For the first eight years of his life, a Yorkshire Terrier went by the number a Missouri puppy mill tattooed on his left ear: 193. Thanks to East Coast Humane Society and the Matheson family, he now has a name: Stan.
Stan’s journey began last fall when the puppy mill operator decided 193 no longer served a purpose. He left him with a nearby vet, who then contacted ECHS. The Florida-based organization regularly takes in puppy mill castoffs from other states.
The Yorkie went into foster care and began treatment for his many health problems. All of his teeth were rotten, and his left eye was severely infected due to a long-untreated injury. Before he could undergo surgery for either, though, the pup had to put more weight on his barely 4-pound frame.
Meanwhile, a 16-year-old girl named Olivia Matheson was dealing with a severe infection of her own, nearly 1,400 miles away in a Boston suburb. She had contracted it during a routine hospital procedure and was in the middle of missing her entire junior year. The teen’s mother asked what she could do to lift her spirits.
“She said, ‘I want to rescue a dog,'” Alicia Matheson recalls. “That was not what I expected her to say. Olivia went online and began looking at rescues. She wanted to find the dog who needed our help most.”
Stan certainly fit the bill.
“He was such a pathetic case. We didn’t think he would get adopted by anyone else because he looked so bad,” Alicia says. “He was the most precious thing ever to us, though. Our hearts went out to him.”
She contacted ECHS and heard back from the foster family right away. On Nov. 1, after Stan’s surgeries and recovery, the organization put him on a multi-dog transport headed north, where it would make several stops to connect rescues with their new families. Alicia and Olivia met the driver in a Barnes & Noble parking lot in western Massachusetts.
“He opened the van door and reached into the crate. I remember being scared,” Alicia admits. “He was so decrepit looking, and he was our first rescue. My daughter just took him into her arms. Looking at him now compared to then, it’s night and day. It’s incredible what a little bit of love and care can do.”
Stan has gotten plenty of both from the Mathesons. In addition to Olivia, he lives with 13-year-old human Grace and 8-year-old Norfolk Terrier Buster as siblings, plus Alicia and her husband, Andrew.
As to be expected, the puppy mill survivor faces a steep learning curve. Going from a cramped cage to a comfortable home takes some getting used to.
“He was catatonic at first. He had no understanding of what was happening,” Alicia explains, choking up as she talks about the early days with Stan. “He would sit so still. It was heartbreaking. He just didn’t know how to be.”
The family created a safe zone for him underneath a built-in desk in the kitchen. He would venture out a little more each day, but he always ran back to his bed before long. When he did get brave enough to explore farther, Stan’s adventures would end as soon as he reached a doorway.
“He would not walk across a threshold. He had no depth perception. I know now that they don’t develop it living in a cage,” Alicia says. “He didn’t understand how to go over this quarter-inch strip. For the first month, he wouldn’t go from room to room on his own.”
As the family began to understand Stan’s limitations, they adjusted their expectations to meet them.
“My philosophy has been: He’s already eight years old. He’s already given eight years of his life to humans. I’m not going to ask anything from him. He’s kinda potty trained, and he’s kinda not,” Alicia says with a laugh. “The same rules don’t apply to him that would to a puppy. He’s not a blank slate. This is a slate that has been really marked up.”
“You can’t think of puppy mill rescues as puppies at all,” she adds. “You have to start from where they are and work backwards, as opposed to working forwards as you would with a puppy.”
Her approach continues to show results. Stan now accepts and even looks for affection from everyone in the family, even his four-legged sibling.
“At first, when Buster would sniff him, Stan would go catatonic,” Alica explains. “Just a few days ago, he let Buster lick his ears. Before he would turn his head and move away. He accepts it now and even leans into him. Seeing that brings tears to my eyes.”
And while the family has no expectations for Stan, Alicia does have a wish for him.
“I would love for him to one day experience the joy of playing. He just doesn’t have those interactive skills at this point,” she says, “and I think Buster would like that, too.”
To follow Stan’s progress, like his Facebook page. Alicia regularly posts updates about him and shares opportunities to adopt other puppy mill survivors. She also posts information about the issue and available dogs at the ECHS Facebook page.
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