Over a year ago, Helen and Rob McMillian brought Maddy, a five-year-old English Shepherd, into their home. She was part of a hoarder situation in Montana. About 225 dogs were found living in appalling conditions. At the time, it was the largest single-breed rescue in U.S. history. Maddy was feral – completely wild and undomesticated. She was in charge of finding her own food, protecting herself and finding shelter to stay warm. She was malnourished to the point she stopped growing. She learned to trust no one, humans nor dogs. The rescuers were unsure if she could ever learn to live with people and be a normal dog. After she was rescued, a volunteer taught Maddy to walk on a leash, eat with people nearby, and basic obedience. It’s been a tale of two steps forward, one step back ever since. Helen and Rob refuse to give up on the beautiful girl. After all, they have seen glimpses of what she can be and every day she makes huge strides getting there.
When a dog comes from such a primitive situation, it’s unclear how they will react to every day sights and sounds. Rob McMillian says, “ Living apart from humans, she had yet to learn that the coffee grinder isn't a minion of Satan, that squeaky balls won't cause a frenzy of teeth and biting, and, most importantly, that men can be trusted. We learned -- mostly, I learned, the hard way (I lost count of the bites) -- about what caused her to freak out (squeaky balls, the other two dogs getting excited), about management (crates, leashes, and baby gates), and generally, how to wear down her fears and reactivity by getting her in her head.” It takes a very special person to be willing to go to those lengths.
McMillian says, “We got help from the many volunteers working online with the National English Shepherd Rescue. We hired a local trainer. We work every day together, twice a day, Maddy and I, on basic obedience. I try to teach her something new each week. She's a smart little girl -- English Shepherds are a parallel, and, some say, predecessor breed to Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. She learns quickly: a blessing and a curse, as she can readily pick up new behaviors we teach her, but she also taught herself how to open closed doors, strictly from watching us.” That’s one smart dog.
I recently got to meet this special pup. I was forewarned about the potential biting or fearfulness. I must say I was a little apprehensive, especially because some well socialized dogs are afraid of my camera. Maddy might think it was something menacing and ferocious and go into attack mode. She was a perfect angel and we hit it off right away. I also got to meet her daughter, Libby, also rescued from the horder and Romeo the McMillian’s other dog. It brought tears to my eyes seeing her romp and play, knowing that she came from such squalid beginnings.
I asked Rob if he and Helen had any regrets bringing Maddy into their home. His answer an emphatic absolutely not. He says without any hesitation, “Snuggling at night before we go to bed, and in the morning, happy, sweet kisses and tail wags are so rewarding. And when we train together, seeing her boundless, incandescent joy. It has been worth every scab.”