The first time I met Teddy, he bit me.
About six months before this I had adopted a senior puppy mill rescue Pomeranian from my local veterinarian. I got a call that they had another senior Pomeranian - Teddy was about 11 or 12 - who was wildly unsocialized. If they couldn't adopt him out they were going to have to put him to sleep.
I already had two Pomeranians and didn't really want a third but I drove over to see him.
He was cowering in a large plastic crate and wanted nothing to do with me. The bite didn't hurt; he only had two small lower teeth left and his 'bite' basically just gummed my hand. He looked old. His mask was almost completely white and he seemed fairly arthritic. He was also quite large for a Pomeranian so he was probably a mix as a result of careless puppy mill breeding. From his behavior it appeared that he had been badly abused.
I knew Teddy would be a challenge. I said that I'd take him but if he was aggressive with my other dogs I'd be bringing him back. I carried the huge crate with Teddy inside back to my car and lugged the crate inside my house, opened the door to it, and left him alone. He'd know when it was safe to come out and explore.
I waited...and waited. While most puppy mill dogs are crated for their entire lives at least it represents safety to them. Teddy never left the crate; indeed, he spent so much time in it I started calling it his condo. Three times a day I'd have to reach inside as he kicked and bit at me so I could carry him out to the back yard with the other dogs. But it was outside when he began to flourish. A yard, grass to sniff, sunshine and fresh air, and two Pomeranian friends to explore with? He'd run and sniff and roll around in the grass. Obviously this was new to him and he loved it. But when he came inside he made a beeline for his condo.
After a couple of weeks I began sitting on the floor about six feet from the door of the condo and let him watch warily while I petted and extravagantly praised my other two dogs. I'd do this several times a day for about 10 minutes or so. Finally, after several weeks of this Teddy crept out of the condo and approached me. He was shaking like a leaf, clearly terrified, but he had decided that he wanted some of those pets. It was very brave of him. I petted him and told him what a good, brave boy he was. He let me do this for a couple of minutes and then crept back into his condo. He'd come out for pets every day after this and then return to the condo. Progress.
The next step was to introduce him to play, a concept unknown to puppy mill dogs. I had a dog toy that was a tiny yellow duck that I'd take outside with the dogs and squeak it then toss it to them. One of my two Pomeranians would run and grab it and then give it some squeaks before they trotted up to return it. Teddy watched all of this with great interest but didn't participate. This was totally fine; he was learning.
About a month later I woke up in the middle of the night to a racket in my living room. I walked out and there was Teddy, out of the condo, holding the little yellow duck between his paws and squeaking it furiously with his toothless little mouth. The look of pure joy on his face made me know that the war was won, as indeed it was. He never went back into his condo after that night. A few weeks later I donated it to a rescue group.
Teddy never got over all of his phobias. He never willingly let me pick him up, which made grooming and vet visits difficult. Like many puppy mill dogs he was afraid of doorways. But he'd walk up for pets quite willingly, loved the other dogs, and adored his time in the yard. With good nutrition and the ability to move about freely he lost a lot of his previous stiffness and ran like the wind around the yard, his face full of joy as only a Pomeranian can express.
I've had Teddy for six years, so to date he's 16 or 17. Last night I lost him. He never woke up from his nap. I'm not sure if that big, brave heart gave out or if he had a stroke. But he lived much longer than most puppy mill dogs, and I think it's because he was determined to squeeze every bit out of this new life.
I buried Teddy this morning under his favorite patch of yard. I buried him with his little yellow duck, which to him represented joy, redemption and a second chance.
This video is Teddy as I'll always remember him - running through a yard that was finally his, finding so much joy in being allowed to be like any other dog. I already miss him desperately but I'm so glad that he finally, finally found a home.
Teddy's life has has one last message: please don't buy a dog from a pet store, a backyard breeder, or any breeder who offers more than one breed to choose from. It perpetuates the cycle of puppy mills, poor breeding leading to countless health problems, and a lifetime of suffering for dogs who deserve better.