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The Specials: Adopting A Puppy Mill Survivor

Reba was rescued from a puppy mill in 2012. The laws changed in Ohio and the mill needed to dump 120 dogs (many of them older female dogs used exclusively for breeding). Some were euthanized and others, like Reba, were admitted to shelters. Prior to her rescue, Reba lived in a filthy, cramped cage, producing hundreds of puppies that were sold on the internet and to pet stores around the midwest. She received little human contact or socialization, no veterinary care, and had lived her entire her life in a cage with wire flooring of which her feet and toes still bare scars.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you order through the links below, I will receive a small commission and be very grateful. 

Adopting and rescuing a puppy mill dog

Rescuing and Adopting A Puppy Mill Dog

Reba was rescued by P.A.W.S of Tinley Park along with 20 other dogs from the same puppy mill. Shelter staff report that she spent months walking anxiously in tiny circles. Because she had never experienced human touch, she cowered when anyone approached her. They assumed Reba would be a lifer.

When my friend Dianne saw Reba online, she was reminded instantly of her dog Becky who had passed away the month before. Although the shelter staff explained Reba’s special needs, Dianne admits that she didn’t know what she was getting into when she adopted Reba. She assumed that love would conquer all and do so, quickly.

Reba, a Chihuahua rescued from from a puppy mill

Reba spent the next year and a half living in Dianne’s closet. Progress was slow: there were tiny steps forward followed by giant steps backwards. Reba was afraid of everything, especially open spaces and human touch. She had no idea how to play or walk or even really be a dog.

After about 18 months, Dianne called the shelter and asked about adopting a second dog as a friend for Reba. The staff thought another dog might help and so Dianne packed up Reba and headed back to the shelter. When they arrived, Reba was placed in a small room with Lizzie, a lively two year old, Chihuahua-Spaniel mix and that’s when everything changed.

Reba, a rescued puppy mill dog, and her adopted sister Lizzie

Rehabilitating A Rescued Puppy Mill Dog

Reba and Lizzie formed an instant bond. Reba followed Lizzie around the room, her tail wagging for the first time possibly ever. Five months later, Lizzie has taught Reba how to play, go for walks, and even enjoy the some light petting. They now explore the neighborhood and even chase each other a bit around the apartment. Sometimes Reba’s inner demons return and she retreats to her closet, but she also greets Dianne in the morning and is starting to be more comfortable giving and receiving affection.

“Sometimes I see in her eyes that she really wants to trust me,” Dianne says, “but then the fear returns and she runs away. I probably don’t want to know much about her life in the mill. It must have been horrific and it haunts her to this day.”

Progress doesn’t always happen in a straight line. There are detours: life is messy and unpredictable and sometimes the detours become the new path. Wishing Reba, Lizzie and Dianne much peace and joy as they continue to heal and make their way through this complicated yet beautiful maze of life together.

A Chihuahua rescued from a puppy mill

8 Ways To Help Stop Puppy Mills

  1. Adopt your next pet.
  2. Don’t buy a puppy online or from a pet shop.
  3. Know the laws in your state and support legislation that regulates dog breeding.
  4. Write letters, make phones, and send emails asking government officials to pass stricter laws for pet stores as well as dog breeders.
  5. Elect animal friendly candidates.
  6. Report neglectful puppy stores and backyard breeders.
  7. Donate to organizations like Best Friends and National Mill Dog Rescue who are working to end the cruelty of puppy mills.
  8. Become an advocate and educate your friends, family, neighbors, and community about the cruelty of puppy mills and the importance of pet adoption.

You can find information and resources on rescuing and rehabilitating puppy mill dogs here. 

Rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting a Chihuahua dog from a puppy mill

Reba is part of The Specials, an award-winning blog series focusing on special needs pet adoption. Senior pets, those with chronic medical issues, behavioral or temperament concerns as well as overlooked or misunderstood breeds like Pits and black cats. If not for the courage and compassion of their adopters, many of these animals might have been euthanized in shelters or died alone and hungry on the streets. You can read more special needs adoption posts here.


  1. Mark Muller
    December 21, 2015 / 9:35 am

    I'm so glad that Reba survived this horror…. and I hope that all people who want a dog stay away from pets sold by stores or that evil puppy mills….

  2. Mitch and Molly
    December 21, 2015 / 10:08 am

    We are so very happy for Reba♥

  3. Emma
    December 21, 2015 / 11:41 am

    What a sweet story for a sad situation. They are both lucky to have such a good home and to have each other.

  4. Patrice and Higgins
    December 21, 2015 / 12:36 pm

    I is so glad that Reba is getting such a happy ever after story, but my mom is crying beclaws she is so sad that dogs are faced to live this way…. And Lizzie!!!! What a happee welcomed addition to Reba and her furever home!! <3~Higgins~Higgins

  5. Madi and Mom
    December 21, 2015 / 12:52 pm

    Yay for Dianne and Reba and Lizzie…love will conquer all. We have two adorable mini long haired Dachshund's in our neighborhood. They were adopted about a year apart. They are so tiny due to have babies when they were still babies. Their puppy mill was put out of business they went to a Dachshund rescue. They did not know how to play either and hide. Now they are ruling the roost in charge of every single square foot of the house. Hugs Madi and Mom

  6. Marg
    December 21, 2015 / 1:06 pm

    Wow,that was such a good story in that it had a good ending. What a wonderful person Diane is to stick with Reba. It is kind of like dealing with the feral cats. But Diane did such a good job of sticking with that little Reba. It just takes lots and lots of patience. Those puppy mills should all be closed.

  7. jen
    December 21, 2015 / 2:16 pm

    What a beautiful girl.It's so good to hear that she will be able to enjoy the rest of her life they way she should of from the beginning.

  8. Brian
    December 21, 2015 / 2:33 pm

    Poor Reba, that sweet scared girl. We're so glad she has Lizzie to help her.

  9. The Menagerie Mom
    December 21, 2015 / 3:09 pm

    Applause to Dianne for her steadfast patience and compassion towards Reba. I think there are a lot of people out there who would have, sadly, returned sweet Reba to the shelter rather than work to push through the results of her troubling past. Hooray to Dianne for continuing to work with Reba and find solutions, including the wonderful idea of adopting a friend for her. Reba and Lizzie are both beautiful ladies, and they are so lucky to have Dianne.Thank you for sharing another beautiful, touching story!

  10. Earl Lover
    December 21, 2015 / 3:36 pm

    What a precious doggy.

  11. Bailey
    December 21, 2015 / 4:34 pm

    What a wonderful idea in looking for a friend. We don't know the circumstances of Katy's background, but while she didn't look like she had been abused she had clearly been neglected and lacked socialization. Having Bailey here made a huge difference. He helped her learn the ropes and adjust the the freedoms she had here that clearly didn't exisit in her previous life.

  12. Ziggy Stardust
    December 21, 2015 / 4:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing these stories. Angel Sasha was a puppy mill survivor so they hold a very special place in Mommies heart.Ziggy Out!

  13. Hailey and Zaphod and their Lady
    December 21, 2015 / 4:48 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. I can only imagine how hard it is for Dianne, but it sounds like she is doing the best she can for Reba. Reba is clearly safe and loved and even if she is still fearful, that is something to celebrate!

  14. Talent Hounds
    December 21, 2015 / 5:33 pm

    Beautiful story, thanks for sharing. We love rescues and puppy mill survivors are extra special. What an inspiring happy tail.

  15. Sketching with Dogs
    December 21, 2015 / 6:40 pm

    Poor little Reba. Those people who run puppy mills really are the dregs of humanity. How do they live with themselves knowing what misery they put animals through.So glad she got on well with Lizzie and has come out of her shell.Lynne x

  16. stellaroselong
    December 21, 2015 / 7:41 pm

    Yay that Reba has such a smart momma, and they brought home Lizzie to help her mend. We have had 5 pups different ages right from the cage of the mill to our house, it is a bumpy road, with lots of turns, but oh what love they feel for us so fast, and even though they are sometimes frightened and not trustful, it does all work out, …it just takes time and love. stella rose's mommma

  17. Bella Roxy & Macdui
    December 21, 2015 / 8:05 pm

    Well…definitely a gold star to Dianne. We think few people would have perservered and tried to find a solution to give Reba the life she should have had from the beginning.

  18. Julie
    December 21, 2015 / 8:09 pm

    What a lovely story, luffs and hugs to Dianne for being such a special ladyLoves and licky kissesPrincess Leah xxx

  19. sprinkles
    December 21, 2015 / 8:29 pm

    My sweet little Chico came from a puppy mill as well. He spent the first year of his life there, then spent a year living with a family who didn't give him much of a better life. Now I have him. Thankfully he doesn't have any of the problems that Reba does. Dianne is to be commended for not giving up on Reba. I'm so glad that Lizzie seems to have given her new life.

  20. Jackie Bouchard
    December 21, 2015 / 9:53 pm

    I wish more people understood what puppy mills are like. Thank you to Dianne for giving Reba a safe and loving home! Poor little sweetie!

  21. Maxwell Faraday Richman
    December 21, 2015 / 10:21 pm

    "she had no idea how to play or walk or be a dog" – that's what our shelter sees every time they rescue dogs from puppy mills. Oh to be able to permanently shut those down! And thanks to Dianne for being a hero to Reba.

  22. Yamini MacLean
    December 21, 2015 / 10:56 pm

    Hari OMOMD this is a wonderfurs story – and all POTP for Reba's healing as she learns the true meaning Love (capital 'ell') with Dianne and her new pal Lizzie! Hugs and wags, YAM-aunty xxx

  23. Sometimes, Cats Herd You
    December 22, 2015 / 12:18 am

    What a touching paw. We hope that Reba's recovery continues now that she's in a wonderful, understanding home.

  24. rottrover
    December 22, 2015 / 1:25 am

    Reba and Lizzie ~ What a wonderful story of patience and love!

  25. LP
    December 22, 2015 / 1:26 am

    It's too sad to think how cruel some people can be. But it lifts your heart when you read of people like Dianne who are willing to do what is needed to let a bit of joy and love into a dog like Reba's life. May Dianne and her dear family all continue to love, bond and grow. the critters in the cottage xo

  26. Sully
    December 22, 2015 / 1:31 am

    Bless little Reba's heart. Aroo to you,Sully

  27. The Island Cats
    December 22, 2015 / 2:24 am

    Wow, what a story. Thank cod Reba was adopted by someone like Diane who had the patience to help her…and now Lizzie. We wish all the best for sweet Reba.

  28. M. K. Clinton
    December 22, 2015 / 3:25 am

    That is a wonderful story but so sad at the same time. I am glad that a new friend helped. Hopefully, one day the mental scars will heal. ♥ Those statistics (4 million) are heartbreaking.

  29. Cathy Keisha
    December 22, 2015 / 3:57 am

    What a journey for Reba. I purray she’s forget her past one day and live for the future. My peeps don’t know about my past since I wouldn’t let them touch me for the longest time. I still cower 10 years later if I see a hand coming toward me even though they’ve never struck me.

  30. Idaho PugRanch
    December 22, 2015 / 4:37 am

    This story really tugs at the heart. Bless Diane for having the patience and love to help Reba

  31. Tenacious Little Terrier
    December 22, 2015 / 7:59 pm

    Poor Reba. I'm glad she was rescued and found a great home and friend!

  32. Sweet William The Scot
    December 22, 2015 / 8:22 pm

    I just cringe when people have to have the perfect pet. Lee joined a Scottish Terrier Blog last month and the Blogger sent us an e-mail saying "I wanted you to know I won't be joining your followers as your Scot sadly misrepresents the breed". Lee was a transporter for awhile and one of the dogs we transported was a Scottie who was born without a back digit and a deformed paw. He leaned against her Scottie all the way from Ohio to Tennessee. Lee wanted him so bad but he was going to his forever home which turned out to be wonderful. Wishing you a Very Wonderful ChristmasSweet William The Scot

  33. Shannon Adams
    December 22, 2015 / 11:41 pm

    So happy for Reba. Puppy mills are awful. 🙁

  34. Tweedles -- that's me
    December 23, 2015 / 5:01 am

    We love to hear the good stories,,,,that show there is hope!!!lovetweedles

  35. Bocci
    December 23, 2015 / 4:19 pm

    Another great story, Kristen. We so hope that Reba continues her improvement with the help of Lizzie and her saintly parental unit. We hope to be able to do the same some day soon.

  36. Denise Gruzensky
    December 24, 2015 / 2:39 am

    I love this story! It warms my heart! I have a special place in my heart for special needs pets. I've had a rescued Diabetic & now a senior rescue with Cushing's!

  37. Marty the Manx
    December 29, 2015 / 1:28 am

    Bree our latest member of "the Gang" is a 6yr puppy mill survivor. She is doing fantastic considering what she has been through. I really feel that having Abbe and Anne has made a world of difference in how fast she has adapted to our little world. We have a long way to go, but when I see her wag her tail and lie and chew a bone happily, I know that she feels safe and loved and that is all that matters :)Marty's Mom

  38. MattieDog
    February 11, 2016 / 2:02 pm

    Having adopted a puppy mill survivor we agree – a little friend (or two) is a great benefit! As long as the adopter has the resources, there's lots of love to go around! Our little puppy mill girl, Kiki, was the sweetest little creature – so grateful and a silly little sprite!

  39. Galatea
    April 8, 2016 / 3:16 pm

    These doggies are so beautiful.

  40. Diane Holland
    April 8, 2016 / 11:41 pm

    Oh what a wonderful story! It's truly amazing how they connect and I am so glad she is coming out of her shell. It takes a lot of patience, but the loving reward is so worth it!

  41. Ruth Epstein
    April 9, 2016 / 7:13 am

    I wish we could put an end to the greed of breeders and all puppy mills would close down

  42. Cathy Armato
    April 10, 2016 / 3:32 am

    What a beautiful story of survival! Dianne is a really special person & a hero. I'm so glad she had the foresight to adopt a companion for Reba! I'm so happy for them.Love & biscuits,Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  43. Three Chatty Cats
    April 10, 2016 / 2:48 pm

    Such a sad story for Reba, but I am so happy that she has a happy ending. I can't understand how a human being can participate in puppy mills. It's such a horrific side of society. Thank you for bringing attention to such atrocities by highlighting the beautiful survivors.

  44. Daily Dog Tag
    April 11, 2016 / 12:00 am

    Thanks to Dianne for adopting Reba. I'm so pleased that Dianne thought of getting a second dog, it sounds like Reba has grown so much since Lizzie joined the family. While nothing can make up for the years in the puppy mill, I'm glad that Reba knows love now.

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