Darla’s journey

Year after year, our rescue efforts have a transformative impact on the lives of homeless animals and the people who love them. On a special mission this spring – one of many missions carried out as part of our ongoing partnership with National Mill Dog Rescue – we saved the lives of 50 dogs and puppies, including a beautiful 7 year old Golden Retriever named Darlawhose trauma encapsulates both the cruelty of commercial breeding facilities and the power of education to provide hope.

Darla’s rescue transport consisted of dogs of varying ages and sizes – including Yorkshire Terriers, Dachshunds, Shih Tzus and more – all of whom were rescued from commercial breeding facilities in the Midwest. In such places, dogs are often confined in small cages, deprived of proper medical care, given minimal quantity and quality of food, and forced to produce litter after litter of puppies. Life on a commercial farm is a cruel existence, and most animals need time and medical care to heal physically and emotionally.

Our rescue team began caring for the Mobile Rescue Unit’s precious canine survivors as they returned to our Port Washington, NY campus. The process of building trust with human caregivers requires patience, and for older dogs like Darla, it’s even more difficult. Having spent her life in a cage, Darla’s interactions with humans have been limited. So when she joined our rescue team, she was understandably worried. But seeing her with the other dogs was truly magical. This gave us a sign that inside this sweet girl was a playful puppy yearning to be loved.

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When our mobile unit finally arrived at North Shore Animal League America, each dog underwent a thorough examination by our veterinary team and an evaluation by our pet behavior staff. The survivors were also cared for and given time to decompress and acclimate to a new environment where they received affection, attention and any medical procedures they needed, including sterilization. It was only a matter of time before these new pooches found a loving and responsible home.

Darla, however, still had a long way to go. While her body bears the marks of countless pregnancies, births and breastfeedings, her emotional scars are more abundant. Darla’s touching eyes captured the heart of Animal League America employee Carol Marchesano, who volunteered to welcome Darla. The first weeks were particularly difficult. Darla had never even walked on a leash. If someone looked into her eyes or tried to touch her, she would cower in fear. Everything was new and terrifying, including the steps, the doors, and the wind or the rustling of the leaves. “I am constantly baffled by Darla’s fear of everyday sights and sounds,” Carol said. “It makes me so sad to think about what she had to go through.”

Over time, Darla experienced many “firsts” as she learned to trust. Shown above is Darla’s first treat from Carol and her first day at the spa. Below is Darla’s first time on the couch.

Carol continued to work with Darla, building more trust along the way. It was a slow process, but Darla soon began to accept Carol’s gentle touch and together they made slow and steady progress. Over time, Darla even began to open up to more humans and allowed herself to scratch her back occasionally for a delicious treat. In early October, Carol made Darla an official member of her family and noted, “It’s one day at a time.” Darla needs me, and it’s so rewarding to be able to give her a loving, secure life.

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