The Story of Maxx, a Puppy Mill Survivor With a Heart of Gold

Grab a Kleenex. This is about unconditional love, forgiveness, sorrow, happiness and — more than anything — redemption.

One look at Maxx was all it took for Monika to fall in love.

When Monika met Maxx, it was love at first sight. She took one look in his big, brown, soulful eyes, and the earth moved.

Maxx was a beautiful Golden Retriever. He had a huge heart and a great capacity to love. Unfortunately, he had the hard luck of being born a puppy mill dog. Maxx had been a breeder dog in the puppy mill and no doubt would have died there.

One evening, a rescue group and law enforcement authorities raided the facility, which was in Vancouver, British Columbia. The animals were sick, diseased, malnourished and filthy. The rescue team seized more than 300 dogs in the raid. Most, like Maxx, were found in wire pens so small they couldn’t stand up. They were forced to remain in a lying position, barely able to move.

The rescue agency that took Maxx found him to be a mess. His long, golden fur was matted and soiled with feces. It took 8 hours to clean him for foster care placement.

It was at his foster home that Maxx met Monika Loreth-Reniero.

Monika’s friend was the foster mom. She had phoned Monika and described the amazing, wonderful, sweet dog she was caring for.

One look was all it took for Monika to fall in love. “I sat down beside him, took one look into those beautiful brown Golden Retriever eyes, and fell in love with him,” she says.

She immediately decided to adopt Maxx and started the application process. As soon as his health was confirmed, she paid the fees and took Maxx home.

Monika describes the overwhelming affection she had for Maxx from the first contact. He seemed so happy to be free, and there was a connection with Monika that was undeniable.

The little ones loved Maxx.

Homecoming and Heartache

The first days at home with the new family member were joyous.

Maxx settled into the household routine as though he had always lived there. Everything was an adventure: running in the grass, sleeping on a soft bed, eating treats, playing with toys, romping with the other animals. This dog had spent his entire life in a cage! Monika’s children loved the big, fluffy boy, and he loved the kids and other family pets. Most of all, he loved Monika.

It wasn’t long after Monika took Maxx home that the true effects of his years in a puppy mill began to present themselves. “That’s when my years of heartache began,” she says.

First, Monika noticed Maxx was having problems walking. He was a stoic animal and didn’t appear to be in pain; still she knew something wasn’t right.

She scheduled an appointment with her veterinarian to have Maxx checked out. “What the vet discovered was horrifying,” says Monika.

Following a physical examination that included X-rays, the vet delivered the bad news. Maxx’s knees were turned to the side of his legs, the result of imprisonment in a cage that was 3 times too small for him. The vet speculated that Maxx’s knees had dislocated from the confinement as his legs grew; they then fused in the wrong place. “I could only imagine the pain he was in,” says Monika.

Maxx had a number of scars and evidence of broken bones, and he had hip dysplasia. The dog was also silently suffering with a severe ear infection in both ears. “The vet couldn’t believe how bad his ears were,” says Monika.

Maxx had massive ear infections when he was adopted.

“Good Health”?

Monika’s first reaction was rage at the breeding facility. How could anyone have treated any creature so badly?

She was also angry with the rescue group. This group was supposed to be responsible for caring for the animals seized from the facility. Although some of Maxx’s old injuries may not have been evident, Monika reasoned that the ear infections and problems with his legs certainly were. Yet the rescue group had cleared and passed the dog off to her for adoption as being in “good health.”

“I started to cry because I loved him so much — already he was like my child now,” says Monika. “I asked the vet why the rescue didn’t see this. He told me if they really did take him to a vet, they would have seen this.”

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Monika wanted an explanation. “I contacted the rescue the next day, and they said they would get back to me — but they never did,” says Monika. As the weeks passed, she phoned the rescue group repeatedly, and she says staff members simply ignored her calls. “It was like they were pretending they never knew him.”

She felt abandoned.

“I feel that the rescue hadn’t wanted to put in the time or money and just got rid of him as soon as possible,” says Monika.

“He Had Such a Huge Heart”

Maxx endured a dozen surgeries over the next few years. He was a trooper through every procedure, and the staff at the animal medical clinic adored their brave patient.

“We tried to give him a life that he deserved in this world, one of being spoiled, loved, and being treated like family rather than a thing,” says Monika.

Between surgeries, Maxx got to experience amazing things such as snow, the beach, dog parks and a petting zoo.

Here is a short video clip of Maxx at the petting zoo:

“He loved rolling around in the snow, playing in the ocean, wrestling with other dogs and meeting baby pigs and a donkey,” says Monika. “He had such a huge heart — he just loved everything and everyone, even after all he went through.”

On Monika’s birthday in 2010, Maxx simply dropped.

Monika rushed him to the vet, and they kept him overnight for evaluation. The next morning, she received the news she had been dreading for 4 years: There was nothing more they could do for Maxx. It was time to let go.

Monika picked him up from the clinic and carried him home for 1 more family night. He was heavily medicated for pain, but he rallied when he got back home.

They held a pizza party for Maxx, celebrated his life and said their goodbyes. “He could eat whatever he wanted,” says Monika, “and he got lots of hugs and love.”

“I slept on the couch right beside him. I guess he found it within himself to leave this world, because he died that night beside me. I was crushed.”

Dog with rose in mouth
Maxx’s life inspired Monica to found a habitat for neglected animals.

“I Know I Did the Right Thing”

Monika says she has never regretted rescuing Maxx, although there were many times she wondered, “Am I doing the right thing?”

She says she would still gladly spend all that time, effort, care and money to give him the comforts he enjoyed with her and the love and compassion he radiated toward everyone who met her Golden boy.

“I look back at the pictures and know I did the right thing, fixing him up,” says Monika. “I can still see the smile on his face as he ran around for the first time in his life. Wagging his tail as the snow fell, barking and bouncing with his dog friends.”

Maxx’s life began as a result of one of the most vile practices sanctioned in the name commercialism — he was a puppy mill dog. He was born for the monetary gain of individuals who cared nothing for the welfare or basic dignity of the animals they abused for profit.

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Monika and Maxx fought a tough, expensive battle to give him a life of quality, mutual love and affection. He was the fortunate beneficiary of a family capable of looking past his many issues to give him a wonderful home. “He was my baby, and I will always remember the good times,” says Monika.

There are no guarantees in life. Monika’s experience with Maxx made her cautious of other rescue agencies and shelter adoptions. Instead of adopting, she bought her next dog, Bella, from a reputable breeder who was diligent to protect the quality of the breed.

Any time someone commits to adopting an animal, it should be a lifelong commitment. Food, water, exercise, training, housing and medical care are all part of the package. Do your homework.

There are bad breeders, bad retailers and, yes, there are bad rescue operations and shelters.

The only defense is due diligence and research:

  • Know the organization’s practices and policies.
  • Spend time with the organization or breeder.
  • Ask questions.
  • Get references.

Monika says she never got over the experiences she encountered with Maxx and wanted to do more to help rescued, abused and abandoned animals. So she founded a habitat for neglected animals.

Because of Maxx and his inspiration, dozens of dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs and a variety of other homeless souls with 4 legs have a chance for a better life.

That is Monika’s mission and Maxx’s legacy.

C.D. Watson

View posts by C.D. Watson
C.D. Watson has been researching and writing about pets for many years. She is a freelance writer and a corporate refugee. C.D. lives on a farm in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee with her husband, 3 dogs and a variety of other pets.

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