The first time I saw Stella she was emaciated and frightened.  Her backbone and hip bones could be seen at a distance and she looked more like a prehistoric creature than a dog.  When I would try to approach her, she would cower with her tail between her legs walking sideways and backwards at the same time.  One of her front legs appeared injured as she could only hobble around on three.

Stella was found running down a major highway by a neighbor living near the barn where I board my horse.  Although it was admirable that this neighbor picked up a stray dog, within days it was evident the little dog was, once again, being neglected.  There was something very haunting about Stella.  When she looked at me her eyes were pleading for help.  And every time I left that little dog, I knew she thought her plea had fallen on deaf ears.

On August 10th, the hottest day of the year in 2009 (heat index 109), I found Stella wandering through the barn, no one around, no water, and obviously dehydrated.  I prayed, went to the neighbor, knocked on the door and begged them to let me have or buy her.  I told them she reminded me of my first dog (an honorable lie) and I know it sounded “crazy” but I just had to have her.  So they agreed to sell Stella to me for $100.

When I got in my car with Stella in my arms I cried all the way to the veterinarian.  I know it may sound silly to some, but it was as if the world stopped to shine its light on Stella.  For a moment, all the goodness in the universe joined together to help a little creature of God and blessed and entrusted me with her care.

After Stella’s examination at the vet, it was determined she was underweight, dehydrated, positive for tick-borne illness (her coat had to be shaved for removable of over 100 ticks) and VERY PREGNANT!  Weighing in at only 8.4 pounds, 7 weeks pregnant, I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed.  How was I going to find homes for these pups in today’s economy…I didn’t know.  All I knew was that I was Stella’s keeper no matter what.

After 13 days of staying up through the nights, worried about the delivery, Stella gave birth to 3 males and a female runt weighing-in just over 2 ounces.  Stella never made a sound perhaps because there had never been anyone to heed her cries.  To have been so neglected, she gave her undivided attention to her pups…the only things in life she loved and that loved her back…only to be taken away time and time again.

Since then it’s been determined, by veterinary specialists, she was either a puppy mill dog or the result of a backyard breeder specializing in “designer dogs.“  The only difference in the two is size; however, the conditions are often just as horrific.  There were at least 3 different sires.  She suffers from seizures (controlled with medication) due to exposure to distemper with inadequate vaccinations.  At the age of 2, she had at least 2 to 3 litters.

Her leg is permanently deformed due to constant caging and most days walks on just three legs.  Corrective surgery is not recommended as the benefit does not outweigh the risk.  She was on tranquilizers for 2 years because she is was afraid of everything; the sun, grass, wind, feeding bowls, and, mostly, humans.  My fingers are her “toys“ as the stuffed creatures from the pet shop are foreign and frightening to her.

She tries to lick saliva out of my mouth to let me know she’s thirsty indicating that her only source of moisture was from the mouths of other dogs.  She is still afraid to drink or eat from a bowl.  Puppy mills throw gruel into cages as bowls are too much trouble.  She graduated from an eye dropper to a small cup which I hold for her to drink.  I still hand-feed her every morning and evening as she will not eat on her own due to anorexia.

Stella no longer limits herself to a pillow on the bed all day and night long, as it’s probably the same size as the cage she lived in most of her short life, but walks around the house and yard (supervised) exploring.  And, depending on the day, the sun on her face and the grass at her feet can actually be a good thing.  Stella’s recovery will probably be a process encompassing most of her life.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will be there to encourage every step she takes forward and comfort her every step she takes backwards.  And when all is said and done, I am the lucky one.

— Robin from Wake Forest, NC