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Rehabbing Charlie lands job as spokesdog against puppy mills

EDITOR'S NOTE: This "Pet Tales" installment is the second in an occasional series documenting the life of Charlie -- a bichon frise rescued from a puppy mill and brought to Western New York.

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Charlie had his first professional grooming session recently, and the puffy bouffant the bichon frise breed is known for is starting to grow in.

He has to look his best. After all, he is the spokesdog for a new organization his foster family started last fall called WNY Citizens Against Puppy Mills.

In between photo shoots with his adoring fans, Charlie -- himself a rescue from a Missouri breeder -- has been undergoing a socialization process with the Alden foster family he moved in with last November.

Charlie was brought to Western New York on Halloween by "Going to the Dogs Rescue" in Perry, along with 36 other pure-bred dogs from a commercial kennel in Missouri that was known for U.S. Department of Agriculture violations. As a breeder dog, for most of his life Charlie lived in a small, cramped wire cage with 1,000 other canines.

Richard and Lorry Schlick -- who have fostered at least 50 rescues in the past eight years -- have been working with 5-year-old Charlie to make him comfortable and familiar with humans and other animals.

While he has had success in some areas of the socialization process, progress has been a bit slower in other ways. He's still not completely house-trained, and he still walks around in circles, especially when he's nervous or excited, the Schlicks said -- a behavior learned by many dogs who have lived in tiny enclosures all or most of their lives, Richard Schlick said.

As a result, even when he's outside running and playing, sometimes Charlie will stop and pace in circles like he doesn't realize he has more space, like he thinks he's confined to an imaginary cage.

Developing trust -- with men in particular -- is also taking time. Charlie's behavior indicates he may have been abused by a male or males at the commercial kennel. The Schlicks have seen it before. While some rescues will act wild then they arrive in foster care -- most likely because they are happy to be able to run free -- others like Charlie react differently. He will cower and drop low, especially around men.

"He'll actually pee if Rich picks him up to take him outside," Lorry said.

"He's got to learn to be trusting of others. It's been a long process. It's normal. We're used to it, having fostered so many dogs," Lorry said. "Every dog must progress at its own pace."

"Maybe he'll never fully trust any man," she added. "It's a trust issue. Some come around. Some never come around."

Maybe it will just take awhile longer like it did for Diamond, another of the Schlicks' bichon frise rescues. It took more than four years for Diamond to warm up to women.

"It was only a couple of months ago that he finally cozied up to Lorry," Richard said.

Still, Diamond is not reformed completely.

"When Rich is not home, Diamond would be in the bedroom," Lorry said.

Charlie has even snapped at Richard a time or two, but he lost his teeth when he got neutered last month. Before the surgery, the veterinarian was concerned that a debarking process was used on Charlie in Missouri. Debarking at commercial kennels often involves sticking a metal tube down a dog's throat to lacerate the larynx. And often it is done without anesthesia and probably not by a professional veterinarian.

Because Dr. Kevin Bannister, Charlie's vet, has dealt with many puppy mill dogs with similar issues, he knew what to look for and how to approach it. The surgical procedure was successful, but most of his teeth had to be pulled because his mouth was so full of rot, infection and abscesses, Lorry said.

"These dogs certainly don't get good medical treatment, I believe. They don't get any dental care, I don't think," Bannister said. "I don't know what they eat, what kind of nutrition they're getting. They don't get things to chew on to help remove plaque and tartar. They just stay in a cage." In Charlie's case, his jawbone was so fragile the vet thought it would get fractured during the extractions.

"But he made it," Lorry said. "All of this, and he's only 5 years old."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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