China, a 15-year old Chihuahua, was shaking when she was taken out of her cage for the first time after years of forced reproduction in a Georgia puppy mill. It was partially because she was scared, partially because her legs couldn't support the weight of her body.
She has a tumor the size of a deck of cards on her back leg. She doesn't have teeth after years of malnutrition. Her eyes are gray and cloudy. She's basically skin and bones.
"Do you think she's feeling any love?" asked Susan Strell, a volunteer with The Home for Good Dog Rescue in Berkeley Heights, who wrapped China in a blanket and held her like a baby. She stopped shaking afer a while in her arms.
"At least she might feel some love for once in her life." Strell began to cry, it was too sad to look at China's face, she said.
China was brought from a closed puppy mill by Atlanta, Georgia to spend her final days in the loving home of Joann Mullen, a Hopewell resident who has set up a dog hospice in her house. She cares for several hospice dogs and when she heard China's story, she wanted to make her feel comfortable and loved after years of abuse.
The Home for Good Dog Rescue organized the transport from Georgia - Strell said she was up all night hoping China would survive the trip. The rescue matches dogs with foster homes so the dog is in a family environment and not in a kennel, and then sets up adoptions.
It was a life or death situaiton, Mullen said, as the puppy mill was going to put China down once it closed. But Mullen said she deserves to spend her last days comfortable, and away from the life that plagued her while in captivity.
Every few months for her 15 years, China would give birth to a new litter of puppies, which were sold by the Georgia breeder. She was hardly fed, never cleaned and forced to reproduce regularly.
Her conditions are common in puppy mills where dogs are bred for sale, said Gail Ryan, a volunteer with the rescue. "There is no end to the abuse," she said, pointing to pictures of cramped, stacked cages with dead dogs among the live ones.
Puppy mills, which are monitored by the United States Department of Agriculture, have 70 inspectors to check 4,500 facilities in the country. The regulation is that a cage needs to be six inches longer and six inches heigher than the dog so he or she can move. In some mills, cages are stacked so urine drips down from the top cages to the bottom, Ryan said.
There are no regulations for treatment for dogs sold over the internet, which isn't good enough, Ryan said.
That's why the rescue has a network of 40 foster homes throughout the area who take dogs out of their cages and let them into their homes until they can be adopted. The Home for Good rescue receives two to three transport shipments of dogs a month, with 30 dogs coming in for adoption. Most are coming from mills and are in need of a good home.
Scooter, a black lab at the rescue, was scheduled to be put down today, before he was taken by the rescue. He's been cleaned and checked and is waiting for adoption.
The rescue sets up medical care and checks for the dogs and make sure they are clean before adoption.
"They are dirty, scared and shaking," Strell said. "And we clean them up and love them. Here, they are loved.
For more information about adoptions and donations, visit www.homeforgooddogs.org.