One Puppy Mill Survivor Led Her To A Life Helping Even More Dogs

Written by: Molly Weinfurter
Molly Weinfurter is a writer for iHeartDogs, and she’s passionate about helping animals in need. She volunteers for Bailing Out Benji and a local dog rescue.Read more
| Published on January 21, 2021

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a dedicated dog lover and a passionate rescue dog advocate. I even made a career out of writing about dogs and encouraging others to adopt. But this passion didn’t just appear out of thin air. It isn’t something I was born with. Everyone’s love for rescue dogs starts somewhere, and my passion began thanks to a tiny puppy mill survivor named Zoe.

Unlike most of the other dog bloggers out there, I didn’t grow up with pets. My mom wasn’t too fond of any animals, especially not dogs. I was finally able to convince my parents to get me two salamanders, who I adored, but that didn’t stop me from wanting a dog too. Year after year I begged my parents for a dog. And every year, I was disappointed. I knew it was a long shot and I barely believed it would come true, but I kept on trying.

Then, for my 12th birthday, I received the greatest news of my life. My parents agreed to get me a dog. But instead of buying me a puppy to surprise me with, they gave me some dog supplies and told me we would pick out a rescue dog together. Little did I know, that decision to adopt instead of shop would shape my entire life.

The Perfect Dog for Me

Zoe was the first dog I fell in love with as I searched PetFinder for adoptable rescues. She was a 6-year-old Maltese with the sweetest and saddest eyes. I would’ve adopted her without even meeting her, but my parents told me to keep an open mind and meet a few dogs before making my decision.

So, we visited several foster homes before making any commitments. The dog I chose had to fit my mom’s requirements: small, potty trained, no shedding, and no drooling. In other words, the type of dog that gets adopted as soon as they’re available.

The Excitement of Dog Adoption

We met Zoe, along with a few other dogs just in case. But every dog seemed to have something that deterred us from them. Ladybird had too much energy. Layla needed expensive eye surgery. And Bubble was recovering from kennel cough and already had a waiting list. It seemed like fate that Zoe was the first dog I’d been interested in.

For any other kid, Zoe wouldn’t have been the perfect dog. She was an older dog from a puppy mill, which meant she was terrified of everything. When people approached her, she cowered in the corner. If you squeaked a toy, she didn’t understand what to do. Even being touched sent a look of horror across her face. But she was very sweet. When I met her, I was incredibly gentle and she even let me pet her, which was rare at the time. My whole family knew it would take a lot of time and patience to raise her, but 12-year-old me knew she was worth it.

No one was in a rush to adopt such a shy dog, so the rescue was overjoyed that we wanted her. I knew Zoe was different from other dogs, but I don’t think I knew the full extent of it until I was older. Before I met Zoe, I had no idea what a puppy mill was. I had no idea that someone could be so cruel to a dog. And once I knew the truth, I wanted to encourage everyone to adopt a dog too.

Zoe Comes Home!

Of course, Zoe didn’t feel at home when we first adopted her. Even if she did, it would’ve been hard to tell. She never wagged her tail, played, or looked for attention. She mostly just kept to herself. But I wasn’t disappointed at all. I loved her just as much as I would’ve loved a cuddly dog because she was now a part of the family.

The more I got to know Zoe, the more I realized how sad her life had been. I researched puppy mills more and tried to imagine what my sweet pup had gone through. She lived in a tiny cage for at least the first five years of her life. She didn’t get to go for walks, play with toys, or be loved. To those horrible breeders, she only existed to breed more puppies over and over again in the worst possible conditions. It’s a sad thought for anyone to imagine, but knowing a dog who had witnessed these horrors made it even more real for me.

Every Adventure was a Milestone

Poor Zoe needed all the time in the world to feel safe after her past. But I did everything I could to help her. I celebrated her little victories along the way. Her accomplishments might’ve seemed like normal dog behaviors, but to her, they were noteworthy milestones. The closer she came to acting like an everyday dog, the happier she seemed.

I remember the first time she barked. The doorbell rang, so she ran around barking to find out where it was coming from. I had never been so excited to hear a dog bark.

I remember the first time she played with a toy. Well, not a toy exactly, but the closest to it. She loved to chew on plastic bowls. Those were her toys. She gnawed on them just like a bone, and even though it was silly to us, it made her relax and feel more like herself. Occasionally, she would find a specific ball or squeaky toy to chew on, but she was never one to get excited about dog toys.

Finally, I remember the first time she wagged her tail. I was going trick-or-treating with a friend and her small dog. When Zoe saw my friend’s dog that day, she let out her first happy wag. It was small, but it was such an exciting moment for the both of us. All these events might seem minor to any other dog parent, but for me, they let me know that I was doing a good job giving Zoe the best life possible.

Love Changes Everything

Zoe never became an overly excitable or affectionate dog. She never jumped for joy or came running to me with a wagging tail. But I know we helped her improve and find happiness. Even though she was shy, she thanked us in her own ways. Over time, she felt safer being near us. She started sitting on my lap without shivering and she let me pick her up without having to be cornered. For a dog who spent five years in one of the worst places possible, I’d say that those little improvements are huge.

Sadly, Zoe only lived to be 10 years old. She grew very ill as I started high school to the point where all she wanted to do was sleep under a blanket. I don’t remember all the details of what happened. It was all a blur. But it broke my heart in more ways than I could’ve ever imagined.

I remember that as we said our final goodbyes, the vet assured us that she was with us long enough to be a part of the family. And she was right. Zoe wasn’t just a dog, she was a family member and she made such a huge impact on our lives. If it weren’t for her, I would’ve never known much about dog rescues or puppy mills. And if it weren’t for us, she might’ve never known what love was like.

So, as hard as it was for me to move on after losing Zoe, I was still incredibly grateful. While most other kids would’ve chosen the cutest puppy or most playful dog, I chose Zoe. And I will forever be happy that she got to spend the end of her life with us and experience the comfort of a loving home.

Zoe Made Me a Better Person

I only spent four years with Zoe, but every year was special. I helped her learn how fun life can be and she helped me learn to be more compassionate. She made me want to be a better person and help more dogs in her honor. I also knew from then on that all my dogs would be rescues. I would never feel okay bringing another dog into this world when there are already so many that need a home.

I’ve grown a lot since my time with Zoe. And every year, my passion for rescue dogs gets stronger. Somehow, I even made a whole career writing about dogs. And iHeartDogs is by far my favorite website to write for because I’m proud of how much we do to help dogs in need. I’ve also gone on to help dogs in many other ways, including fostering for the same rescue I got Zoe from, volunteering for a group who spreads awareness about puppy mills, and writing my own personal blog to encourage dog lovers to adopt.

My Life with Rescue Animals

I needed a little time after I lost Zoe, but I eventually adopted a Shih Tzu named Mabel. I don’t know anything about Mabel’s past like I did with Zoe, but I’ve quickly bonded with her too. She even traveled to Florida with me for college and back to Wisconsin when I graduated. Now that we live with my boyfriend, she also has a sibling named Taco, who is a Jack Russell Terrier mix. And on top of everything, I also adopted an axolotl (an aquatic salamander) from an exotic pet rescue too. I’m excited to keep fostering and adopting more animals as life goes on.

So, if you’re looking for a new furry family member, please adopt. I know from experience that it can change your life. And don’t overlook the scared dogs like Zoe. They’re often the ones who need a family the most.

Thank you, Zoe. I miss you every day, and you shaped me in more ways than you’ll ever know.

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