How this dog went from a puppy farm to her forever home
IMAGINE crawling through the dirt under an old cottage late at night, trying to catch a dog who does not want to be caught.
Millie, a, 18-month-old bull terrier, was used to the dirt. She was used to the dark. She felt better in small spaces and refused to come out from under the house.
But she had to come inside, otherwise she would spend the night barking at owls, possums, bats and passing cars.
So my partner crawled through the dirt beneath the floor of our Brisbane cottage to fetch her out.
It was one night of many that we spent coaxing and convincing Millie the world outside of her little spot of dirt wasn't as scary as she thought it was.
Millie came into our family on December 22, 2018; three days before Christmas and almost a month after she became national news.
Millie, then named Bertha, was one of 110 bull terriers seized from a puppy farm on the outskirts of Gladstone in central Queensland.
RSPCA Queensland inspectors were responding to reports of five potentially ill dogs. Instead they found 110 adults and puppies, many of them crated in poor conditions.
The charity seized all 110 dogs. Some were sent on to Rockhampton and other central Queensland centres to be cared for. Others went on to the RPSCA's Noosa and Wacol facilities.
Millie found her way to Wacol and she was among the first wave of bullies to be adopted.
But her fear of new places and people proved too much of a challenge and she was re-surrendered to the RSPCA.
That's when she came under the care of Bull Terrier Rescue Australia. They called out for foster carers who could take Millie on and teach her how to deal with this new world.
We picked Millie up on a busy Saturday afternoon. The Wacol centre was packed with families hoping to find a new member. Warning signs showed anyone there looking to adopt a bully from the recent raid were out of luck - those that were left behind needed special care.
Our bull terrier cross Buddy was there to meet Millie and see if they could live as siblings. They met each other in a grassy field lined with toys. She was scrawny and small - too small to be full sized, but too big to be a mini bully.
They hit it off, and Millie became our foster dog.
On the walk to the car, I reached down to give Millie a reassuring pat. She flinched and dropped to the ground. She trembled on the way to the car and in the hour-long drive north.
Millie loved Buddy. She loved crawling up to him at bedtime and getting into his personal space. She went crazy for food, regularly performing the high-intensity spins bullies are famous for.
As the days came and went and Millie started to adjust, her personality came out from behind her fear. She was extraordinarily sweet and desperate for affection. She tapped me on the chest when she wanted more pats.
Like most bullies, she was also a clown. She spent one morning, unknown to us, delicately picking up pieces of our clothing and dropping them in the front yard.
Buddy's toys became hers, and then became pieces. They fell apart as she shook them or convinced Buddy to play tug of war. She leapt on beds and couches to get close and cajoled Buddy into wrestling with her every morning. She rolled on her back in the grass and followed me while I hung out the washing or dug in the garden.
Millie was much, much faster than us. We both panicked one afternoon at our local beach when her lead slipped out of our grip. She trotted towards Buddy with a grin on her long face, and we plotted how to get her back without scaring her into a full run. Luckily by then, she had lost some of her fear of sudden movement. I leapt for her muddy lead as she loped past me.
Even in the moments she revealed her humour, Millie's nerves were never far behind.
When she arrived, she had no idea how to walk on a lead or how to play with dog toys. The first time we threw a ball for her, she cowered. She continued to flinch at unexpected human touch and loud noises. She hated cars, doors, loud voices and especially kids skating past on scooters.
We bought a television about six weeks after she came into our house. The first time she saw it turned on, she was too afraid to come inside. She stood at the verandah door, staring at the television and barking at the voices coming out of it.
Volunteers came to take her for a heart check. She greeted them happily enough, but had to be carried to the car, shaking, when she realised she would be going with them.
She dug holes under the house and could not be convinced to come back out. I spent half an hour hiding behind a door one night waiting for her to get the courage to come out and eat dinner. Getting outside was freedom, and she always seemed afraid someone would take that freedom away. She darted around us to get to any door we opened, smashing into frames and floors on the way.
It took weeks for Millie to let strangers pat her. She never lost the desire to eat her food dangerously fast and when she was nervous, her whole body trembled.
Millie was one of several dogs rescued from the puppy farm who were fostered through specialised rescues such as Bull Terrier Rescue Australia.
Many faced the same issues as Millie - a lack of exposure to the outside world meant they were like puppies, desperately in need of training and care.
Only two of the 110 dogs seized from the Gladstone farm remain in the care of the RSPCA. They continue to be treated for behaviour and medical problems.
The other 108 dogs, including Millie, have either found permanent homes or are being cared for by organisations such as BTRA.
They include dogs like Lola, who befriended her home's resident turtle after being rescued.
Millie was able to go to her forever home in early April, more than four months after she was first rescued. We said goodbye outside a freight centre at Brisbane Airport, and she hopped on a flight to Victoria.
You can follow the journey of other rescue dogs like Millie at the BTRA's Facebook page.