Emily: From victim to therapy dog

Emily: From victim to therapy dog

After her painful early years in a puppy mill, Emily now makes sick children smile.

July 23, 2019 By Louise Dugas

Saturdays are special at the BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. Emily, a beautiful Bernese mountain dog, and her owner, Christopher Ness, come to the hospital to bring comfort to young patients. “Emily has strong maternal instincts, she’s kind to puppies, children and the elderly,” says Christopher, a lawyer from Richmond, British Columbia. “In her eyes, I see pure and unconditional love.” Emily’s kindness is all the more exceptional given the fact that her early years weren’t the easiest. Now 5 years of age, in February 2016 she was one of the 66 dogs freed by the SPCA from a puppy mill in Langley, BC.

Hell at the puppy mill

Dogs—most sick—were crammed in cages, soaking in their own urine and feces. Some even had broken legs or a missing ear or eye. “I remember an older female named Fanny Rae,” says Christopher, who was volunteering at the SPCA at the time of the rescue. “I think she was 12 years old and had produced litter after litter. She was emaciated. Barely alive.”

“Emily was extremely fearful, yet she loved attention and craved human affection,” he says. “I asked BC SPCA staff member if any of the dogs might be suitable to take to my office. She introduced me to Emily, who immediately struck me as the perfect candidate. I walked her and saw how gentle she was. But the SPCA had warned us adoption families that puppy mill dogs would never be completely normal—they’d always need special care.” In Emily’s case, the future proved to be much brighter than originally anticipated, despite her lengthy rehab.

The light at the end of the tunnel

“In the beginning, she couldn’t drink or eat if I was in the same room,” Christopher remembers. “She was very fearful. When I raised my hand to pet her, she would flinch and draw back. It took months before she stopped flinching. When a living being has suffered like that, we tend to overprotect them, when all they really need is encouragement. When Emily was startled by a sound, I had to pretend nothing happened and not go running to her to reassure her. She had to understand that I was there, that there was no danger, and to keep calm and carry on. I had to set the example. Slowly but surely, she learned to trust me and became more self-assured.” But there were some funny moments, too. “At first, she watched me constantly because she wanted to please me at all costs. She came to understand that I praised her when she sat obediently in front of me. So, when we’d walk down the street, she’d take a few steps and then sit down every five seconds,” says Christopher, laughing. “Then she’d look at me as if to say: ‘Look what a good girl I am!’ It took a while before we were able to go for a nice long walk.”

Love and patience healed Emily’s wounds. And they brought the other 65 Langley dogs back to life as well. “I saw the other victims with their new families,” recalls Christopher. “A few dogs still had emotional scars and remained timid, but I couldn’t believe how many were actually doing pretty well. Last year, I even saw Fanny Rae—and she was running! She has become a therapy dog, too. I am told that Emily inspired her! Dogs can be so resilient, it’s amazing!”

Cover photo : Emily

Photo #1 : Emily

Photo #2 : Emily, first time in a pet store

Photo #3 : Chris and Emily-first time at the beach


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