Those of us who love dogs know that each dog is special and unique; each dog is an individual. But every so often, a dog that affects us in extraordinary ways comes into our lives. For whatever reason, these special puppy mill dogs change how we see our world.
Esther is one of those dogs. The beginning of her story is one we’ve heard often and one we dread hearing again. After surviving years of isolation and mistreatment, her sadness and her terror seem to touch something inside every human she met.
Luckily for her, Esther found one human who changed the way she saw the world, and changed the way she was in it. Because of this one human, Esther is now living a new life.
Esther’s story is one of a true transformation, for both Esther and the humans who love her. And we promise that it has a happy ending. But it does have a tough beginning.
A bad beginning
There are not a lot of details known about Esther’s early life except that she was subjected to years of neglect and abuse in a puppy mill. Rescued by National Mill Dog Rescue of Peyton, CO, it took eight months of consistent care for her to be restored to a healthy weight.
Esther had much more difficulty adjusting emotionally. One of her rescuers said that she must have gone through something much worse than a lack of socialization. She said it must have been truly traumatic because she had never seen a dog so terrified.
Esther was so frightened of people that even after spending eight months at the rescue, she would still cower in the corner of her run when people approached, trembling with fear and urinating uncontrollably. Her obvious sweetness shone through her equally obvious fear, and it was this determined goodness that won the hearts of her rescue team. They began to look for a way to give her a better future.
Enter the Prison Trained K9 Companion Program. This was Esther’s real chance at a new life. Begun in 2002 by Debi Stevens, the program gives shelter animals and other dogs preparation and training for living as companion animals. Debi goes into shelters and often retrieves the dogs who have the least time left, the ones who are due to be euthanized, and she sends them to prison—a human prison.
“These dogs are throwaway dogs,” she says. “The people that dropped them off at the shelter knew there was a chance that their dog might be euthanized. My offenders, who are basically castaway people, take these castaway dogs, and turn them into family pets.”
The prison is home to offenders who have committed crimes ranging from white collar offenses to murders. But no matter how serious or slight the crimes, in order to serve their sentences, they must be isolated from society. And because of this, they think they have little to contribute to the world.
But watch them with the dogs and you’ll see people who are finding a purpose within themselves. And the dogs return the favor. These special dogs give their offender prison trainers something rare. The dogs see their trainers as they are right now—not for what they’ve done in the past.
The staff of the National Mill Dog Rescue staff sadly got ready to say farewell to Esther. After placing Esther in the back of a van, the K-9 program volunteer turned to a tear-stained worker and said, “I think we can help her.” So with slightly better spirits, they all waved good bye to a dog that quietly occupied such a large part of their hearts.
One can’t help but wonder what Esther was thinking as the van took her to another new place. She couldn’t have known that she was about to reach a pivotal point in her life.
At the big house
Enter Jason Mayo. Jason was an offender and prison trainer with the K-9 prison program. His love for Esther was evident every time he spoke about her. “She was a special dog,” he says, smiling at the thought of her.
Jason was the human who made such a difference in how Esther perceived her world. She was paired with Jason soon after her arrival at the prison, and he began her training immediately.
For the next five weeks, she was constantly interacting with Jason and receiving attention from other people. Along with Jason’s patience and kindness, this constant exposure to humans began to help reduce her distrust of them.
The castaway human showed the castaway dog her own value, and she returned the favor. These animals give back just as much as they can to their offender trainers. The prison offenders feel needed by their canine charges, and appreciated for what they can offer. Even though they are offenders, they are still people who are trying to do good things for dogs.
Partings are always hard but they’re especially tough when the bond between a dog and trainer is so strong. After five weeks, Esther was ready to go to her new home. No words were needed as Jason said good bye to Esther–the love between them was tangible.
The fairytale ending
Esther’s new family was a loving couple who had previously adopted another dog through the K-9 program. They were looking for a second dog to welcome into their home when they learned about Esther.
Esther met her new family soon after leaving the prison. Although was still shy of the couple who adopted her, she soon grew to love and trust her new humans.
Her new family did everything they could to ensure she felt welcome and safe. In fact they actually brought their first adoptee back to prison so Jason could work with both animals, ensuring that both dogs were at ease with each other and comfortable with their roles in the family.
The dogs became great friends and both are doing quite well. Esther has grown into a very happy, spirited and well-adjusted dog. Thanks to Jason and scores of other people who cared so deeply about her, and her family, Esther is now able to be the best version of herself—the best Esther she can be.
No dog can ask for more than that.
Although Esther’s story ended happily, there are still thousands of dogs who are just as deserving of a new home but may not have the life-changing opportunity offered to Esther. Volunteering for K-9 prison programs and/or supporting them in a charitable way can be the input needed to give a new life to just one dog—a dog like Esther. A simple Google search will reveal the canine rehabilitation programs offered in your city or state.
Whether a rehabilitation program is offered through a prison or a shelter, the end result is the same. Precious lives are saved instead of being thrown away –and that’s all that matters.