Dec 24, 2009

Gypsy Rose Lee, a Refugee From a Puppy Mill Comes Home

Meet Gypsy, a tiny survivor from a commercial breeding farm.

In mid November, I went on assignment to the Midwest to cover the rescue of 150 dogs who were scheduled to be killed at puppy mills. They no longer could produce, or they had terrible medical issues, or they were just older, used-up breeders. They're going to leave the puppy mill either feet first or head first, so Best Friends Animal Society's Pup My Ride transport program was there to take them as rescuers pulled them from the commercial breeding farms.

On the first day, we got in around 40 dogs -- every breed you can think of, including two large bull mastiffs, French bulldogs, silkies, Yorkshire terriers, doxies and lots of shih-tzus and King Charles spaniels. Each and every one has his or her own story, and when they come in to a temporary receiving area, literally straight from the puppy mills, their eyes are big and they're just waiting for something bad to happen to them. It's sad, but as each day goes on and they realize that the lives they were forced to live as breeders in wire-bottomed cages, with no air conditioning and no heat, are over, they begin to blossom.

I noticed a 5-1/2-pound long-haired Chihuahua that first day. Her eyes, too, were wide. She wouldn't make eye contact with the volunteers and staff tasked with caring for them, feeding them, cleaning up after them and providing medical exams and vaccinations so they could go out to rescue groups in New York to be adopted out.

Gypsy caught my eye for two reasons: Even though she was just 2 years old, she looked as if she were an old soul; and, secondly, she seemed so sweet, plus absolutely beautiful. I do favor the Chihuahua appleheads. There's just something about them, and, probably, because Mia was an applehead, that's a big reason why I gravitate toward them. They have calm dispositions and are just plain sweet.

I paid attention to which stall -- in a large equestrian barn where we were set up for five days -- the little Chihuahua was assigned to I visited her that evening, after all the vaccinations and med work were done, and went to her large kennel where she was housed with a tiny pomeranian. They had arrived in the same transport crate and came from the same breeder. I took the Chihuahua out of the kennel and held her, but she wiggled and wouldn't look at me. She just wanted to go back and be with her little friend.

The next morning, when we arrived there early, she was still sleeping. I helped clean up the kennels in that stall so I could spend more time with her. She didn't want out of the kennel to walk around. I took her out, though, and she stumbled back in. One of her back legs didn't seem to be working right.

When there was some down time that afternoon, I took her out and sat her on my lap while I wrote an article on my lapstop, wrapping her in a towel so she'd be warm. She was getting more tolerant of me holding her and even started to fall asleep. Progress. Volunteers stopped to pet her. I asked for suggestions on names, and one volunteer said she thought she seemed like a gypsy, because in the mill she was homeless, plus she'd already traveled to our temporary kennels, then she was headed for New York and eventually Las Vegas with me. Gypsy Rose Lee fits her, the volunteer said. So Gypsy it was.

She had a large incision and the breeder told the rescuer that she'd just had three puppies born via C-section a week and a half earlier, that she didn't produce milk and wouldn't take care of her babies. The three puppies were feeding off of another mama dog.

I adopted Gypsy from the rescuer. Then, the next day, three of us -- Kelli Ohrtman, campaign specialist for Best Friends' Puppies Aren't Products, and Best Friends' photographer Gary Kalpakoff -- drove in a mini van following the transport trailer with 164 dogs inside (very nice accomodations in a customized trailer) to New York state, where rescue groups--that had potential adopters who want small breed dogs but want rescued dogs and not puppy store dogs--were waiting. Dr. Sarah Alward with Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons was waiting for us too, to help transport animals to her shelter. She examined Gypsy; I was worried about her (she was bleeding). She said her uterus felt firm toward the back and suggested I get her spayed immediately.

I arrived home on a Friday, and the next morning, I took Gypsy into the new Spay and Neuter Center of Southern Nevada. The vet said it looked like this was her second C-section and that it wasn't a very good job. She had pyametra -- an infection in her uterus -- which spaying her solved.

Within a week, Gypsy was feeling well and starting to play with toys! She was awkward at first, but then caught on when I squeaked the toys. She now loves to shake them and carry them all over the house. The first week, she was still shy. Every day she gets braver. I have to be careful not to approach her too quickly because she'll sometimes let out a squeal, like she thinks I'm going to hurt her. She and my shih-tzu Joey are buddies. And she and Rosy, my basset-healer mix, started playing with each other for the first time yesterday. She absolutely loves running out of the dog door, making a run around the yard, then running back inside. Her patellas on both knees are luxated, and one of her legs turns in, but she's getting stronger and stronger. She's still a little scared to ride in the car, but she's getting more used to that too.

She's a funny little dog with a sweet personalit who's a bit awkward, because everything is so new to her. She'll sit and watch TV for 10 minutes at a time, totally entranced. She sleeps against me every night and seems to take comfort in the closeness. She gets so excited when it's time to go to bed, and she crawls under the covers to get warm. I can't imagine what life for this little girl was like for two years in a cold, wire cage. What I do know is she gets a kick out of living in a home. It's amazing watching her. When she tastes something new, like yogurt, for example, she wags her tail and looks up at me, so happy, as if she's saying "thank you," because she can't believe how good it tastes.

I'll give you progress reports as she blossoms and comes out of her shell even more. We're going to my sister's house for Christmas in San Diego and we'll take photos. It's the second time she'll have been there. She was housetrained from the start -- always a surprise to me when a puppy mill dog can be trained so easily and quickly -- so she's no problem as a house guest. She and Joey will be with me, and Rosy is being boarded (only for two days). So stay tuned with reports about Gypsy Rose Lee's new life after a puppy mill! In the meantime, Happy Holidays to all!


  1. I don't know who is more blessed, you or Gypsy Rose... these dogs bring such joy into the home with them.

    Look forward to updates!


  2. Congrats Cathy! We adopted a backyard breeder's long hair Chi last year, she had two series of sublexxa patella surgeries and is doing just great. And a few weeks ago we adopted another backyard breeder Chi, a female, born blind. Both Chi's are playing and having a great time. Hard to believe they both had rough starts at life. (from Amy Shever)

  3. oh- and both of these dogs had ended up at a local shelter (we never dealt with any breeders...haha) Amy

  4. Thanks so much, Tara, for your kind words. Gypsy is a real joy. And thanks for what you've done on the Pup My Ride transports, and for your own adopted puppy mill boy Arrow. You're incredible. Thanks, Amy, for what you did for those two Chihuahuas. Rescued dogs are so grateful for real homes. They give back to us ten-fold.

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