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He spent a little more than half his life in a cage.

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He grew up under conditions so bad that they haunted him the rest of his life. In his early life, he never learned how to play, he never felt love, he never had clean water or enough food or basic care. He never got to lie in the grass or take a walk. All he knew was fear. Of all the things he feared, human were the worst. They could be counted on to hurt and hurt and hurt.

There are many dogs in puppy mills and all of them live in poor conditions. But some live in the worst conditions of all. He was one of those dogs. He was lucky though, because the place where he was tortured was closed and he went to a shelter.

He was withdrawn, almost catatonic, in his fear. The shelter recognized that he wasn't a good candidate for adoption and he miraculously got transferred to a private rescue organization rather than being put to sleep. It was a one-woman operation and she had around 40 dogs in her care. He needed more attention than she could give, but how do you find a home for a dog who is terribly, terribly afraid of people even 9 months after leaving the puppy mill?

It had been a year since her soul-mate died. She was broken and the only thing keeping her going was her dog, Rusty. Her roommate moved out and took her dog with her and Rusty was home alone all day. Initially all she thought she wanted was a companion for him. He was a chihuahua/dachshund mix and her first thought was she would adopt a little girl chihuahua to keep him company. Not for her, no she wasn't ready to  love again, but Rusty needed a friend.  She thought it best if she saved a life rather than buying a dog, so she went to the local shelter. There weren't any small dogs there at that point in time, so she went looking elsewhere and one night, while surfing the Internet, she was mesmerized by a pair of dark brown eyes. She could see the hell he had gone through in those eyes. She recognized the look because she wore a version of it herself.

So the woman with the broken heart went to meet the dog with the broken spirit.

She sat on the kitchen floor and talked to the rescue lady. Christopher was in the kitchen, too, but he stayed well away from both the stranger and the person he knew. The strange lady never tried to touch him and never looked at him directly.

After a couple of hours he managed to get up enough courage to get about 8 feet away. In the meantime, the two women talked. They talked about the other abused dogs the lady had lived with. They talked about the abuse she had gone through as a child. They talked about her grief and about how she adopted Rusty even though they thought he was mean, but he was really just scared. They talked for hours. They talked about Christopher's background a bit, but the rescue lady would only say it was the worst place she had ever seen.  The lady knew then how horrific a place he had come from. And he had spent 6 years there with no care, no love and no hope. The lady had been in a place of no hope before, she knew what it felt like. They talked about how he had made almost no progress in the 9 months since his rescue. They talked about how it was possible he never would make progress.

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She knew he needed someone to take him in as he was, broken and hopeless and afraid.  She felt all the same emotions in her grief and thought, “Maybe I can't save myself, but I can save this little guy.” The rescue lady knew the lady understood that he would never be a normal dog, she knew that the lady could accept him for what he was and just concentrate on giving him a good home. If he made progress then that was a bonus. At least he would be cared for and safe and have another dog to be friends with. And then the rescue lady could take in another dog, keep another life from being thrown away.

So the lady adopted little Christopher and took him home. And they both started to heal.

The lady was me and that was a little more than four years ago. On Monday, Christopher died, one month shy of five years since his rescue.

The rescue lady was right, Christopher never was a normal dog. But he certainly made progress and the time he was free of the cage was full of happiness.

He loved the backyard. In his earlier days, there might be some tree branches that fell down in a storm and he would race around the yard jumping merrily over them.  In his later days, he especially enjoyed lying out in the noonday sun, basking in the warmth.

It took more than 2 years before he could walk on a leash without a full panic attack. It took more months before he started to enjoy the walks and still more months until he made the connection that he couldn't go for a walk unless he could be caught first. In the end though, he loved his walks.

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He made more progress in the last nine months of his life than any time before. He was finally starting to trust at least a little.

For years when he was patted, he held his muscles so stiff with fear that he could not grasp how good the pats themselves would feel. Bit by bit, he relaxed and he relaxed a bit more if soft music was playing. Eventually he enjoyed just a bit of patting and especially seemed to like it if I rubbed his ears. Still the only time he was ever fully relaxed was in death. But he had made miles of progress and at least he learned that it felt good to be patted.

At first he slept in the closet, then under the bed and finally, in his last year, he slept on the bed. He was gradually getting closer to me, but he never quite managed to cuddle.

He wasn't food oriented and the fear of people kept him from coming up for treats. Eventually he got so he would eat some treats if you put them in front of him, but only rarely would he take something from a human being's hand.

It was almost as if he had post-traumatic stress syndrome. You never knew when something would throw him back to a bad place and all the progress he had made would disappear, sometimes taking months to get back to the same place.  

Sometimes he wanted to greet me when I came home. And sometimes he even succeeded in doing so. More often, especially in the first years, he would take a step to greet me and then you could see the fear flare up in his eyes and he would circle away, then step forward to try again and then circle away. Sometimes he managed to push through the fear and come up and, just for millisecond, he would gently bump my hand with his nose. Occasionally he would even manage to wag his tail. When a dog like that touches you with his nose or wags his tail, it is an honor you will never forget.

Once he licked me and scared himself so badly that he hid for 6 hours. He never tried to lick me again even though the only bad things that happened were in his mind. Well, bad things in your mind can seem as real as real life.

Sometime early this year, I connected with the National Mill Dog Rescue and their trainer helped me out with Christopher. He made much more progress after she helped us and so he enjoyed the last nine months of his life more than I could have imagined a few years earlier.

I felt like we were on the brink of a major breakthrough, but time ran out on us. But as I held him while we waited for the vet to give him that final shot, his last conscious gesture was to lay his head on my chest. He finally understood what love was. He finally trusted a person. And then he was gone.

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The best thing I ever did in my life was adopt that scared little dog. Concentrating on his needs helped me heal my own wounded heart and there is no feeling better than knowing you made a difference, even if it is for only one life.

If Christopher's story touches you, please remember the price of that puppy in the pet store isn't paid in dollars, it's paid in pain and fear and hopelessness.  If you want a dog, please adopt one from a rescue or a shelter.

And if you want to honor the memory of Christopher, then consider making a donation to Harley to the Rescue ( They are going out on Sept 6 to save more dogs like Christopher. Or you could help by buying a t-shirt this week at Or donate to the good folks at National Mill Dog Rescue directly at You could even, if you want to make a difference, adopt one of the dogs they rescue. You might even name him Christopher.

And whatever you do, remember that every day is precious and that love is the most important thing in the universe.

The rec list! Thank you. If Christopher's story helps even one more dog get rescued, then this diary has served its purpose. Please do try to donate a little to NMDR. They are good people who do good work. And if you don't have any money, vote for them here, the 50,000 prize woudl save a lot of dogs:

Originally posted to HLGEM 1 on Wed Aug 28, 2013 at 04:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Grieving Room and PWB Peeps.

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