Violet was less than a year old when Julie Germany met her, and to the best of Germany’s knowledge, the dog had never set foot outside.
The coonhound was born and bred to be a test subject in a government-funded lab, according to Germany. In early 2014, when Germany met Violet, the dog was living in a cage in this lab, located in the basement of a building in Washington, D.C. There, doctors practiced surgical techniques on her young body, according to Germany.
At the time, Germany was a volunteer at the lab, visiting once a week during her lunch break to spend time with the dogs and show them some love. (Germany said she cannot disclose the exact location of the lab out of fear that providing more details will deter those in charge from allowing volunteers to visit or adoptions to take place.)
Violet, of all of them, stood out to Germany the most. “She had the biggest, saddest eyes I had ever seen,” she told The Dodo.
On the day they met, Violet didn’t want to return to her cage after playing, so Germany had to carry her back.
“I picked her up in my arms, smelled her fur and I just had the strongest feeling,” Germany said. “I whispered in her ear, ‘I promise I’ll get you out.'”
A fellow volunteer told Germany there were two expected outcomes for the dogs in that basement once they were through being experimented on: euthanasia or adoption.
Five months after meeting Violet, a fellow volunteer called Germany, asking if she wanted to adopt Violet. Germany had since gotten a new job, with an office too far away to swing by during lunch, so she no longer visited the dog. She was not sure why the lab was done with Violet — what she knew was that Violet was to be hers.
“I was able to save Violet, but most of her friends aren’t so lucky,” Germany said. So she dedicated herself to saving more dogs.
Back then, Germany was involved with animal welfare on the side. She’d joined the board of her friend Anthony Bellotti’s new nonprofit — the White Coat Waste Project, aimed at putting an end to taxpayer-funded animal testing.
“Loving Violet and helping her adjust to life outside the lab has been a great inspiration,” she said.
Over time, Germany grew more and more involved with the cause. In July 2016, she left her corporate job and became executive director of White Coat Waste Project. The organization’s top priority is drawing attention to, and defunding, experiments on dogs funded by the federal government.
That includes a lot of dogs like Violet — who struggled even once she was no longer being experimented on. She was terrified for months, too scared to explore her new house, too scared to go outside, Germany said. When Violet first came home with Germany, she slept on the floor with the dog at night, until Violet was confident enough to get up into bed. For a long time, Violet had to wear a diaper.
Germany’s cat Bert took Violet under his wing. “You know those videos where the mama dog teaches the puppies to go up and down stairs? That happened with us, but Bert was the mama dog, meowing encouragement at Violet from the landing while she got the courage to try the stairs on her own,” Germany said. “Before Bert helped her learn stairs, I’d have to carry her up and down.”
Bert similarly helped Violet get over her fear of going outside, once Germany thought to put the cat in his own harness so the whole family could walk together.
With this assistance, Violet learned to enjoy her new life. Today, she “is mostly a normal dog,” Germany said.
Violet is house-trained now. She loves to go outside. She sleeps with Germany and her husband — and their seven cats; three permanent, four fosters — and “wakes up in the morning in a bed full of love,” Germany said. “I sleep with treats under my pillow, so every animal has a little snack as we wake up, along with lots of kisses and scratches.”
Violet still has a lot of anxiety, and she remains shy around new humans. But she also has a lot of friends — mainly other dogs and cats around the neighborhood. She has a great life now, and she is finally able to enjoy it.
“I do think she remembers her time in the lab. It’s a part of her, just like her new life with us is a part of her,” Germany said. “For me, it’s always been about the dogs.”