Abused at a Puppy Mill, Tiny Dog Learns to ‘Talk’ to His Rescuers


A tiny, traumatized Shih Tzu won the hearts of many rescue volunteers in his short life. The dog named Gremlin, aka Gremmy, survived terrible abuse and neglect for years during his life at a puppy mill. At age four, the Shih Tzu was rescued by National Mill Dog Rescue (NMDR) where he “quickly became a kennel favorite.”

His healing journey began when his family, long-term volunteers at NMDR, saw a video of him getting a belly rub with his lead rehabilitator. He is voluntarily on his back (and not in any pain) and he’s vocalizing – his talking both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The rehab team member shared that “It was all new to him to have kindness and gentle hands. It’s just how he communicated with me.”

Gremmy arrived at Lily’s Haven shelter in 2014 and was one of the “worst cases of abuse that NMDR has seen and the second worst case the animal hospital had ever seen.” That is saying a lot, given the tens of thousands of dogs the organization has rescued after Theresa Strader founded the rescue in honor of Lily, the first dog she rescued from a puppy mill.

“When Gremmy first arrived the volunteers were under strict orders to not touch him,” his mom wrote. “We were advised that only authorized personnel and members of the rehabilitation team were allowed to handle him – for his safety as well as ours – as they did not want him to regress in his rehabilitation. He arrived with a broken and wired jaw, which had to be monitored, and he was placed in a kennel run, by himself, right up front.”

“Gremmy quickly became a kennel favorite. Many of the volunteers fell in love with him right away – it was hard not to,” his mom continued. “How could you not fall in love with six pounds of scared, traumatized Shih Tzu, with sad, but hopeful eyes?”

It was the video of Gremmy crying/talking to a Rehab Team Member that really pulled on his mom’s heartstrings.

From that point forward, whenever Gremmy’s mom and her husband visited the rescue, they made a point to visit Gremmy. “The first time we met him, he stayed in his bed, not making eye contact, but he would watch out of the corner of his eye. The next time, his lead rehabilitator was working with him and you could see how frightened he was. He kept her hands in sight and when they would get anywhere near his face he would fight, bite and attack. I had to walk away, tears flowing – I couldn’t watch.”

On another visit, a Meds Team Member showed how she excited she was that Gremmy responded positively to treats. “She walked up to his kennel, calling his name, hand out stretched. Gremmy came walking right up to the front of his kennel, tail wagging, even did a dance for her and took the treat from her hand! I will never forget the smile on her face when she turned to look at me. Amazing baby steps!”

Four months after his rescue, discussion began as to whether or not Gremmy was ready for a foster home. Gremmy’s mom immediately put her name in the hat. Strader and the NMDR team agreed and selected the family to foster Gremmy.

Gremmy’s mom brought her dogs to NMDR to introduce them to Gremmy. He wasn’t too happy about it. “When Bugsy, our Pomeranian, got too close, he would turn and snap.” The family was also shown how to pick Gremmy up because he did not like to be touched above his shoulders.

“They were using a little blanket to pick him up, no bare hands, and he knew the command ‘pick up’ so he’ll prepare himself before you do. We were told that he was a very finicky eater and that he liked his chicken ‘fluffed.’”

Gremmy’s mom made sure to tell her kids that Gremmy “was a rehab dog and was strictly off limits.”

He got a special area set up just for him and he got a soft bed and a lot of special treats.

When they brought him home the first few days were really difficult. “He was super picky about his food, he wouldn’t even eat the soft food they were giving him at the kennel, so we couldn’t hide it in anything, and believe me – we tried just about everything.”

“His jaw was still healing and wired, so we had to be careful about how it was touched. My husband had to wear gloves and we had to ‘pill him’ as they say. He would fight, scream, cry, bite and draw blood. He’d be crying, I’d be crying, the dogs and kids would come running to investigate.”

“Finally, after a couple days of this, we asked different people for suggestions and we went to our vet for some syringes, crushed the pill, mixed it in with yogurt, PRAYED he liked it and success! He DID! Praise the Lord! I think we all cried with relief!”

It wasn’t all difficult. “During Gremmy’s first week at home, he reached major milestones: he walked on a leash, during potty time he decided to stay with the pack and not growl at anyone, he let us get a Thunder Shirt on him since he shook all the time, he went for his first official pack walk and did really well – he didn’t freak out about the passing cars and even seemed to heel at times, and he let us reach out and stroke him a few times before moving away.”

“Gremmy even came to check on me in the mornings while I was getting ready for work, he would peek around the corner or pace outside the bathroom,” his mom said. “I finally moved a bed right outside the door and that is where he laid in the mornings while I was getting ready … and to this day, he still does.”

After two weeks, Gremmy started to enjoy sleeping on his foster dad’s chest or the bed. His tail was beginning to wag (“it wasn’t tucked under his butt all day”). He even began approaching his family for butt scratches. He would also rub against his mom’s legs like a cat when he wanted to be close to her.

“In those first few weeks we saw a precious boy who just wanted to be loved emerge … yet the nagging question of who would hurt him was always in the back of our minds,” his mom wrote.

After three weeks at their home, Gremmy had to go for a vet visit because he had stopped eating and was rubbing his face in the grass. It was during the vet visit that NMDR and his foster family learned of the horrors he had endured.

They got to see his before and after photos, which shocked them. And when his mom read his official neglect summary “anger crept up from my toes.”

He had overgrown toenails, yeast infection in his feet, chronic ear infection, chronic pain from mats over 90% of his body, chronic fractured jaw. He had suffered from an extreme lack of care for years. The painful knots and neglect likely contributed to Gremmy being reactive to touch.

The vet report read, “The antisocial behavior in this dog resembles that of puppy mills dogs that have lived in a cage devoid of all positive human contact. Sadly, due to the living conditions this dog has endured, he is highly reactive to any human contact and at this time, it is uncertain if this dog is able to be rehabilitated to become a household pet.”

“As I read I could feel the anger start at my toes and burn behind my eyes,” she said. “I wanted to throw up. Gremmy is a living, BREATHING animal, with feelings and a soul. WHO hurts defenseless animals? Is it any wonder he acts like he does?! Our boy. Who hurt our boy?!”

The rest of his appointment was a blur for his mom. He was prescribed some antibiotics and pain medication and sent away for more x-rays. They would learn he had calcified discs in his back and had to avoid jumping and stairs. But once he had the wires removed from his jaw and was on pain medication regularly, Gremmy got his appetite back and was immediately more friendly and affectionate with his family.

When they saw how well Gremmy got along with the kids, the dogs “and had our hearts” his mom and dad made him a permanent member of their family.

“He went from ‘It is uncertain if this patient is able to be rehabilitated to become a household pet …’ and having to be only handled with gloves and a blanket, biting and snapping at anybody who came near him, to our ‘Bubba,’ who LOVES chips, tater tots, car rides, butt scratches (even from the kids) and rubbing up against my legs like a cat.”

One thing was crystal clear, Gremmy was very happy for the first time in his life!

Gremmy had 16 months with his wonderful family before he crossed Rainbow Bridge. It was a short time for the young dog, but the time he had with his family must have been heaven on earth for the little angel that suffered so much in his short life.

Gremmy’s mom continues to champion for dogs like him. “After all, that is the least I can do for Gremmy and those animals like him. WE are their voice. If you see abuse or neglect – report it. If we don’t speak up for them, if we aren’t being that somebody, who will?”

To donate to National Mill Dog Rescue, visit their website.


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