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She never rolled in the cool, lush grass of spring.

She never ran free at the dog park, never chased a butterfly, or sniffed the wondrous smells of the woods in autumn.  She never played in the first snow of winter or walked in the early morning coolness of summer.

No one ever scratched behind her ears or rubbed her belly.  No one had a kind word or a loving gesture for her.  She never snuggled close on a cold night, played with a squeaky toy, or ran through the house in a game of chase.

She was a factory to produce puppies for the pet shops and the buyers who turn a blind eye to the conditions of a puppy mill and the life of a breeding machine in one of those mills.

She lived in a cage all her life, barely enough room to turn around.  Never enough food.  Never vet care.  Just an endless cycle of breeding and feeding, only to have every litter of pups taken as soon as they could be sold.

Instead of the rich, lush, furry coat of a healthy Schipperke, she had no hair on half her body and the rest was matted and dirty.

Then her life changed and so did mine.

I own a Schipperke, a service dog for my hearing disability.  Having quickly come to love and admire this breed of small dog, I signed up with my local vet to provide a foster home for needy Schipperkes.  The veterinary clinic is one that works with the Aylmer Humane Society to take in needy animals and rehabilitate them.

She was rescued from the puppy mill where she had spent a lifetime marked by indifference, neglect and exploitation.  The Aylmer Humane Society took in several of the animals rescued and one of them was this pitiful, bedraggled Schipperke.

The challenge was daunting.

She needed $500 worth of health care, including for her dental work, since her teeth – like the rest of her – had never been cared for.

She did not know how to climb stairs or walk in a straight line for more than a few feet.

She was not housebroken.

She was completely asocial.  Her owners never saw her as a unique and marvelous creature.  She was a commodity for them.  She had the company of a male dog whenever she was in season but only long enough to breed.  She had litter after litter of puppies but kept them only for the bare minimum of time.  And, she had her cage, the only “home” she had ever known.

She was frightened of everything and everybody.  It was all so new to her.  She wanted to find a dark space, curl up and shiver.  I had to constantly coax her from out-of-the-way corners, bring her into the light and sit with her until the shivering stopped.  She was intimidated by my service dog, who was none too happy at sharing me with another dog.

I spent hours bathing her body with egg whites to re-grow the hair that was missing and to bring out the normal Schipperke luster to what fur she did have.

There were days when, tired from work and the normal demands of life, her care was a chore.  There were days when I despaired that she would never be socialized, would never be able to understand let alone return the affection I gave her.

The first signs of healing were fleeting at best.  Some days she would seem to slide right back into fear and withdrawal, undoing all the progress we had made.  Months of patient work were required and I could not get discouraged or give up.  After the life she had had, she deserved my best effort.

But, little by little, she began to heal.  Her coat came back and is so luxurious that I was once stopped by a policeman who wanted to know what I was doing with a bear cub on a leash.

After having 6 teeth pulled, her grin is a little lopsided and her healthy teeth are more than a little crooked.  But she smiles, a lot.

She holds her own with my service dog nowadays.

She is ready for a long walk or a short one any time of the day or night.

She almost never tries to find a dark corner to hide in, but I am always watchful and fearful that she will.

She understands and enjoys play and runs through the house with no grace but great joy.  She can climb any stairs and wants to.

She has great curiosity about trucks, buses, motorcycles, construction projects, house painters, street cleaners, fire trucks, motor homes, camping sites, palm trees and whatever is around the next corner.  She is the neighborhood busybody and were she human she would know and pass on all the gossip.  No one comes or goes without exciting her interest.

She tolerates small children and trusts adults.  She snuggles at night and demands to have her ears scratched any time of the day or night.

She delights in car rides and trips to the pet store, the cleaners, the hardware store or anyplace that is open to her.  She is the perfect travelling companion and has mastered the art of sticking her head out of a partially opened car window just for the joy of the wind in her face.

She has a unique personality that is still unfolding.  She is much more than a pet.  She is a companion who has repaid me a thousand fold for the time and the trouble that it took to rehabilitate her.

And, she is a firm and fixed part of my family.  I have long since given up the idea that I would end my foster care and let her be adopted.  As worthwhile as pet foster care is, this little Schipperke has found a permanent home … in my house and my heart.

She is Kayla, the little bear cub who came to visit and stayed to live a full and rich life.

And a month later, another female dog – Peggy – arrived at the Aylmer SPCA and Jennifer contacted me.  I convinced a neighbour to adopt her and it is also a success story.  Thank you to Jennifer and the volunteers at the no-kill shelter.



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