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Oatmeal the Chihuahua-Terrier Mix Learns What It’s Like to Be Loved

For four years, all Oatmeal knew was a cage in a puppy mill; now, she's finally learning how to be a dog.

Kyra Kirkwood  |  Feb 18th 2016


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Her name may be Oatmeal, but this 11-pound Chihuahua-terrier mix never knew the cozy comforts of home — like a warm breakfast and a snuggly bed — in all of her four years. She only knew back-to-back breeding, cold cages, matted fur, rotten teeth, and illness, as she was used to create more and more litters at a puppy mill in Ohio — until she was rescued by PAWS Chicago in 2015. That’s when Oatmeal’s life really began. And it not only includes nourishing food, but a giant warm bed and more love than she can process.

Photo courtesy Tina Smothers

Oatmeal happy to be out of the puppy mill. (Photo courtesy Tina Smothers)

Oatmeal was part of a multi-organizational rescue involving a large, shut-down Ohio puppy mill in the Midwest. Once she arrived at PAWS Chicago, Oatmeal immediately went into a foster situation because she required special care.

Throughout her life, Oatmeal did not know true kindness or love. She had no idea how to interact with people or play with a toy. She didn’t even know what a toy was. That’s when Julia Mazzola came to the rescue.

Julie and her husband, John, of Oak Park, Illinois, stepped up as a foster family this past spring. A canine flu hit the Chicago area, so local groups sought off-site fosters for healthy or special-needs homeless dogs to free up shelter space for the sick ones. Julie and John were quickly matched with Oatmeal.

Photo courtesy Julie and John Mazzola

Oatmeal with one of her humans, John. (Photo courtesy Julie and John Mazzola)

Throughout the drive home from PAWS Chicago, the tiny dog seemed paralyzed with fear. “She sat in the backseat, just shaking,” Julie said. Once at home, Oatmeal continued to be terrified, timid, quiet, and shy. So much of this world was new, and people overwhelmed her.

Whenever Oatmeal encountered new faces or unfamiliar dogs, she would be overrun with panic and fear-based misbehavior. “She would have quite a meltdown,” Julie said. She needed to learn how to be a dog and a member of society.

For two months, Julie and John did whatever they could to help her socialize and settle in. “She didn’t understand play,” Julie said. “She was very nervous.”

Photo courtesy Julie and John Mazzola

Happy in a warm, snuggly bed. (Photo courtesy Julie and John Mazzola)

They began working with Oatmeal weekly in one-on-one obedience training classes at PAWS Chicago as well as carving time out every day to continue those lessons at home.

The effects were almost instantaneous. “She learned to sit in a day,” Julie said. “I could see it in her that she wanted to learn and break out of her shell.” Every day, Oatmeal progressed, gaining more and more confidence. She even began to figure out what a toy was — and what to do with it.

At about that time, John and Julie needed to give Oatmeal back to PAWS Chicago so she could go to her forever home. The couple, not in the market for a dog of their own, didn’t realize saying goodbye would be so hard. They embarked on their previously planned vacation and, within a day, they knew they had to adopt Oatmeal. Contacting PAWS Chicago, they set that ball in motion and quickly made Oatmeal their first fur baby.

Every day since, Oatmeal has continued to heal. She has finally been able to let herself relax completely in the Mazzola home — sometimes a little too much. More often than not, Oatmeal can be found sprawled on her back, under the covers, and snuggling into the pillow in bed with her family.

Photo courtesy Julie and John Mazzola

Oatmeal with Julie. (Photo courtesy Julie and John Mazzola)

“She is just so loving,” Julie said, noting how Oatmeal cannot get enough snuggle time. “She just has this sweet little personality. You can tell she had a hard couple of years, but you can now see a light in her eyes. She is happy. She decided this is where she wanted to stay.”

Read more by Kyra Kirkwood:

About the author: Kyra Kirkwood writes for many pet-related, food-centered, and entertainment-themed publications. When this California-based freelance writer isn’t working, she’s teaching college journalism classes, writing books, or enjoying the company of her husband, two young children, and special-needs rescue dog Ralph. Visit her website at kyrakirkwood.com, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.