Oh-so-cute But Oh-so-needy

Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs Arrive With A Host Of Emotional Scars

August 11, 2009|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,jill.rosen@baltsun.com

Jasika Scruggs wasn't in the market for another dog. But while at the shelter for an event, she saw those layers of marshmallow cream fur and the leathery black button for a nose, and she dropped to her knees in front of the cage. It was, as she says, love at first sight.

At second sight ... well, Scruggs is seeing the pup quite differently.

The Labradoodle she named June didn't eat for the first week. It was days before she relieved herself. She made no eye contact. The dog's separation anxiety is so profound, Scruggs says, she wreaks havoc if left alone, even for just a few minutes.

Though she's one of the designer dogs people covet and will pay as much as $1,200 to own, June is also a puppy mill survivor, with the emotional scars to prove it. She's one of more than 200 dogs rescued a month ago from a raided Pennsylvania kennel, where sickly dogs wedged into wire cages were left to steep, for years, in infections and their own excrement. Eighteen of those dogs and puppies came to the Maryland SPCA in Baltimore - all were quickly adopted.

Never before has the public's awareness of puppy mills been so great - and never before have so many of them been busted. This year alone, the Humane Society of the United States, the primary organization behind such raids, has rescued 1,600 dogs.

According to the head of the group's puppy mill task force, there are 10,000 of these breeding factories in the country. As agencies continue to raid them, hundreds of dogs, adorable on the outside but damaged inside, are charming their way into people's hearts and surprising them with the depth of their issues.

SPCA staff warned Scruggs that she would be taking home a troubled creature, but she didn't understand the scope of it until, leaving the shelter, she and her husband tried to load the dog into their car.

Paralyzed with fear, June froze on the pebble drive, refusing to budge. The couple had to pick her up, and load all 50 terrified pounds of her into the car like luggage.

"I knew it was going to be hard, but as much as you think you're going to be prepared, you can't ever be," says Scruggs, who lives in Mount Vernon and owns a Fells Point cake business. The dog Gloria Harris brought to her southwest Baltimore home wasn't her first choice. The puppies that were jumping up to greet people were taken. Though Snowball "shook like a leaf" when Harris held her, she sort of curled up and tucked her little snout under Harris' arm. "I said, 'This is the one.' "

After a few weeks, the poodle she renamed Lolly set up shop in a corner of the house. She's stopped trembling, but jumps at every little noise.

Harris' kids call the 7-pound pup "a special-needs dog." "I didn't figure she would be as anxious as she is," Harris says, adding with a note of doubt in her voice, that she thinks, with love and patience, the dog will come around in time.

June pads around her new home, tracking Scruggs' every move. If she gets up, the dog follows her.

Still, Scruggs wouldn't take June back. "All she wants is to be loved. She doesn't care about anything else."

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