21-Year-Old Katya’s Incredible Journey from Puppy Mill to Family Dog

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September 06, 2013 | 44,093 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Katya is a small Italian Greyhound with gigantic ears and an even bigger heart, who spent the first 11 years of her life as a breeder in a puppy mill, living in horrifying conditions – miserable weather, poor nutrition, and at the mercy of the cruel, uncaring humans who owned the mill.
  • Fortunately for Katya, when the mill owners finally decided to be rid of her, she and two of her puppies went to an Italian Greyhound rescue organization, and from there to foster homes for rehabilitation and hopefully, placement in forever homes.
  • Katya’s first “forever” home lasted just 24 hours. She was returned to foster care when her new owners decided they couldn’t handle her lack of social skills, fears, and insecurities.
  • Katya’s second “forever” home lasted two years, at which time her family experienced marital and financial difficulties and relinquished her to a rescue group.
  • Today, Katya the ex-puppy mill dog is a remarkably healthy, active 21 year-old lady, thanks to her own incredible spirit and the wonderful care she has received from her mom, Barbara.

By Dr. Becker

This is Katya’s story as written by her mom, Barbara.

Katya is a very small dog of unremarkable appearance. She comes in a "plain brown wrapper" with over-sized satellite dish ears. This aberration is completely unacceptable in her breed's standard. Katya is, after all, a member of a very elegant and beautiful breed, the Italian Greyhound, and would be viewed with disdain amongst her more perfect-appearing kind in the dog show world.

However, Katya possesses attributes far more valuable and admirable than mere physical perfection; Katya possesses an amazing heart, equally amazing strength, and a positive attitude that has carried her through some very harrowing times in her 21 years. Yes, 21 years - NOT a typographical error!

Katya Was 11 Before She Was Rescued from a Puppy Mill

Katya's life began in a puppy mill located in the state of Missouri. She was a "brood bitch" who delivered one litter of puppies after another for eventual sale in pet shops. She endured unspeakable conditions - cold, wet weather, the poorest nutrition possible, and cruel, indifferent humans who viewed puppy mill dogs as a means to financial gain undeserving of love or respect.

After surviving for 11 years in this environment, the owners of the mill decided to rid their kennel of Katya and other less productive breeders. Luckily for Katya and other Italian Greyhounds ("IGs") residing at the mill, the owners contacted Italian Greyhound Rescue. Rescue agreed to take Katya, her two three-month-old puppies, and several other older IGs.

The transport van delivered the IGs to a racing Greyhound kennel in Wisconsin where two rescue volunteers met them. The thin, dirty, and frightened dogs were carefully bathed in warm, soothing soapy water and given badly needed nail trims and ear cleanings. Each dog went to individual foster homes for rehab and eventual placement in adoptive homes.

Katya Faced Many Challenges on Her Journey from Mill Dog to Family Dog

Katya faced several obstacles on her road to her forever home - she was a senior citizen, she was "institutionalized" due to the fact she had lived in the puppy mill for more than a decade, and she certainly wasn't as physically beautiful as some of the other rescue dogs.

It took several months of intensive work to help Katya adapt to the world outside of her limited life at the mill. Every sight and sound was new to her and she was easily frightened and spooked. At times, Katya would become nearly catatonic with fear. Finally, after intensive behavior modification, it was deemed that she was ready to be adopted into a loving, and patient, forever home.

Katya was taken to the Arlington Park Pet Show in March 2004 to be shown to potential adopters in the hope that she could find her very own family. A miracle happened at the pet show - a lovely couple fell in love with Katya and applied to adopt her. After all of the preliminary paperwork and home visit were completed, the family was approved and Katya was delivered to her new family in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The family kept Katya less than 24 hours and contacted Katya's foster mom to advise that they no longer wanted to keep her. They could not deal with her lack of social skills and her fear and insecurities. Katya returned to her foster mom.

Shortly thereafter, Katya was again adopted into a loving home. This family accepted Katya's eccentricities and was very keen to learn from Katya's foster mom various methods that would aid them in dealing with an institutionalized dog. This home lasted for two years until marital and financial difficulties forced the family to surrender Katya to rescue.

Katya Finds Her Forever Home

The sum of all of these experiences would be enough to sink the spirit of almost ANY dog, never mind a long-term puppy mill survivor! However, as stated above, Katya possesses amazing strength and what can only be called a positive mental attitude. When Katya was returned the second time, her foster mom made the only decision that seemed possible - she adopted Katya as a permanent member of her canine family.

Because Katya's foster, now adoptive, mom (me) takes all of her canine kids to the best and most compassionate veterinarian in the entire world, one Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, Katya has enjoyed amazing health and vitality that continues to this day.

Katya hikes with me and six brothers and sisters for up to ten miles at a time! Katya bounces around the backyard like a puppy and positively glows with a life force that is amazing and truly inspirational. She is loving, cuddly, and up for any adventure.

Another positive in Katya's life is that her three-month-old puppies who came into rescue with her were adopted by friends of mine, so Katya is able to stay in touch with her last litter. It's a remarkable sight when Katya sees her two daughters, Stella and Juliet, as she ALWAYS recognizes them and it's a lovely family reunion filled with kisses and unbridled joy.

Katya's story would appear to uphold an old adage: That which does not kill us only makes us stronger. Katya APPEARS to be fragile and weak, but possesses an enormous heart filled with courage and love able to overcome enormous obstacles that could defeat a gladiator. She is a living, breathing inspiration to all who have the honor to know her.

Dr. Becker’s comments:

In addition to all the exercise Katya gets, she and her rescued siblings eat a healthy fresh food diet and receive no further vaccinations (only titers) once Barb rescues them. (Click here if you’d like to see Katya’s latest blood test results from May, proving not only that she’s 21, but also that she’s perfectly healthy!)

It's because of amazing people like Barbara that dogs like Katya are given a second (and third chance) at life. If you are considering adding a pet to your family, please consider a rescue and even a senior rescue, such as Katya.

Barbara's commitment to making every day count for her dogs, including patiently working through the fears and anxieties many rescues come home with, has allowed this little dog to thrive well past an average lifespan, and in spite of her poor genetics. Daily aerobic exercise in the woods, a raw diet, and exceptional preventive care has given this already "old" dog many extra years to enjoy life as a cherished pet.