Best Animal Stories of 2023: Millie

Millie, or Momma Millie, as we like to call her, arrived at Lawrence Humane in March as a stray with no known family or home. Thin and scared, Millie didn’t want anyone to touch her for the first two weeks she was at the shelter. Every day, staff fed Millie, kept her kennel clean, and left her yummy treats each time they passed in hopes of building a positive relationship and earning her trust. Even though she was in a safe place, she just didn’t feel secure yet.

As time went by, Millie’s caretakers began to wonder if she might be pregnant. She seemed a little thicker in the middle, but she was getting fed well, so maybe she wasn’t? And if she’d put on a little weight, it wasn’t much. Still, with the possibility she MIGHT be pregnant, Lawrence Humane Animal Care and Behavior Teams worked to move the terrified dog who didn’t want to be touched into a quiet room where she COULD give birth, IF she really was pregnant.

In the quiet room we’ve come to call “the birthing suite,” Millie was buffered from barking and foot traffic. Three times a day, our Executive Director, Shannon, came into her room and passively cared for her, bringing food and water and cleaning her room, in hopes of showing Millie that good things happen when people enter her space. After a few days, Millie began to approach tentatively and sniff. Eventually, she took hand-fed treats. And when she finally allowed a leash to be slipped over her head, it was a breakthrough moment. She gained more confidence while on walks, accepted petting, and began to solicit more affection. She’d allowed herself to trust, and just in the nick of time – it was only 24 hours later that she began to show signs of being in labor.

Restless and panting heavily, Millie repositioned herself a hundred times, trying to get comfortable in her quiet room. Labor lasted for about 5 hours before we finally saw the first of 3 puppies born that night. Millie delivered one brown brindle boy who looked just like his mom, a black and white cherub of a boy, and a yellow and white little girl with a rounded smooshie nose that begged to be kissed. For a dog who’d been so scared when she arrived and had only just given her trust to one person, she’d been generous throughout the birthing process, allowing her trusted person to sit with her while she labored, and handle the puppies to check them over.

It’s not uncommon for a dog Millie’s size to have 8 pups or more. With only 3 babies, it’s no wonder we weren’t sure if she was pregnant or not. Millie’s babies quickly became healthy and extremely well-fed little milk monsters. Millie kept the babies and her room clean and learned to paw at the door to let staff know she needed a potty break. And during breaks from being an attentive mom, she expanded her circle of friends and caretakers.

After a few weeks, Millie and her brood went to foster care for socialization to allow them to get used to home life and to meet new people. Their foster mom, Katy, showed them how to play, cuddle, and learn boundaries. She gave them a foundation to prepare them for their future families. Once the puppies turned 8 weeks old, they were old enough for adoption and returned to the shelter to be matched with adopters. It didn’t take long for the puppies to find their forever families. In less than a week, each puppy started their next adventure in their new homes. All that remained was Momma Millie, waiting to find someone who would accept her into their loving family.

Fortunately, Millie’s foster mom, Katy was able to keep her in foster care for a bit longer, giving Millie a chance to develop her own sense of self in the post-puppy period.  Millie became more comfortable and confident, and, at times, demanding of attention.  She showed us she was playful, silly, and a whole lot of dog.  All of which was a far cry from the fearful, shutdown dog we first knew in the shelter.  Unfortunately, after a couple more months in foster care, and with no adoption prospects on the horizon, Millie had to come back to the shelter.  

At the shelter, we placed Millie on our adoption floor for potential adopters to see and meet her.  In the meantime we integrated Millie into playgroups for daily enrichment, and she became increasingly more comfortable with other dogs day-by-day.  All the while, our Executive Director kept a close watch over Millie, never forgetting the special connection they shared when Millie finally gave Shannon her trust 5 months ago.  She was determined to get Millie into a loving permanent home, or at least a great foster home in the interim.  Thankfully it wouldn’t be long before an opportunity presented itself.

In August, an application came in from a couple expressing interest in fostering a shelter dog in need of respite.  When the family came to meet prospects, Millie was the first dog pitched to the couple.  And to everyone’s delight, the couple was not put off by any of Millie’s quirks, like barking demands for attention, or spring-boarding off the couch.  In fact, they said it was something they were already experienced with and they were all in for Millie!  And with that, Millie was loaded up in their car and taken to her new foster home.

Upon arrival at her new foster home, Millie was greeted by a big labby girl named Nell (who seemed like a bit of a wild child herself), a tiny terrier named Woofs (who looked like a puppy but acted like an old man), and some cats (which she wasn’t too sure about, but definitely didn’t hate).  She also discovered a big comfy people bed, and, oh, the most incredible fenced-in backyard just made for running! 

Although shy at first, it wasn’t long before Millie found herself fully integrated in her new foster home.  She learned to exert her independence by taking herself to her bedroom for naptime, and she made fast friends with kitties Bill (a 15-yr-old asthmatic cat who likes to sit on top of Millie) and Cheese (a feral cat named for his cheese-like odor, who randomly walked into the house one day and never left). She learned that the humans will let her sleep in their bed no matter how “cozy” it gets, and best of all,  she found her truest friend in life, Nell.

With every update from Millie’s foster mom, our hearts grew.  Millie was meeting new people on walks and greeting visitors to the home, and there didn’t seem to be a shred of the shy girl she used to be.  She even jumped in a stranger’s lap and gave them a kiss!  When Millie’s foster mom, Rachael, said that Millie and Nell were cuddle buddies, and practically inseparable, getting into “little mischiefs” together, we secretly began to hope that somehow her foster family would decide they couldn’t imagine life without her.  Maybe it was the photo her foster family sent of Nell and Millie running under a rainbow sky that nearly did us in, but we just couldn’t bear the thought of Millie leaving this vibrant, loving, magical home she’d found herself in.

It seems we weren’t the only ones affected by all of the sweet moments between Millie and her foster family,  because in late August, we received the following message and photo from Rachael and Mark, Millie’s foster parents…

With the most joyful and resounding “yes,” from LHS staff, the adoption contract was signed and the pet ID tag was printed.  Millie was home.

Since Millie’s adoption in May, we continue to get the sweetest photos and updates from Millie’s family (you can never get enough of those). Rachael and Mark are as grateful to us as we are to them for making their family complete by the addition of Millie.  

This is a letter we received from Millie’s adopters, Rachael & Mark:

When we say it takes a village, we’re not kidding. From the care by several different departments at the shelter, to our Executive Director helping Millie birth her pups, to the foster who took a mom and her 3 puppies into her loving home and helped Millie raise her kids, to her new foster who took her in and ended up keeping her forever – Millie touched the hearts of so many humans and she is definitely a dog we will never forget. We hope every animal who enters our care can find their dream come true home too.

Millie is one of nearly 1,800 stray animals that are housed and cared for each year at Lawrence Humane. Whether it’s giving a pregnant pup a safe space to give birth and raise her puppies, or helping her build trust and confidence, our staff work to meet the individual needs of each animal we receive and move them on a pathway toward a positive outcome. 

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