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My Pet World: Helping puppy mill dog learn to trust people

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

We adopted the sweetest Shih Tzu/Yorkie mix, puppy-mill survivor. She is 5 years old. She had no social skills at all; clearly, she had spent all her days in a crate. She is very submissive and easily frightened but has come a long way in the nine months since we adopted her. She has become very attached to me but is frightened of my husband. She won’t touch her food unless I’m present, even when she’s hungry.

She no longer shakes when my husband carries her through our apartment building to walk her. (It was obvious that she had never been walked...OMG....puppy mills!) He holds her leash. He speaks softly to her, and pets her when she’s sitting next to me. He offers her the tastiest treat, and she’ll carefully take them, as long as I’m present.

Do you have advice as to how we can help move her relationship forward with him?

–Cheryl, Long Beach, New York

Dear Cheryl,

If she is a puppy mill survivor and spent all her days in a crate, I assume she was the mother dog to many puppy-mill litters. If that is the case, she was probably never socialized with people, let alone other animals, so it’s natural for her to be afraid of the outside world. Your husband also may represent someone from her past that she was very afraid to be around.

While she may never be fully confident about the world around her, you can help her become more comfortable, especially with your husband. Step back from providing her daily care and let your husband take over feeding her, brushing her, and giving her treats. Even if you must be present for her to eat and take treats from your husband, over time, and with your encouragement, she should begin to trust your husband, so long as he follows a routine and is consistent with his behavior. Dogs thrive on routine, and if their caregivers are consistent with that routine as well as with their behavior (never yelling at or around the pet), then the dog will start to trust them.

In addition, buy a canine pheromone collar for her to wear and canine pheromone spray to spritz on your husband’s clothes. Pheromones mimic the natural pheromones mother dogs produce to calm their puppies and reduces the anxiousness of any age dog. Routine, consistency, and canine pheromones will help create the environment your husband needs to show this little dog that he can be trusted.


Dear Cathy,

Our 15-year-old kitty, Lily, has been diagnosed with megacolon. I had never heard of this, but her refusal to use the litter box for her poops lead us to the vet. He explained that her colon was the size of a dog's colon and very constipated. We have tried several treatments these past 16 weeks, but nothing is working. We also take her to the vet for a weekly enema. Today, we were gently reminded that the enema cannot continue because it can shred her colon. Do you have any ideas about how to continue treating her? We are not ready to throw in the towel and take that final step – unless that's the only step left.

–Sharon, Appleton, Wisconsin

Dear Sharon,

My heart goes out to you. It’s never easy navigating the health care of a pet with a serious medical condition. Megacolon is a condition that occurs in cats when the diameter of the colon becomes abnormally enlarged, which is usually caused by constipation. It is treatable, but not curable. I am not a veterinarian, so I can’t comment or recommend further treatment. But you should consider talking to another vet for a second opinion. This will give you peace of mind that you are doing all you can for her right now. Ask the doctors about treatments, quality of life for Lily, and how long cats can live with this issue.

I don’t know, but it’s possible, you may be facing an end of life decision here if nothing is helping her. Ask the question of your current vet or the second opinion vet to see what they say. Vets will sometimes dance around the topic but ask what they would do if this were their cat. That often brings a more honest answer. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and to press them for answers. Get as much information as possible since that is the only way you can make health decisions that are the best for your cat.


(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)




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