Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Aspen's Story: Unadoptable? Says Who?

This is Aspen. He was one of the last remaining Bichon Frises from the Puppy Haven buyout by Wisconsin Humane Society in 2008. As controversial as this was,  it did result in the closure of this breeding facility and you can read more about it here in the Milwaukee Magazine article entitled  Puppy Hell.

Aspen didn't meet the criteria for adoptability at a local shelter. He was too shy. He was not fear aggressive and would never have bitten anyone.  He was just incredibly shy and shut down. He was transferred to Bichon and Little Buddies Rescue in Mukwonago to have another chance at life.

Aspen just needed some time and some understanding. Car rides were first because he had no idea how to walk on a leash.  He would sit in his little seat belt and we'd go to the McDonald's drive thru for a coffee. Then I'd park and hold him in my lap so that he could watch the people coming and going from McDonalds and the grocery store. It was the first time I ever saw any life in his eyes. One of my friends said - "It's like he has no soul. There is nothing when you look into his eyes."

I used to take him back and forth from the rescue but pretty soon I was taking him home for sleepovers. He enjoyed those a lot. He also loved the dog park and it was the first time I ever saw him run. It was also the first time the other dog park patrons saw me run (not a pretty sight). I would run across the open field yelling "Run, Aspen Run!" trying to encourage his little stiff legs to go faster than a trot.

His eyes started to light up for meals and treats and pretty soon he was jumping through a hula hoop and running through an agility tunnel in our backyard.

I remember telling prospective adopters "Aspen is really, really shy, but he knows how to jump through a hoop!'' in my best salespitch-type voice. A useful life skill, indeed.

By this time Aspen was living full-time at our house. We needed to make arrangements for our dogs while we went on our fall vacation to Best Friends and the No More Homeless Pets conference. An interested family said they would try him at their home while I was gone.

Aspen struck it rich. The wonderful, caring family decided he was a perfect fit for their quiet household and lifestyle.  Although I miss him tremendously, he is living the life he deserves. Something to erase those first five or so years of his life that must have been so horrible. The years that removed any expression, any "soul" from his eyes.

So here are some pictures of Aspen with his new family who don't think of him as unadoptable, just adorable.

Aspen's first Halloween

Chillin' out.

Aspen waiting for his dinner in a motel room while on vacation.

Aspen's first camping trip!

And here is a picture of an aspen tree taken at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in the fall. It stood out glowing yellow on the hillside,  a reminder to me that a dog that was once "unadoptable" is now the shining light of a family's life.


  1. We are the lucky family who adopted Aspen. A gigantic thank you to Kathy for investing time, energy and love in him. Thank you also for believing in him. Aspen has made wonderful progress since we adopted him. I view it as slowly peeling back layers to reveal his true personality. He loves walks, car rides, eating!, going to farmers markets, being scratched, being groomed at Spa Paw & Tail (including a blueberry facial :>) and more eating! He's even been to Door County, camping and Lambeau Field. We love him dearly and couldn't imagine our lives without him. He was definitely adoptable!!

  2. What a happy success story! Thank you so much for sharing. I love to see the shy wallflowers blossom so beautifully. :o)

  3. This is a wonderful story and a reminder that, with puppy mill dogs, all the love and feeling is buried deep inside of them and is waiting to come out.

  4. Great story...just goes to show that not all animal shelters know the truth. I believe given enough time all animals are adoptable if you just don't give up on them.

  5. You are absolutely right Lynn nice to read a happy ending story but then, there are the 'other' little Dogs and Cats just waiting...

  6. Wonderful happy tail! I was unaware of the Amish/Mennonite puppy mill connection. We run a dairy farm service business and have limited dealings with an Amish farmer in TN. This makes me wonder if that area is involved in this horrible occupation as well.

  7. Oh this was SUCH a wonderful story! Go Aspen!

  8. What a great story! So glad he found a loving home, that smile of his speaks volumes!

  9. Kathy, Aspen is alive and thriving today because of you and the love and patience you showed to this lovely dog. It's because of people like you that these lovely animals are able to live the life they are entitled to. Dream of the day that no animal is abused, neglected, or mistreated in any way. The culprits should face much harsher punishment.

  10. I love the camping picture!!!

  11. There is no quality of *LOVE* like that of a rescue dog with a hard story to tell. Puppies are delightful but older rescues have such a deep soul. To watch the transformation in a dog like Aspen is it's own reward.

  12. I love this post.

    My friend found 2 Pit Bulls running the streets South Central Los Angeles last year. Yup, he picked them up, knowing their fate if he did not. And, knowing me, he asked for my help. I am not a rescue but have 5 rescued dogs. I couldn't bring them home so they, now called Daisy and Ozzy, were put into a kennel.

    It was easy to tell that they were a "breeding pair"; Daisy was filled with milk and no puppies to be found. It was also clear that they had not been socialized, trained, on a leash or loved. In spite of this, you could tell that they were special dogs. I had them spayed and neutered and vetted them with the hopes of finding them a home.

    It was clear that they would need some training in order for a potential adopter to see their possibility. I took them to 3 different trainers who work with local rescues and specialize in pit bulls. The first one told me that they would take too much work and that I should euthanize them and help other dogs that had a better a chance. The 2nd one shared the same opinion only not as directly as the first. Sadly, I was considering this until I met the 3rd trainer, Brian Agnew. He met with me and taught me the skills that I needed to work with Daisy and Ozzy. I enlisted the help of a dog walker friend who worked with us socializing Daisy and Ozzy with her dogs. Having the support of these two people made all the difference in the world. Daisy and Ozzy also BLOSSOMED!

    Within a few months, Ozzy found an awesome home with a new mom. And although one year later, we are still searching for Daisy’s perfect home, I am confident that she will be an amazing addition to a family.

    Thank God you did not give up on Aspen! Thank God Brian did not give up on me! Thank God I did not give up on Ozzy! And so, I will not give up on Daisy. If you know of anyone looking for an awesome dog…

  13. Such a beautiful story! We've recently taken in a dog who was abandoned on our doorstep. Timber was scrawny and shy. Just a few days and he's put on some weight is responding well to all of us. Even my 1yo. :)

  14. Very wonderful! So happy that he now has a life he loves!

    By the way, do I see that he has reddish/pink feet and legs? Does he do a lot of licking? If the owner is interested in contacting me, I would help her with what is likely a diet problem to eliminate the discoloration and licking and possible other related issues he may have. (I am a long-time groomer, Bichon specialist, and have helped many clients with similar problems.) Contact me at, or message me on my facebook page, Red Carpet Grooming.

  15. The picture of him belly up tells everything - he feels safe, content, happy and most of all loved. Thank you for the great rescue and also thank you to the family who open their hearts to such a broken soul. God Bless you all. I pray for the day when we no longer have puppy mills. Check out the Adopt and Shop, not sure which city in California, but the greatest answer to stopping puppy mills Ive ever seen.

  16. I have a Bichon that I purchased from a Mennonite family, not knowing that they were running a puppy mill. Their story was they had one breeding pair and they bred once a year to supplement their meager farm income. The woman told me the parent dogs and all puppies were housed inside her home so they could be properly socialized by her and her husband and children. Well, Bella was flea-ridden and had worms. Within the first year she began having problems with one eye. Our vet gave us antibiotic drops, which seemed to take care of the redness and eye drainage. Then she began walking into things. She's a silly, happy dog so I just thought she wasn't paying attention where she was going. Then one day I saw her running towards the deck and attempting to jump up the one step to get there. Well, she was nowhere near it and I realized there was a problem. To simplify the story, she was taken to a vet eye specialist and diagnosed with juvenile cataracts, a hereditary and genetic situation. Surgery cost me $3500 (she had them in both eyes, although it was only visible in one) and she ended up with a detached retina and is blind in one eye now. She is now 6 yrs old and the love of our lives. We also have a puppy mill chihuahua and Bella took her over and mothered her from the start.

    Aspen's story was a thrill to read. I look forward to the day when all the shelters that euthanize animals will be shut down.

  17. What a wonderful story -- it put me in tears of gratitude for everyone involved. Two years ago, we adopted a six-year-old, semi-feral, abused Border Collie that had been rescued by Glen Highland Farm, a fabulous Border Collie sanctuary in upstate New York.

    Raleigh Wood (the "Wood" in his name is after the wonderful woman who fostered him for Glen Highland)has come a very long way -- he's moved from terror to trust. You all know what I mean.
    Kudos to everyone involved in rescuing and loving these very special spirits. They have much to teach us about OURSELVES, eh?
    -- Mary Huber

  18. I have (had) a dog from Wallace Haven…We lost our Gracie Dec. 14th. Sick on Monday passed away Wed. We saved her from a pet shop going out of business. Gracie was going to be sent back to the Wallace's. We spent thousands on this poor girl with her allergies. Bless the people that took this so called Wallace Haven down and help save the animals.

  19. This happens all the time. The Wisconsin Humane Society is full of incompetents who administer idiot temperament tests on these poor dogs and then kill them when they don't pass. We have a no-kill shelter and have gotten three dogs, in the last year, that Wisconsin Humane Society was going to kill. All three were great dogs and have gotten adopted.