When we think of what life should be like for dogs, the image is almost always filled with nothing but happiness. A world filled with toys and playtime, plenty of space to run, and of course, a human best friend who does anything and everything to make their four-legged bestie feel loved. This might be the case for many lucky pups, but for some, life is the exact opposite.

For dogs in puppy mills, life is nothing but sheer misery thanks to their owners. These dogs are viewed as commodities and turned into puppy producing machines to fuel the demand for perfect puppies in pet stores. Breeding dogs spend their entire lives in a small cage, deprived of all their basic needs, including medical care and even clean water and food. The puppies born in mills are taken from their parents shortly after being weaned and sent off to pet stores across the country where they will sit and “look cute” in the windows until someone decides to purchase them. Sadly, the sale of these pups only goes back to fuel the abuse of their parents.

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Countless investigations and rescue missions have revealed the true horror of puppy mills. While countless dogs have been saved from puppy mills thanks to the work of organizations like National Mill Dog Rescue, when they are finally free, they often struggle to adjust to their new lives, still holding on to the trauma of their past. Many dogs rescued from mills are terrified of humans, not house trained, and suffer from debilitating illnesses or injuries. Merle was one of these dogs.

When National Mill Dog Rescue saved Merle three years ago, he was covered with painfully matted fur. As a result of the pain from his mats, Merle would bite anyone who touched him.

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His rescuers spent hours cleaning Merle and giving him a haircut. When they finally finished, they realized he had gorgeous blue eyes, which had been entirely obstructed by his fur previously.

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After a full grooming treatment, Merle was an entirely new pup. Soon he was adopted by a kind young couple, but the trauma of his past came along with him. Emily Taylor, Merle’s new mom explains, “He didn’t know how to use the stairs, he was terrified of door thresholds, he didn’t understand what treats were, he hated guitar cases, he squatted to pee (rather than lifting his leg), he had never run around on green grass, he puked every time we rode in the car (regardless of the time traveled), he had accidents indoors, and mostly he craved love and attention.”

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Worst of all, Merle was scared of Emily’s fiancé, Aaron, and took nearly six months to even warm up to him.

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But Emily and Aaron refused to give up on this pup and three years later – on the anniversary of his adoption – Merle is thriving! Emily and Aaron are very active and take Merle with them everywhere. From mountain trails to cross-country skiing, Merle is the go-to companion.

Emily writes, “When we go backpacking, he’s right there with us on the trail. When we hike mountains, he’s the first to sniff the air at the summit. A month ago was the first time we saw Merle deliberately jump into a pool of water in a river and swim across.”

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Best of all, Merle is now madly in love with Aaron, no longer has accidents, and has become a truly content and loved little dog. Looking at him, you would never believe he spent the first year and a half of his life trapped inside a puppy mill cage.

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We can all help dogs like Merle by always choosing to adopt and not shop for pets. With six to eight million dogs and cats entering the shelter system every year, there is no reason why dogs should ever be sold in pet stores – especially considering what has to happen to get them there.

To learn more about National Mill Dog Rescue and their incredible work, click here.

All image source: National Mill Dog Rescue