I lived inside a cage for seven long years. I have given birth to more babies than I can remember. Many of them died within hours of being born. Those that didn’t die were taken from me before I even had the chance to clean them.
I often wonder what fate had in store for them.
Were they destined to be breeders?
Were some of them sold off to the brokers and the dealers that frequented the farm?
Were some of them destined to die in the summer heat or the winter’s cold?
I had seen that often enough.
In my lifetime I have lost too many crate mates because of the terrible heat and cold we are all exposed to. I have seen dogs literally freeze to death and I have also seen the dogs that died from dehydration brought on by excessive heat and lack of fluids. I can only hope that the babies pulled from me were able to escape mill life.
I have been in this mill for too long. I have seen more in 7 years than most people have seen in a lifetime.
I have seen dogs shot to death and drowned. I have seen dogs that were still alive as the farmer tossed their bodies onto a burn pile. I have watched as the farmer turned his back when the screaming from these innocent victims became too much for his ears. I have seen the paws that jut out from the burn pile after the fire has ended and the ashes smolder. I have smelled the acrid odor of burning flesh and hair. I have even witnessed several dogs trying to escape from the burn pile — only to be pushed back with a pitchfork.
I have seen babies born with deformities that were unacceptable to the farmer and I have watched as the farmer choked them to death with his bare hands. I have heard their cries and I have witnessed the silence that follows.
I have had much more than a front-row seat to the infamous debarking practice implemented in these mills. I had a metal pipe shoved down my throat and I have felt the pain and tasted the blood as the pipe was twisted and my vocal chords were severed.
I have seen agricultural chains that were so severely embedded in the necks of the dogs that the dog eventually died from the severe infection created by the chain. I have seen other mothers die during botched c-sections performed with kitchen utensils and I have seen the babies ripped from their wombs before the body turned cold. I have seen more than I ever wanted to.
When I was born I thought that I would eventually get off this farm. I dreamed of playing on the grass, running in fields and chasing a ball. These are the things that all puppies want. This was not meant to be for me. I was hand selected by the farmer to be a breeder. I remember when he chose me I felt proud to be the one selected. I felt special. I didn’t know what I was in for.
Looking back now I realize that being chosen as a breeder meant that I was sentenced to a lifetime of abuse and neglect. I would die in the same cage that I was born in. Never to run on grass, never to play with a ball, never to have a family to call my own. I was a prisoner in a puppy mill.
Yesterday the farmer came through the barn. He had his son with him. They would look into the cages and make comments. Sometimes they would stop at a cage and pull a dog out. These dogs were placed in a plastic crate. I watched in fear as they came to my cage. They reached inside and yanked my crate mate from the cage. I could tell that she was terrified. She didn’t do anything to stop them. She just trembled in fear and allowed them to place her into the plastic crate. I could hear them talking. I knew that my friend and the other dogs were going to be destroyed. I knew that they were chosen only because they weren’t giving the farmer “good puppies” any longer. I watched as my friend was carried out of the barn. I followed her eyes. They seemed to tell me that she was okay. That death was a much better option than life on this farm.
I expected to hear the all-too-familiar sound of gunshots and the awful sound of the hammers that were used when the bullets missed their mark.
I waited in my corner knowing that when the farmer and his son finished with this batch, they would be back for me and others. I already knew that my time on earth was limited. The farmer had made it all too clear that I was going to be put down. He had already stopped feeding me and many others inside the barn. This was always an indication that we were no longer of any use to him. We could no longer make babies. And profits.
This was my last day on earth. Part of me was thrilled to be freed from the pain of living. Part of me was sad to have lived life without ever really living. The barn was oddly quiet as all of the remaining dogs awaited the sounds of death and the silence that followed.
After several minutes of waiting, I ventured over to the edge of my cage and looked out the barn door. Off in the distance I could see a large white van. This was a familiar sight. Dealers and brokers usually showed up in these vans. But as the van pulled onto the dirt slope in front of the barn, I noticed a new face behind the wheel.
As the door of the van opened I watched as an older, chubby woman stepped down from the van. There was something different about her. She didn’t have that nervous energy the brokers and dealers had. She talked very kindly to the farmer but the whole time she talked, her eyes were on the plastic crate and the dogs inside the barn. I saw the back door of the van open and two more women stepped down. They were both smiling as they held out their hands to shake the farmer’s hand. They introduced themselves as Toni and Kate and they told the farmer that they were thrilled to be taking some of his dogs. I assumed they were here for the puppies.
Then something happened that I had never seen before. The farmer reached down and picked up the plastic crate that held my cage mate and several other dogs. He handed the crate to the two women and they placed it gently into the back of the van. The farmer then led the ladies into the barn. I watched in fascination as they took dog after dog from their cages and carried them gently to the van. I watched as they placed each dog into a clean crate and offered it water and a blanket. I noticed Kate and Toni placing new collars on each dog before they closed the crate doors.
This was really different. Normally the dealers throw 10-15 puppies into each cage and don’t bother giving them anything, not even a second look. I watched as these 3 ladies and the farmer made their way through the barn. Eventually they stopped at my cage. The farmer asked the driver of the van if she would have any use for me. She assured him that her group could use as many dogs as he was willing to give. She then reached into my cage and gathered me in her arms. She carried me to the van. The entire time we walked she whispered in my ear.
She told me that I was free, that I would never be hungry or thirsty again. She told me that I would never live outside in the elements again. She told me that I was beautiful and she told me that there were a million people in the US who already loved me. She told me that I would never be neglected or abused again. She told me that The Freedom Van was here and it would carry me to a new life.
I wondered what this Freedom Van was and, as if she read my mind, she told me. The Freedom Van was a gift from a group of wonderful people. She told me that this group of people donated this van to help her in her efforts to free puppy mill dogs.
She told me that this van was a gift to puppy mill dogs everywhere.
I wondered why anyone would want to give me anything. The farmer had already made it very clear that I was not worth anything. He had never given me anything more than a few morsels of food each day and the occasional bottle of water.
Once again it was as if the driver read my mind. She looked down at me and said: “We know that you and all the others have never had anything and now, we want to give you everything. We are here to free you and this van is your ride to a totally new life. The White Van belongs to you and all the other dogs still trapped in puppy mills.
I looked up into her face and wondered why anyone would do anything for me. Reading my mind once again, she told me:
Shelby was rescued from the puppy mill; she was taken to a vet for complete veterinary care; she was placed into foster care and eventually was placed into a loving furever home.
Shelby was lucky. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of dogs are currently living in deplorable conditions inside the puppy mills of Pennsylvania and many other states in this country.
Please share Shelby’s story with everyone you meet. Tell them that we all need to work together to end the suffering in the puppy mills. No dog should be forced to live in a cage its entire life. No dog should go to bed hungry or thirsty. No dog should ever be deprived of exercise, food, water and veterinary care. Every dog should be able to run in the grass, play with a toy and lick the faces of the humans who love them. Every dog should have a clean bed, a warm home and a human to adore.
©A Tail to Tell Puppy Mill Rescue, 2015