Victoria, the German shepherd, is the newest honorary member of the Norristown, Pennsylvania, fire department. The 10-year-old rescue dog welcomes pats from firefighters who stopped to say hello.
Victoria was leading her very own parade down the streets of her town. Although she couldn’t walk the route due to a disease that’s weakening her legs, she happily rode on an ATV with a special banner hung across the front.
There were crowds of adoring fans standing on the sidelines cheering her on. Children and kids held up posters to show their support as she rode by. “Go Victoria!” and “We Love U” were some of the slogans they had hand-drawn across the signs.
When the children heard that Victoria was sick, they wanted to brighten her spirits. It quickly became apparent that it doesn’t take much to make the dog smile.
Thanks to her foster mom Grace Kelly Herbert, the special parade was just one of the many bucket-list activities Victoria has done. Their community wants all sick dogs to have the happy experiences they never got to have.
“She sat there riding along so proudly with her paws across my lap,” Herbert said. “All of the kids were cheering and saying her name. She was truly joyful. She felt every ounce of love and respect that people were pointing her way. It was amazing.”
An Amish puppy mill outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is where Victoria lived her whole life until Herbert got a call that a farmer “wanted to discard her.”
Victoria had never been inside of a home, she always lived outside. She barely got exercise and had never seen a toy before. She was just used to give birth to litter after litter of puppies with little to no veterinary care. Even when she was bit in the eye by another dog and got her foot ran over by a lawnmower.
The injuries left her blind in one eye and with a permanently deformed front paw.
Her roughly 100 puppies were sold as pets to unsuspecting buyers and Victoria was stuck inside. At 10 years old, she was no longer able to have puppies, so the mill no longer had any use for her.
Herbert, co-founder of Finding Shelter Animal Rescue, traveled to the farm to pick her up in October. Victoria was petrified and crammed into a tiny crate sitting in the driveway. The farmer would not allow Herbert and fellow rescuer Peter Egan, onto the property. However, they knew there were a lot of other dogs there.
“He didn’t want us to see where the rest of them were,” Herbert said. “But we did see some dogs living outside in a modified shed with a fence around it.”
Victoria was covered in fleas and unable to walk. When in the presence of people, all Victoria could do was shake and growl out of fear.
“We left the farm with her, in tears,” Herbert said. “At that moment we didn’t know if we would ever be able to touch her.”
“It took her about three weeks to feel comfortable,” Herbert said. “But every little moment, like the first time she took food from our hand, was a huge milestone. These small things people don’t think twice about their dogs doing meant big progress for a 10-year-old puppy mill dog. She’s doing better than we could’ve ever imagined.”
Even though she could walk again, vets quickly realized that Victoria was showing symptoms of a spinal cord disease called degenerative myelopathy. The disease weakens the rear legs and eventually causes paralysis. Vets believe she could have six months to a year left to live.
“All of Victoria’s puppies who were taken away from her will likely develop the same disease,” Herbert said. “These unsuspecting people purchased her puppies either online or at a pet store, and will eventually realize that their dog has an incurable disease. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than that.”
When Herbert and her husband, Steve, heard Victoria’s prognosis, they came up with the idea to start a campaign called ‘V For Victoria’ that would give her the life she missed out on during all those years at the mill. It included activities like buying her first-ever toy, visiting Santa at the mall and getting professionally groomed, as well as more high-profile events that simply celebrate her and her story.
Victoria plans to become a taste-tester at a local dog treat bakery for a day, which might be one of her favorites to date. However, Herbert said, the fire department parade will be hard to top.
“The fire department heard about her and wanted to make her a fire dog for the day, so we expected that we would just show up for a few photos and a meet and greet,” Herbert said. “But they had a whole parade planned for her, complete with the fire trucks and all. She was truly joyful that day.”
Victoria is finally getting the love and attention she was deprived of and not to mention, create more public awareness about the cruelty behind puppy mills.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that 10,000 puppy mills operate in the U.S. The mills’ force over 167,000 mother dogs to spend their lives giving birth so that their puppies can be sold. There is an estimated 2 million of these puppies sold through pet shops and other retailers each year.
The mill where Victoria was saved from, is licensed by the USDA, which enforces only the minimum animal care regulations required under the Animal Welfare Act. The regulations cover only the most basic survival standards like food, water, and shelter. This allows licensed puppy dealers to keep hundreds of dogs in cages for the duration of their lives with little to no exercise or human attention.
“Most families don’t have any clue — they see one dog from one litter and fall in love with him, while another 100 are tucked away in a barn somewhere,” Herbert said. “Puppies, like Victoria’s, are sold to unknowing people and they become victims of consumer fraud when they find out their puppy has a life-threatening disease that resulted from irresponsible breeding.”
The puppies usually have the chance for a life outside of the mill, but that option rarely comes for the mother dogs, Herbert said.
“People meet Victoria and hear where she came from, and it helps them really understand on a personal level why we’re doing all of this for her,” Herbert said. “We have a lot of pet stores in our community that sell dogs from these mills. One of the greatest parts of this is being able to share her story and promote responsible sourcing for pets.”
Victoria was a little nervous at first, she has quickly come out of her shell and is gaining more confidence each day. The special visits and attention from the media have also brought important connections into Herbert’s life, including a German shepherd owner whose dog recently passed away from the same disease Victoria has.
They offered to donate the wheelchair that belonged to their dog in case Victoria needs it.
“It’s been a beautiful thing at this time of year, when puppy purchase is at its peak from commercially bred sources, that Victoria’s happy face and her story have sparked interest in so many people,” Herbert said.
Victoria will go on some more fun adventures as long as she is up for them, and will continue to celebrate the life she has finally found after so many years.
“There aren’t many dogs like Victoria who make it out of the mill,” Herbert said. “But there’s a reason she survived. We’re so lucky to have her and be loved by her.”
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