag a leash everywhere, just so I could catch her. She jumped and flinched when I touched her; she didn't make eye contact with me, but instead kept a watchful, distrusting eye on me. Yeah...she pretty much made me feel like shit for taking her out of her foster home.

Josie and her buddy Ginger, at the kennel at NMDR. They were rescued together.
Now I lose sleep thinking about Ginger...Does Josie miss her? Should I adopt her too?
Do I need therapy? Yes. Yes. And yes.
But this isn't just about me. It's about Josie. It's about the thousands, yes THOUSANDS of mill dogs that are living an unimaginable existence. Locked in cages, no human contact, no petting, no belly rubs, no warm beds, no treats. 
     Josie spent SEVEN years in a cage barely bigger than her, having litter after litter of puppies, only to have them taken away from her as early as possible so they could be sold in pet stores.
     Imagine...the only joy in your life—the thing you live for, being swiped away from you shortly after you experience the only happiness you have ever known. Over. And. Over. Again.
That first week, on our bed, still dragging the leash and keeping a watchful eye on me.
My Josie came from a commercial breeder in Kansas; a breeder who has been on the “Horrible Hundred” list year after year. There are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in the US and Jo-jo lived in the dregs of Hell for seven years. After umpteen litters, a hernia was her likely death sentence until the incredible people from the National Mill Dog Rescue swooped in and rescued her and hundreds of other dogs like her, that were no longer profitable for these despicable breeders. For the first time in her life she received vet care, which included hernia surgery and having a mouthful of rotten teeth pulled. 

I wish I knew more of her back story but I don't, other than that she came in to the shelter terrified and was a biter and a climber. She then went through months of rehab before finally being fostered by the wonderful, loving Claire. 
     Enter me...the clueless-chihuahua-loving-know-nothing-about-mill-dogs-certified-double-stamped-crazy-dog-lady. How hard could it be? Right? Just pet them, love them, feed them, give them treats, right? NOT. Not even. Be prepared to change to your life and your thinking. Be prepared to have your life changed. Be prepared to feel. Be prepare to cry and be prepare to be REWARDED.

Every time I look at her face my heart breaks, knowing what she has lived through. But now I see her look me in the eyes with love and gratitude and my heart smiles back at her. She no longer fears me and she knows that I'm her safe place. She sleeps, wrapped in my arms, head on my pillow; breathing on my neck. The Big Guy, who has sacrificed his spooning spot for her, tries to convince her that he loves her too but she ain't buying it just yet...It took me much less time to fall in love with him but Josie is definitely working a case of much harder-to-get. 

This is the face of a happy, relaxed dog!

So now it's been three months and she is finally learning to be a dog, thanks to Elvis and Gracie. She runs out the door in the morning and up the stairs for bed at night.  She is no longer afraid of the grass, but instead runs and rolls in it. She likes to chase deer and roll in their poop; or maybe she just likes the bath that follows. She can be off the leash when she is in her “space” (read: at home on walks and at the office). A swift and calculating treat thief, she can snatch one out of the mouths of the other dogs before they even get a whiff of it. 

At dog school. Nap time.
As with most mill dogs, she comes with some weird habits: She will dig and scratch at a rug, for several minutes at a furious pace; like she's burying a body. On the upside, my rugs are "fluffy" and  at least she doesn't eat her own poop, like many do.
     Even though she may love me, she has still never licked me, which in the grand scheme of things is really not a bad thing. After all, she is a dog and I have seen her lick her butt. 
    On the upside she knows her name and comes to me when I call her and best of all: She raises her left paw to greet me as I approach her. I know she still has a long way to go with learning to trust people and a few months of love can't erase all those years of abuse. 
     Most importantly though, I no longer see the doubt and fear in her eyes. She sleeps peacefully; her pink tongue sometimes poking out between all her missing teeth and she rarely freaks out anymore in the middle of the night by the sound of the wind or the screams of a wild animal. She knows she's safe and she knows she's loved. She knows this is her forever home and everyday I say to her, "Josie...welcome to your new life!” She just smiles back at me, wags her tail, and gives me her paw.

To learn more about adopting a mill rescue dog click on the link. NATIONAL MILL DOG RESCUE


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  1. Thank you for your love and patience. I have had 4 mill dog rescues so far and each and every one of them have had to move past trauma and fear and it takes a while.
    Their lives have been shortened as well by the horrific early years they
    had to endure.
    The joy of giving them a loving home far outweighs the work it takes to
    help them adjust.
    Thank you again for opening your heart.

    1. Thank you for rescuing your 4 mill dogs! Agreed...the joy they bring into your life makes it all worth it. Josie is an absolute LOVE!!!