Little Teddy spent the first seven long years of his life in a wire mesh cage housed in a commercial breeding facility. Until his rescue from a Kansas puppy mill, he had never set foot on grass or known the comfort of a loving touch. Teddy was a breeding dog used to sire pups, a cog in the wheel of a puppy mill churning out the puppies you see in pet store windows. (There is heartbreak behind those little furry faces for sale in pet stores, believe it.) The sad fact is that Teddy’s story is not uncommon—there are legion Teddys out there, the endless days turning to years as the wire mesh cuts into their feet, the least of the ailments most mill dogs suffer.

But! Teddy was one of the lucky ones—this wasn’t the totality of his story. At age seven, Teddy’s real life was about to start. National Mill Dog Rescue (NMDR), an amazing non-profit dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of mill dogs, plucked him and other past-their-prime breeding dogs from the Kansas puppy mill housing them and set them on a path to a new beginning.

Michele Burchfield, a volunteer with NMDR, was there the day Teddy’s rescue went through, helping with the paperwork, the weighing of the dogs, the photos. She went to visit Teddy daily and this little dog, completely unaccustomed to kindness and human companionship, chose her. “He bonded with me from day one… he had never had his own 'person' and once he found me—that was it!” Michelle says. Thus, five days after his rescue, Teddy, along with his little soul mate Gwinnie, another mill rescue, went home with Michelle to begin a new life. 

It was a journey. Both dogs were extremely thin, very scared, and completely un-socialized. Teddy had eye ulcers and rotting teeth, a condition very typical of puppy mill dogs who receive little to no veterinary care, along with scars on the top of his nose and small chunks missing from both of his ears, possibly from cage fights or frostbite. Gwinnie suffered pyometra and hernias from the countless litters she had borne. And both dogs had to learn about life outside the cage. Michelle shares, “all the experiences that a typical dog learns as a puppy were brand new…they had to learn about the outdoors, trust, belly rubs, stairs, drinking from a bowl (rather than a lick-it water bottle), leashes, doorways, mirrors, treats, and love.”

Shortly after rescuing Teddy and Gwinnie, Michelle started a Facebook page to spread awareness about puppy mills, sharing posts and videos in hopes of inspiring others to take a chance on a senior rescue dog.

“Rescue dogs can learn and can love, even if they are senior dogs,” Michelle says. “For Teddy, life began at seven, when he was rescued and adopted.”

Teddy has gone on to become an active ambassador for National Mill Dog Rescue. He currently has over 27,000 fans that follow his page and share his stories with the world. Along with his best buddy Harley, another puppy mill survivor featured on the cover of the fall 2014 issue of Modern Dog magazine, Teddy helps rescue other dogs from puppy mills, actually traveling with the rescue team, and raises funds and awareness about puppy mills through the initiative Harley to the Rescue.

Not that it’s all a picnic. Michelle notes that puppy mill survivors can be challenging to adopt after a lifetime in a cage. But many, like Teddy, are starving to learn about love and freedom and to find their own special person, regardless of how many years they were mill dogs. As Michelle asserts, after years of neglect and producing a profit for puppy mills and pet stores these dogs deserve a life in a home.

“I've had many dogs over the years,” says Michelle, “but Teddy has truly taught me about resilience, forgiveness, and unconditional love—and that it can happen regardless of how old the dog is when you adopt him!”

Find out more about Teddy & National Mill Dog Rescue:

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