By Kathy Mordini
The Hackman family of Northern Indiana has been fostering dogs for a little over two years, specializing in mother dogs and their puppies. Some of the dogs have been very sick medically and emotionally, so the family was used to dealing with difficult cases. But nothing prepared them for their most recent fosters—two mother dogs rescued from puppy mills.
“I don’t think that I’ve ever met dogs that were so terrified of people before,” says Helen Hackman, the matriarch of the family. They were so haunted. Neither dog wanted to come out of the crate at first, and the youngest, Pearl, was so petrified, she screamed and shook and urinated when she was touched. One night, I held her for four hours before she finally settled down.”
The Hackman family fosters and volunteers for 2×2 Rescue, one of about a dozen rescues that took in 123 rescued mill dogs from Ohio in mid-January. The organization took in several more puppy mill rescues with the most recent rescue of another 29 dogs from Ohio. They welcomed two mother dogs from each rescue mission.
Many of the dogs taken in by 2×2 Rescue are overlooked by other organizations because they may be sick, abused, seniors, or suffering from health ailments or injuries. Sometimes they are abandoned mother dogs and puppies or moms-to-be. But, even this foster family, who thought they had seen it all, wasn’t prepared for the first puppy mill dogs to arrive in their home.
Before coming to the Hackman’s, the dogs were just a number. The younger dog that the Hackman’s named Pearl is about a year old. The other dog is around nine-years-old and has been named Penny. After their rescue, it took five baths to clear away the years of feces, urine, and debris that had accumulated on them.
“You bear the scars, but they carry the burden,” says Helen Hackman. “Pearl was afraid to walk on the ground and run in the yard because she’d never been able to do that before. At first, I thought there was something wrong with her legs because she walked so funny. She just had not felt ground beneath her feet. Watching them slowly transform to become “dogs” is incredible. They change with a bath, real food, clean water, and lots of love.”
“I have met dogs that are scared before. But, never so fear stricken they couldn’t touch anything; they kept backing up in the crate until they couldn’t back up any further,” says the Hackman’s daughter, 12-year-old Holly. “The other thing that really got to me was the smell. It was as if they had been in a barn forever and it was horrible. Their eyes in the beginning were dead, almost like they had cataracts.”
The puppy mill dogs have affected Holly in such a way that she wants to do more than foster. Last Christmas, she ran a holiday drive for 2×2 Rescue and two other shelters in Northern Indiana, raising over $1,400 (plus lots of wish list donations) through her Santa Paws campaign. Holly was hoping to make life a bit better for dogs and cats waiting for families with gifts of toys, treats, scratching posts, food, and other items the shelters need.
Her dedication to animal welfare has not stopped there. “I decided that it was time to go Santa Paws for the mill dogs and start another fundraising drive,” says Holly. “I’ve researched this and it’s so expensive to treat puppy mill dogs because they go to the vet for the first time so late in the game. They have never had proper treatment or diet and have diseases and all kinds of other problems.”
She has launched Miracles for Mill Dogs in an effort to raise funds for PAWS in Tinley Park, Heartland Small Animal Rescue, Homeward Bound Animal Welfare Group, and, of course, 2×2 Rescue—all of these being rescue groups that take in particularly troubled animals.
She has started an online “Fundrazr,” and is also encouraging people to donate directly to the four shelters and tag their donations with “Miracle for Mill Dogs,” or mail in donations with an option of designating one of the rescues. She’ll be taking donations at adoption events and other special activities for rescues in Northern Indiana in the coming weeks. Her Facebook event page keeps people updated.
“What has effected me the most is that after all they go through, not trusting anyone to start, they come back trusting and loyal,” says Holly. “To the puppy mills, they were just inventory. I don’t think they are even classified exactly as dogs—shut away from the life they should have. When they wag their tail and start finally be a dog, it’s amazing.”
The family has done updates about Pearl and Penny on social media, educating about puppy mills and pet stores along the way. They have heard from many friends and acquaintances that never realized the connection between puppy mills and pet store dogs.
One family that was following the stories of the mill dogs decided they wanted to adopt Pearl. Because she had come so far from the start, the Hackmans and the rescue were very careful about her placement.
“They came in to meet her and were just over the moon on the first meeting,” recalls Helen. “When they came to pick her up, they brought a Coach bag and a doggy parka to take her home. After her horrible start in life, she is finally getting spoiled. She has a bed and a house, and never has to go back in that crate again. They’ve been very patient with her and she’s already greeting her new family at the door when they come home at night.”
Penny, the older of the two dogs, has also been adopted.
Of the 123 dogs in the original rescue, two have died due to health complications. Some dogs are still being cared for through various rescues, and many have finally started living a dog’s life with new families. The Hackmans are currently fostering Peg and Pricilla from another recent mill rescue. Peg was born with a deformed leg and has been missing a foot, but she was still being used to breed.
You may follow the Miracle for Mill Dogs Campaign online and donate on their website or by mailing directly to the four rescues.