BY MANETTE KOHLER, DVM, FREELANCE WRITER
Saying that Leine had a rough start in life would be a gross understatement. Despite his deplorable past, his story is one of love, patience and healing, beyond anything his rescuers would have ever imagined. Leine, a male Miniature Pinscher, spent his first two years in an Amish puppy mill in northern Wisconsin. Scarred over one-fourth of his body, a terrified Leine found himself at an auction where his life would make a drastic change for the better.
Leine was purchased that day by Elmbrook Humane Society for $45, a small price to pay to literally save a life. He spent a few weeks at the shelter for medical care, including healing his skin issues. “He was not just afraid at the shelter, he was truly petrified of his new surroundings,” says Carol Sumbry, Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and the Dog Training and Behavior Coordinator for Elmbrook Humane Society. She remembers giving him a bed with a high back that she thought would make him feel more secure, but he only hid behind it. She decided to foster Leine since he was so afraid at the shelter.
“Leine was not just shy,” says Sumbry. “He was terrified of life and people, especially men.” For months he would lose bladder and bowel control at the very sight of people. He also struggled with bouts of stress-related bowel issues. Sumbry kept a journal and during these early days and weeks with Leine she wrote the following: “This is the longest I have seen a mill dog remain so fearful. The whole world is scary for him. I sometimes worry if we are doing the right thing by saving him…he is so afraid.”
Sumbry focused on helping Leine feel safe. For Leine, having a covered crate with lots of bedding to burrow into provided this sense of safety, allowing him to begin the emotional and mental healing process. “Slowly, bit by bit, Leine moved away from his fears and moved forward to a life outside those kennel walls that terrified him and scarred him physically and emotionally,” says Sumbry. She was able to help him grow into a happy dog that enjoys life. She did this by having a lot of patience, making sure he felt safe, confidence boosting, trick training and slow socialization to the outside world, but there were many baby steps to get there.
“I eventually started moving him to other places in the house and in the car by using his comfort zone—his crate,” explains Sumbry. She also slowly taught him to use his brain with Kongs, food toys and enrichment. Slow handling and trust building, gentle massage, and tricks were slowly added. “I never did much trick training but he LOVED it and loved to learn,” Sumbry adds.
Along with the crucial need for safety, dogs need to be able to make choices and Sumbry allowed him to decide when he’d had enough interaction by allowing him access to his safe haven—his crate—which he still loves to this day.
“It was a long road but Leine came out of his shell and kept going!” shares Sumbry. Now 11 years old, Leine has moved beyond his sad past life and beyond Sumbry’s wildest dreams. “This breed,” adds Sumbry, “Is often referred to as the ‘King of the toys’ and now Leine sure takes that title seriously.” She now describes him as a spirited, feisty boy who enjoys biking, walking, playing, and, until recently, lure coursing, which he loved but had to give up due to his age and knee and back issues.
After five years of just learning to be a dog in our human world, Leine became a therapy dog. He visits senior homes, schools and camps and his is also a demo dog for classes Sumbry teaches. That’s not to say he doesn’t have some lasting negative effects of his life in the Amish puppy mill. According the Sumbry, “Sadly, to this day he can pick out a man wearing a hat and dark clothes in a crowd of many.” He is also afraid to be left outside alone so Sumbry accompanies him outside and, despite counterconditioning, he still has some issues.
“Although some of the ‘scars’, both physical and emotional, remain from the mill, Leine has come further than I ever imagined and he continues to teach me about life, dogs and their strength and resiliency,” says Sumbry. Hats off to the empathetic and giving souls, like Sumbry and Elmbrook Humane Society, who change the lives of innocent, damaged animals like Leine.