Have you ever wondered what life in a puppy mill does to a dog?
You need only click on the stunning new website of A Tail to Tell puppy mill rescue and peer into the eyes of a puppy mill survivor.
Volunteers with A Tail to Tell have been traveling the back roads of Lancaster County and beyond picking up the battered breeding dogs and unsold puppies from Pennsylvania's puppy mills for most of the last decade.
Their old website was a hodge-podge of text and snap shot images.
Pet photographer Melody McFarland has transformed their site with her exceptionally keen eye, stellar design ability and talented writing skills.
A Tail to Tell not only rescues, rehabilitates and rehomes some 500 puppy mill survivors each year, but now it has a world class web site to educate the public about puppy mills and the special challenges of putting the "dog" back in puppy mill dogs.
The page describing what a puppy mill is may well be the best explanation of commercial breeding kennels that I have seen in six years of covering this issue.
The seering images, from stark rows of rabbit hutches housing dogs to the individual eyes of the tiny former puppy-making machines, are at once inspiring and heartbreaking.
Check out the page in their adoption section on characteristics of a puppy mill dog. Again, one of the best-written descriptions I have seen outlining the behaviors common in puppy mills dogs such as fear of hands, aversion to eye contact and fear of food.
The video below - shot by McFarland - captures one of the most heart-wrenching scenes. At first glance the image could have come from a Mary Cassatt painting; a little girl with flowing brown hair and a bundle of bouncing puppies playing in the grass.
But it isn't. Far from it.
The puppies, just ten months old then but past their pet store expiration date, behave like feral dogs, completely baffled about how to respond to the little girl and completely disoriented.
A Tail to Tell founder, Cindy Myers, told me these puppies, among them Ren pictured above, had been kept in the back of a dark barn in Lancaster County with virtually no human contact. Unable to sell them, they were no longer of value, so the kennel operator unloaded them on A Tail to Tell.
Teaching them to trust is a long process and they still must be picked up and carried to the grass (the result of nearly a year living on wire), but Cindy says they are making progress, like all the dogs in their care, learning to be a dog again.
Photo/Ren/Melody McFarland Photography