happy re-birthday, my boy ~ {ontario pet-exclusive photographer}

brace yourselves … this is a long one.

it’s been a year.  one whole year since we made the long drive to a farm to salvage a filthy little dog that had been used for breeding for his first six years of misery.  clearly abused, malnourished, riddled with scabs and worms, merrick’s had quite the journey this past year … and quite the transformation from the terrified, wretched shell of dog that he was.  to read the story of how he came to be with us, you can read his first blog entry here.

these were the images i originally saw of him which compelled me to make the drive …

and what follows is a dip through the archives of the past year with my boy merrick.  some of these photos you may have seen before, some are new to the blog.

merrick was terrified of the camera — and pretty much everything — when he first came here.  this was the very first photo i ever snapped of the boy …

he was always darting away from the camera, and i have to admit, in spite of dealing with a lot of dogs in my job, and all kinds of shy dogs and dogs with fear issues, i really had my work cut out for me with this boy.

he felt the safest at a distance, of course.  taken on day 3.  still very suspicious, and letting morley take the lead.

one of the biggest hurdles for merrick was peeing.  of course, he’d never lived in a house before, so house-training was paramount.  the problem with merrick, however, was that he’d shut down when on a leash, he’d cower at my ankles if i went out with him, and if i wasn’t there in the yard with him, he’d sit at the very back and stare at the door.  he had no idea what to do, and he’d hold his pee for 16 hours or more.  it was easily the most frustrating part of bringing merrick into the real world.  so peeing was a big deal …

and today, merrick will pretty much pee on command.

in those early days, merrick felt the most confident in the midst of his pack … this taken on day 12.

it was a tough time, though.  we were rapidly losing morley, and with his brain tumor, he actually made things a little more confusing for merrick.  i hate to say it, but after morley’s passing — three weeks after merrick joined us — merrick really began his settling in.

the one thing i had going for me with merrick’s rehabilitation was his love for balls.  i have no idea where it originated or how he could have come to love balls, but it was there.  i saw it first on that first day.  coming into our pack required a two-hour pack-walk.  upon arrival to our home, i took him and matea (who doesn’t tolerate imbalanced dogs and who would have certainly taken merrick down if not for proper management and careful introductions over those initial weeks) for a long walk.  at the end of the two hours, 100′ from our front door, several kids were playing street-hockey.  merrick panicked at the slapping of the blades against the concrete, twirling at the end of his leash attempting to escape.  instead of walking away, i remained there until he would calm … but gradually, the calm became arousal as he focused on the tennis ball they slapped around.  it was his saving grace.

with balls, i had found merrick’s doorway to the world …

a way to boost  him up, to bring him around whenever he shut down, to show him boundaries, to train, and to show him the joy in life…

thank dog, for balls.  and i’m quite certain no dog has more balls than merrick has today.

i also taught merrick how to tug.  this was pivotal to building confidence.  the first attempt to play tug had this boy tucking tail and instantly giving the toy up.  today, he growls with ferocity and even shakes any toy on command.

also critical to merrick’s rehabilitation was good diet.  as most of you know, i’ve fed a raw diet for 8 years now, and merrick took to it like a pro …

however, he didn’t take to the car as readily.  his first ten minutes in the car resulted in worms being vomited everywhere.  but he almost never gets sick in the car now.  in fact, he’s so excited to go for car rides today, i never need the leash from the front door down to the car … even if someone is walking a dog, merrick doesn’t care.  he waits on the front stoop, whining and carrying on as i lock the door, and when released, he races to the back of the car, waiting for the hatch to be lifted.

in spite of being terrified at first, he’s learned to like baths well enough … even jumps into the tub when asked …

and there’s only one ‘person’ he loves as much as he loves me … his matea.

merrick also loves water and the hose.  although i had one vet suggest — based on his feet — that he spent some time in cages, i have to wonder whether he did.  most puppymill dogs kept in cages are terrified of water and hoses, since their cages are hosed clean while they are still in them.  merrick, however, does not fall into this category.  but again, his introduction to the hose was handled carefully, and today you can’t keep him away from them.

he excelled in obedience classes, and today is enjoying agility …

and i can’t forget his very first photoshoot at the graffiti wall, sporting his own mohawk …

of course, the year was not without injury, however, it was a small cut — a piece of glass in the river.  matea did much worse in her first year.

in his first year, merrick also learned how to hike … and i mean really hike.

he also learned to swim … kinda the hard way.  he was hesitant to go into the chilled May waters of Georgian bay, but when his girl matea flew in after her training dummy, merrick followed.  i’m pretty sure he’d never swum before …

… but he learned very quickly, and after that first dive in, honestly, there is no keeping him out now.

and if you stop throwing, he can be a downright demanding little shit …

but then, now that i’ve taught him to speak, merrick has a lot to say about a lot of things.

he’s reliable off-leash now, however, he does have a hunt drive like his sister, and will require some proper field training, especially with all the coyotes in the area.  he already had one close call where his sister had to save his life by taking on a coyote.

he can be left alone with matea, but we have yet to leave him home on his own.  he waits at the window when i’m gone …

he likes to be spun around … again, another confidence-building game i have built into him …

he’s learned to ‘fetch’ … meaning to hold things in his mouth, and to pick items up and bring them to me …

… even fetching his big sister …

and he’s become a real poser now with the camera …

happy re-birthday, my boy.  i know you’re already 7, but if you can’t live forever then i need at least twenty years with you.  you are my laughter every day, my quiet little teacher, the joy in my heart, and the only dog that gets away with kissing as much as you do.  here’s to many, many more years.


Misty - Wow!!!! What a beautiful story, made me cry… So happy for Merrick that you both found each other..

Laura Tillison - I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this amazing little dog and the pictures are awesome! Happy, happy re-birthday Merrick!!

Robyn Elizabeth - Aw Goober 🙂 What a sweetheart! Happy re-birthday! Make sure you get extra spoiled today.

Linda Bakcsy - Happy Re Birthday Merrick. My daughter and I each have a rescue (best dogs in the world). I loved reading your story and you always leave a smile on my face when I see pic’s. Live long and healthy. Happy Birthday.

Marci Liroff - Love this. Love the photos and your storytelling too. Happy re-birthday Merrick!

Tracey Edmunds Koszegi - I haven’t meant to offend anyone. Some of the stories and photos are so sad and awful, they make me sad and sick, too. I just share them hoping to spread the word about how many animals are abused or abandoned and need help. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories are sad, but I will share the ones with happy endings, as well, when I come across them. I’m always very happy when a pet is rescued and gets another chance and a home to go to!

Janet Hopkins - What a lovely testimony to the resilience of dogs. I too have a little mill rescue Cairn — 5 years as a breeder in a puppy mill and it is just amazing to see how far she has come in the time I have had her and she continues to row and change. It is very rewarding to see her proress.

Connie Collins - Kris this little dog looks just like the only male puppy that Minnie and Mickey produced! So cute and thanks for sharing:)

Tracy Hirsch - Thank you for sharing. I so can relate with my rescue mob squad. I will admit my little 3.5 Graffiti has stolen my heart. He is unstoppable and has the biggest heart for such a little man. Sometimes things are just fate.

Johanna Grisnik - Beautiful photos! Happy RE-Birthday Merrick!

scruffy dog photography - thanks for sharing your story, Diane. although so many people thank us for saving these amazing animals, it is they who save us. as for your boy’s obsession with frisbees … that is SO awesome. when a beaten and shut-down dog has that kind of an outlet – like merrick with balls – it is SUCH an incredible and invaluable aid to their recovery.

thank you for all that you do!

Kris Ekberg-Cahill - Oh, and, Happy Re-Birthday Merrick XOXO

Beth Belcher Ellison - This is such a fantastic story. Must be shared with @[1785462419:2048:Tracey Edmunds Koszegi]. It is important to note there are other ways to inspire to adopt/rescue than just guilt and misery and horrific photos.

Diane Lewis - Thanks for sharing this link again! Brings me to tears, I have my own “Merrick” now in a dog named Romeo, he was tied up for his first three years of his life and was a lost soul when he came to me, but his heart was so full of love! He came with different issues than your boy, but has come so very far in just 4 months, from running without glancing at me for 8 hours to now coming when called ( this is huge) , from not knowing toys to becoming obsessed with his frisbee, it’s just so awesome to see them transform! Next on the list is therapy dog training as he truly is one of the most loving dogs and is so gentle with children and other animals. I rescued him shortly after my heart dog Bailey died, I was not ready to get a new dog, but I just could not leave him where he was so I took him. I now believe God sent him to me as we both needed one another! He walked in our house as if he was finally “home”, he got along great immediately with my one dog who is old and very choosy about her dog friends, was immediately bonded with my son and husband, but it was me who took a while to open up, my heart was just so broken, but Romeo showed me that loving again is what we need to do, for a life without love is not worth living. May your Merrick continue to brighten your days for many years to come! Happy Re-birthday boy!

Melissa Kime - Happy re-Birthday Handsome!

scruffy dog photography - thanks, Kris!

scruffy dog photography - aw, thanks so much, Whiskers.

Whiskers + Kisses - You are awesome. Just sayin’.

Kris Ekberg-Cahill - I LOVE THIS! fabulous story, fantastic and heart warming pictures!

Denise Dymond - beautiful….Happy B-Day Merrick 🙂

Kathy - What an amazing story. I love what you did for this brilliant little dog. Happy Birthday Merrick!

Melody - An amazing and warming story! Bless you. From one Goober lover to another!

illona - send me a photo, Karen!!! i’d LOVE to see Lucy!

Karen Stewart - We have the exact same dog!!! Not with the amazing rescue story you have, but they could be twins. Our puppy is Lucy and she is 1 1/2 years old and a jack russel and shipoo cross. When I first say your pictures I couldn’t beleive the rememblance and the amazing personalities you capture with you photo’s. Wish I could send you a photo…

Dog Dryers - The dogs are so cute they appear so happy on the photos. The photo shots are very very much great!

Although this is a late greeting but still I would like to greet you a “Happy Anniversary”…… for the both of you…..

Nice talent!

Linda - This is such a fabulous heartwarming story. Too see the difference in the way he looked when you brought him home and now, it’s so wonderful. All of that would make a most wonderful coffee table book. I smiled all the way through the pics and captions. Thank you for being a wonderful dog person. You are an animal hero.

Marla - Happy anniversary to you both, Illona. Can’t wait to see the little dude and his big sister again soon.

Lynne - Aw, that is such a wonderful work of photojournalism. Merrick’s odyssey coming to you from years of neglect to find the loving hands that guided him back to a good new life is really a heart warming story.Happy re-birthday, Merrick! You bring a smile to my face with your antics.

BertyMo - Happy Birthday big boy!
Ilona you did a wonderful job giving Merrick a well-deserved life. Such a great character, such a joy!
I wish you all many more years to enjoy life and all its adventures in it!

marylin - I have been reading your posts for a little while Illona, and got quite emotional when I read and saw your piece on little merrick and how you found each other. I am always touched by true passion for animals and especially that special connection one can have with dogs. You most certainly have both the passion and the connection (you also make kick ass photographs!).
I hope merrick ends up in the book of world records as oldest dog on earth (next to mine I hope!!!).

Michelle - A niece had grown tired of Lincoln, her young dwarf rabbit. We adopted him and renamed him RB Bennett (might as well be a Canadian PM!) Bennett had hitherto only been outside in a hutch, and his transition to house rabbit was not an easy one. His initial behaviour towards us consisted almost exclusively of biting and spraying us with urine. He had to be housetrained, neutered and socialized, and our rental house fitted with an elaborate system of barriers and guards, as we quickly discovered his tastes included baseboard (a favourite), hardwood flooring, electrical cord, carpet, books, wallpaper, and any and all furniture. He shed profusely and had to be brushed daily, as well as have home-made toys specially constructed in order to safely fulfil his compulsion to dig and chew out tunnels. He also turned out to be surprisingly expensive to maintain, between his daily requirement for fresh pet store hay, medication for the ‘slow gut’ he acquired following neutering, and the regular and often unexpected vet visits this condition demanded. Time-wise he was intensive too, with his behaviour and environmental conditions all requiring constant monitoring in order to protect his fragile lagomorphic health, to say nothing of the countless hours it took to litter-train and socialize him, brush him, clean up his messes, clean and chop his veggies,scrub his litter boxes, wash his dishes and clean his cage. Bennett eventually became well-socialized, enjoying ground-level cuddling, and very nearly litter trained. But in spite of it all, we failed. At just five years of age and despite $1,000 worth of emergency veterinary care, Bennett died of what appeared to be pneumonia. I was completely shattered, beyond even my own expectations. We kept his ashes and have them with us still today.
I see rabbits in pet stores everywhere, marketed as children’s pets. I also see them at the shelters, where the majority are euthanized. Rabbits are not toys, they are nothing less than a full-time job. Tell everyone you know.
Our current pet, Winnie, is also a rescue, but since she appears in a previous edition of this blog, I wanted to share Bennett’s story instead. Besides for rabbits, the shelters are also overflowing with cats like Winnie.

Jas, BamBam and Eski - Happy re-birthday Merrick!
It’s really great to see how he’s transform.
And I love how he and Matea get along so well 🙂

Jackie - Happy re-birthday Merrick. It’s very heartwarming to see the amazing transformation that little guy has gone through during the last year.

stacey - Loved watching this story unfold again through such wonderful photos. Happy re-birthday Merrick!

Vicki - you are both equally blessed to have found each other, what a fabulous read. the photo of Merrick jumping over the log is my very favourite, such an awesome little dog! Well done Illona, you have every right to be proud 🙂

Bethany Giannini - Illona this is a truly wonderful post. You brought a smile to my face with how far you have helped Merrick come. You are an inspiration to everyone who adopts a dog and sticks with it. I love the photo of him jumping into the air to get the ball against the green background. And that one of him curled up with Matea is precious 😉 And he is quite the little hiker – all mud there!

Happy re-birthday Merrick!

Debbie Jacobs - Surely one of the cutest and luckiest dogs on the planet! Had a scruffy dog named Spanky that Merrick reminds me of.

sarah - wow, what an amazing journey with merrick! really shows what dedication and patience can do for any dog 🙂

Joni Solis - Oh, I tweeted and facebooked this post:

The transformation of a #puppymill #dog – some great tips here! about how to make them bloom! http://ow.ly/49zXL

Delightful! A year in #photos of rescuing/owning a #puppymill #dog http://ow.ly/49zPy Sweet story to SHARE!

Joni Solis - This blog post brought both tears and smiles — a wonderful mix! Love the photo story and all the tips on how you worked magic on this rescued puppy mill dog.

Is he a Jack Russell Terrier? I haven’t ever seen one with quite this much of a hair coat.

I have three adopted shelter dogs. One is a scruffy dog — a rat terrier / yorkie mix.

Thank you for being an angel and giving this dog heaven on earth. You have taught this dog more in one year than most people teach their dog in the dog’s whole lifetime.

Rescue dogs ROCK!

Holly Garner-Jackson - Illona I can’t believe it has been a year and yet it seems like you’ve had this boy a lifetime already. He has come so far in a year. You are an amazing person with dogs, and any own you, know that!

You already know Ralph’s rescue story but I’ll touch on it here as you asked people to share their dog’s story. We had just lost our 6 year old dog, Maggie, suddenly of a bile duct blockage and sorely missed her. We adopted Curly a short time later. He was a large St. Bernard mix that was about a year old and had been returned to the shelter after 6 months because he was too big and boisterous. This was Curly’s undoing with us, too as he tore the 20 foot training leash out of my husband’s hands 10 days after we got him and ran off into the woods on a very stormy night.
We made posters and put them everywhere and continued to search the area within a 5 mile radius. People called about seeing a dog with a face full of porcupine quills 15 miles from our house days later. When we got there and showed a photo of Curly, a large Black and white Hound looking dog we were told the dog they called about was brown. We left food where the dog was sighted 10 minutes before we arrived. A week later we were called about a large dog that had stolen a bag of cat food out of a garage 2 miles from our house. The photo showed a brown dog. We left food at that house and got animal welfare involved They set a large havahart trap and after catching several feral cats, they caught the brown dog. He was brindle in color and a rack of bones. He was then taken to the shelter where we decided to adopt him. Since everyone kept calling and asking if he was our dog we took it as a sign that he should be.
Ralph was about 40 pounds then and according to the animal control officer he had been dumped in the woods with another dog ( which disappeared right away) 3 months earlier and was not catchable. Ralph had already been neutered, was not food obsessive and took treats very gently. He did not know how to climb stairs and was terrified that whenever we took him in the car that he would be dumped. Anytime he was in the car he would hang his head and not look around. When we arrived home he would dance and be so happy. Ralph is a boxer, mastiff mix with a possibility of having a bit of pit bull in there, too. He was about 1 1/2 to 2 years old. He now weighs almost 65 pounds and is pure muscle.
Ralph did not come without issues and we are still working on them. The biggest issue he has is with people coming through a door into his space. He becomes extremely aggressive and won’t stop growling or barking. If left on his own he would attack that person. If a person is already in the house and Ralph enters, he has no problems with the person and wants to cuddle. Ralph also doesn’t like to be surprised by people on a trail when we are hiking. Once introduced to someone he is their very best friend.
Ralph loves all other dogs and if they are aggressive he will back away and not fight. He gets along with cats and is a joyful being.
He carpools to obedience class and agility and loves school.
We’ve had him a year and a half now and he makes us laugh every day.

Sadly, curly was never found, though we’d take him back if he was.

Thanks for sharing Merrick’s life and give him a birthday hug from Ralph and I!

Margaret - Hey Illona – thanks for this opportunity. We’re new to Rescue as in having a rescue dog of our own, though we’ve supported various rescue organizations for years now, financially and theoretically. Ahhh, but now we have “A Rescue” – since Belvy’s death on 12/22 which devastated humans and Helga alike! in some way I began a search right away, as my heart likes to be surrounded by bully love. And then, one weekend morning, as I was peeking around a rescue site at Facebook, there was “Timmy”! – Tony and I were both taken by the boy, and after a few days of pondering, I filled out the application online, mostly to see if they’d adopt out of state (yeah, right! :). Things moved quickly then, and 2 phone interviews led to a home visit, and then Tony took a trip to Texas! When he returned home just over 3 weeks ago in the wee hours of the morning, and I got my first look at “Timmy” who is now Beauregard or T-Beau to offer respect for his first name, I was amazed at his dear face and gorgeous color and coat! I said something like, “He’s got a big head.” and Tony said, “He’s beautiful!” and I could tell they were already Bonded Buddies. 🙂

Will we buy a puppy again? Oh perhaps! I’ve learned to avoid saying “Never”. But are we some of the biggest fans of Rescue, ever??? Yepper!!! 🙂

More kisses to Merrick, and Matea, today and always!

Karen - I can’t believe how similar my Scruffy is to Merrick! Not only do they almost look like twins, but Scruffy loves the same things (balls, water, etc…). Although they don’t share the same sad beginnings, it’s clear that they have both found a loving, caring home that let’s them enjoy the doggy life they were meant to live.
I found Scruffy at the Barrie SPCA where he had been for 2 months. This was the 2nd time he had been abandonned by his owner. It boggles my mind to this day how anyone could have left this little guy. He came with issues…nipping at strangers, very scared and didn’t trust anyone. He would run away if he had the chance. I tried taking him to doggy training classes but he was so freaful, he would pee on the floor and freak out just at the thought of going into the building. After 7 months I am happy to report that Scruffy is doing GREAT! He may have more balls then Merrick! That little guy has changed my life, I’m not sure he realizes it though. I just have to figure out what his fascination with the toilet paper roll is!
Here’s to Merrick and Scruffy on “Doggy, Life Part-Deux”

Donna Segelken - I love all your photos of the dogs and cats you take, specially your own. I will have to take Buster to the lake a little more this year. Hes over 10 years old and moving slower but I will try.

My husband had lost his shepherd (she died in our arms) when she was 15 years old. It took him about a year then one day when we went to a local flea market, he said” I guess we can start looking for another dog”. I still had my toy poodle Sugar at the time (She lived a year with Buster before she died at 14 yrs and a day old). We found Buster in the back of a pick up at the flea market. I fell in love with his face. We were looking for a female (have had them most) and we decided Buster was just too cute. Hes been with us just over 10 years now. Hes slower, sleeps more, play time is shorter, but never stops making us laugh, feel blessed and loved. We will rescue again when his time with us is up. Thanks for sharing your love of your pets and photography with us 🙂

michelle bradshaw - What a beautiful blog entry illona!
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Merrick and I have to stay he has you at hello!
Happy re-birthday Merrick!!!

Courtney - I went from tears to giggling and back all over again – he is such a beautiful soul, and I cannot wait to see many more years of Merrick <3

Lori E. - This brought tears to my eyes! He knows you’re his savior and it’s clear to see that his heart belongs only to you. I’ve seen most of these photos on Flickr, but I love that you picked the important ones that highlight just how far he’s come. The transformation both inside and out is simply amazing.

People like you make the world a better place.

Timorous Beastie - How wonderful to see all these photos and see the progress he’s made. Well done you and well done Merrick.

Susan Humphreys - Happy re-birthday Merrick. I can’t believe it’s been a year since you
brought him home!. The difference from those first pictures of him is
just unbelievable.Great to see Mr. Morley again. I love the pictures
of Merrick with Matea. You are so lucky to have these wonderful dogs, but then again they’re the lucky ones to have you. Here’s to the next ten years!

Susan Humphreys

Margaret - Such a wonderful transition from that frightened, sick boy that he was. Now he’s living the Good Life, for sure! 20 years would be good. 🙂

Idil - What a wonderful journey it’s been for you and Merrick (and Matea, of course – love how the two have bonded). I loved reading this and looking at all the wonderful photos. Merrick’s such a happy and active boy now and he has so much love around him. He may not have had a good beginning in life but thanks to you he is now one of the luckiest dogs I know. And life’s only going to get better and better. Happy Re-birthday, adorable little fella! Enjoy it! To many more happy and healthy years with your awesome pack. 🙂

Lisa B. - Happy gotcha day, little man. You’ve landed on your (4 tiny) feet, for sure!

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