By Karen Sturtevant
Earlier in October we met two rescued English bulldogs in “A Second Chance for Tilley and Penney.” As with Penney and Tilley, Buttercup (Butter) and Lulubelle (Lulu) are also puppy mill survivors.
Trying to explain the mental state of them is difficult: they are not like your typical, run-around-the-yard-and-play-fetch dogs. Despite spending their impressible young years in a wire cage, their softhearted souls will touch your heart.
What follows is a conversation I had with Dawna Pederzani, the founder of Vermont English Bulldog Rescue. Let’s meet them.
Where are they from?
Lulu and Buttercup were taken in a 500-dog puppy mill raid in Ohio in 2013, by a group called the Road Warriors.
The breeds were divided up and taken by many different groups who were willing to rehabilitate them and then adopt them out. Six English bulldogs went to a holding facility in New York.
Two died of sepsis soon after arriving at the rescue. Two were healthy enough and social enough to be adopted. Lu and Butter just sat in a kennel.
They had lived their entire lives in a cage barely big enough to stand or lie down in. They were physically near death, emotionally traumatized to the point of just zoning out, and socially incapable in interaction with humans.
How did they come to be with you, Dawna?
I was contacted in December of 2013, by the rescue in New York who had taken them in four months prior. They were unable to make any progress socializing either dog and deemed them to be unadoptable.
The girls were together in a wire kennel with nothing on the floor (blanket, sheet, newspaper) as they would tear it up or eat it. They were completely unsocialized and accustomed to eating, sleeping and standing in their own waste. They wanted them to go together and I agreed to take them.
Why are they with you?
I looked at the pictures and saw two innocent little girls who were terrified beyond anything I had ever seen. I had to give them a chance. They had been in a cage, starved and tortured for their entire lives. All they knew was abuse and pain from humans.
I could not turn my back on them. They would have been euthanized. I believe that every being, no matter how disconnected, can be reached. It takes time, kindness, love and patience. It also takes lots of bleach, mops and submission to the fact that my once clean home will not be so clean for a while.
The drive to get Butter and Lu was going to be seven hours. After sustaining a spinal injury in a train derailment, I was no longer able to make such car trips, so I arranged for them to be flown to Burlington.
What condition were they in when you first brought them home?
The condition that they were in prior to coming to me is the real story. They had both had recent C-sections.
Their puppies had most likely been taken from them in order to bottle feed them, plump them up and get them sold to pet stores more quickly, and in so doing, bring the females back into heat, breed them and keep the money rolling in.
There is no concern for the well being of the mothers or puppies. If they die, there is always a replacement. Their C-section incisions were sewn with fish line, which signifies that the surgeries were done by a non-vet, most likely without anesthesia.
The incisions were imbedded with feces and hair and soaked with urine. It is a miracle that Butter and Lu were not dead from infection.
Both girls (I believe them to be mother and daughter) have hind leg deformities that begin in the hip. Butter is able to ambulate pretty well.
Lu will eventually lose the use of her right hind leg and need a wheelchair. The holding facility decided that it would be a good idea to try and straighten Lu’s worst leg, her right hind.
The surgery was a miserable failure and left her further deformed and nearly destroyed the bone.
They are both maintained on GlycoFlex Stage III, an outstanding connective tissue and joint support supplement from VetriScience Laboratories, and Tramadol, a pain medication. She is followed by an orthopedist. I created ramps from the house to deck and deck to yard so that the girls could go out safely.
Butter had an obvious issue with her right eye as evidenced by a white patch on the eyeball. She went in for an immediate exam with the ophthalmologist and was diagnosed with Corneal Lipid Dystrophy. This can be diet or trauma related. At this point no treatment is necessary as the eye is quiet.
Both dogs were underweight; their coats were poor and their feet and legs in constant pain as evidenced by their gaits. Their feet are deformed from standing on wire 24/7. That will never change, although keeping their nails trimmed and rubbing coconut oil into their pads helps.
It was determined after hearing Lu attempt to bark but not be able to, that she had been “debarked” at the puppy mill. This is a procedure where a metal rod is thrust down the throat destroying or damaging the vocal cords, thereby preventing the dog from having a voice. Shreds of tissue were left in her throat and became infected, needing to be surgically removed.
The biggest challenge has been the emotional trauma. When they were brought home, they would not be in the same room as myself or my daughter. They would just run.
Their eyes were constantly dilated and they were in a fight or flight mode 24/7. I decided to have them put on anti anxiety and anti depressant drugs, much like you would prescribe for a traumatized human. Finding the correct drug and correct dose is very difficult as the dog cannot tell you how they feel.
After three months of trial and error we found a regimen that keeps both girls able to tolerate interaction and handling without diminishing their personalities.
Neither girl was able to hold her bladder for any length of time, so after ruling out illness or infection, they were put on Bladder Support, chewable tablets to help support bladder control, from VetriScience. They will stay on it for life.
The world of Butter and Lu is very different from most dogs. It took one month to get them to go from the kitchen thru the dining room and out to the deck. In order to house train them I had to put them in harnesses for the first time and teach them to walk on a leash and set an alarm for every hour, 24/7.
It took four months to get them to go into any other room. I had to take the kitchen gates down and leave the room. I could hear them walking into the living room but as soon as I tried to watch them, they would hear me and run back to “their kitchen.”
While in the kitchen, I cooked, cleaned and washed dishes around their little island, right in the middle of the room. They (as with most puppy mill survivors) will not turn their back on a human, and as such would turn constantly making sure that this human was in their sight.
It would be three months before they could be patted, and it would be seven months before I would have to carry them to the little bathroom that adjoins my bedroom, due to the stifling heat of summer and their intolerance to heat.
A small air conditioner was installed to make them comfortable. That bathroom, (formerly known as Dawna’s bathroom), is now known to them as their apartment. It is small, enclosed, with a window and they feel safe there.
So, now nine months after rescue, they will walk from one end of the house to the other and go outside unassisted…that is, as long as they are not watched, no one is following them or making eye contact and nothing about that route is changed.
Otherwise they run to their apartment and sit terrified.
Neither girl would eat or drink from bowls when they first arrived.
In puppy mills if the dogs are fed at all, the food is dropped from a box operated by a timer. What garbage food does not fall through the wire can be eaten off the floor mixed with waste.
Both girls ate their feces and drank their urine for months after rescue. Neither does now as they know they will be fed.
In the puppy mill water is generally dispensed from hamster bottles or delivered by hose or pressure washer. Most puppy mills dogs have a fear of hoses and water. If the bowl is held or no one is within sight, the girls will drink.
As far as food goes, I have hand fed them two times a day for nine months. Their food is processed in a blender to the consistency of thick oatmeal (this helps them better utilize it), and scooped out into a meatball size piece and hand fed.
This was necessary as they would not eat from bowls, plates, or off the floor. They would eat from the hand, and are starting to take some kibble from bowls. Yeah, progress!
• Never, ever, shop for a puppy in a
• Consider adopting a dog or puppy
from the local shelter. Far too many
are looking for their forever homes.
• Beware of Internet and classified
ads. Visit the facility, have a face-to-
face with the owners, meet the
dog’s parents. Know what you’re getting.
• Don’t be fooled by picturesque websites with rolling hills, cajoling dog buddies and the
perfect husband and wife team. Many times these perfect looking sites are fronts for
• Educate. Speak up.
• Joint an animal rights group. If you can’t donate funds, give your time and energy.
• Do something, anything, to make a difference to educate others about the horrors of
factory dog farming and its lasting effects.
• Be an advocate for those who cannot.
In Part II, we’ll continue to get to know Butter and Lulu, recently back from Boston to correct an elongated soft palate, among other challenges.
Luckily for me, a bulldog fanatic, Dawna and I live in the same town, only a few minutes apart. I find myself visiting several times a week to just be with the dogs – no agenda. I usually start my visit with Penny and Tilley then move upstairs for kitchen island time with Butter and Lu.
The biggest reward for me: seeing bright sparks of their true personalities, watching them learn to play like ‘regular’ dogs, and seeing the pleasure when they allow me to pet their sweet little faces, accept a ‘cookie’ from me and begin to learn that not all humans want to cause them pain.
In Part II, we’ll learn about the nutritional needs and the amazing diet Butter and Lulu have, what progress they’ve made and what the future holds.