When I adopted my first dog who’d spent her whole life up to that point in a breeding facility, I really had little idea of the psychological damage that experience could have inflicted on her. This changed as soon as Susie-Belle arrived in our world and her trauma was obvious.
Everything was alien for my little dog who’d never lived with people, never experienced kindness let alone love and who had good reason to fear attention from humans. Things that for most dogs are so natural were a big struggle for Susie-Belle to overcome: a comfortable bed was ignored for months in favour of her laying on a hard floor; going through doorways was a glaring challenge and she never allowed anyone to walk behind her, most likely due to being kicked out of the way in the kennels. But Susie-Belle’s psychological wounds paled when we adopted Twinkle, another dog from a breeding background. She came to us with immense problems which, four years on she’s still working through and will most likely continue to for the remainder of her life.
By witnessing Twinkle manage her demons I’ve really learned that the most effective way to help her, has been allowing her to flourish in her own time, simply as a dog. Just that. To find and be herself. Not to impose any artificial, human-centered demands on her. We’ve given her as many opportunities each day to use her senses as we can. Daily walks have been essential and it’s when out walking that both Susie-Belle and Twinkle in their early days showed greatest potential for future happiness and normalcy. Twinkle is a fabulously curious dog and cultivating this has been vital. Allowing her to stop, see and smell the world at her own pace has been critical in her development.
When she was rescued, Twinkle brought with her anxieties, frights and terrors from her years in the breeding industry and she found everything terrifying, including us. There was nothing we could do but accept this, and know from our experience with Susie-Belle that it would get better, eventually. In the early days, her behaviour could best be described as skittish and unpredictable. It was nothing for Twinkle to suddenly fly into a corner alarmed, alert, uneasy with eyes wide and full of terror; yet moments before she’d been apparently resting quietly in her bed. Things spooked her which only Twinkle knew why. We accepted that she had to be allowed the space and time to work things through. Nothing could be rushed and certainly not forced.
Her biggest helpers in the early days were her canine sisters.
She drew comfort and calm from them in ways she could never have done from us. Most of the time we just let her be, allowing her to do what she felt she needed to to allow her mind to begin functioning as a normal dog in a quiet, regular home. It was a fine balance between allowing her the time and space she needed while avoiding the trap of not coaxing her to come out into her new safe and loving world. I heeded all the signs that for Twinkle, enjoyment in anything at that time was inaccessible; she knew only that she needed to survive what was for her a confusing situation.
We walked and camped as often as possible. We walked with understanding friends and their gentle dogs who helped build Twinkle’s confidence. I became highly attuned to Twinkle’s reactions, and to my own thoughts and actions around her. Everything I did was keenly observed by a pair of black, sharp, haunted eyes that missed little. There could be nothing hasty or disorderly around Twinkle if we wanted to avoid a major panic ensuing. Calmness ruled.
Through every challenge that we faced with Twinkle, I knew that somewhere, deeply buried was a peaceful Twinkle that one day we’d reach. And we have.
Today, four years on from joining our home, I can honestly say that Twinkle shows us daily that she’s happy. She still has plenty of oddities that dictate how we go through our shared lived but they’re our oddities that we understand together. So long as we observe what she needs and ensure she’s allowed the space to express them, she’s happy. We understand she has quirks that will never leave her, demons still surface from time to time, and yet she’s infinitely happier than we could have imagined possible four years ago. She is living her life as it should always have been, not as a commodity in the breeding industry. An industry that wrecks dogs minds and bodies.
Janetta Harvey is a writer and commentator on the international puppy breeding industry. She’s author of three books: Saving Susie-Belle and Saving One More for adults and her latest, Saving Maya for young readers. All are based on the lives of her dogs, rescued from large scale breeding facilities. Janetta is a strong advocate for pet adoption, especially seniors and her writing promotes this to all ages.
Janetta lives with her husband Michel, and their three dogs in England and France.
www.janettaharvey.com | Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusieBSchnauzer | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Susie-Belle-Schnauzer-705830289434936 | Instagram: https://instagram.com/sassyschnauzersisters/