By Karen Sturtevant
One important stop for us: the mall. The highlight of the trip was visiting the pet store. If we were lucky and timed the arrival just right, we’d get to play with the puppies when they were let out of their cages for socializing time.
What I, as a wide-eyed little kid and animal lover, didn’t know, or even think about, was how these little fluffy puppies arrived there.
What were their stories, what would happen to them?
Fast forward, here we are a week away (September 22, 2014), from National Puppy Mill Awareness Day. What a perfect time to raise the flag and find out how you can make a positive difference and why it matters.
Chances are great that those prancing, yapping puppies at the pet store came from a commercial dog breeding facility, commonly known as a puppy mill.
I, like the majority of others, have heard of puppy mills. I had decided ‘no, this is not something I condone,’ but didn’t look into it further. Until two weeks ago. That’s when the results of puppy farms walked (or lumbered) into my life and became real. (More about that later.)
A puppy mill operates with the ethos of placing profits over the welfare of animals. Consequently, these animals are innocent victims, often forced into a lifetime of squalor, filth and substandard care.
Commercial kennels may be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose protection laws are laughable. This licensure gives the impression that the ethos is sound and permissible. It is not.
Profits over Puppies
‘Profits over puppies’ is the assumed tag line for every puppy mill.
To keep expenses to a minimum, these dogs are housed in wire cages, often stacked in columns, two or three to a cage, with barely enough room to turn around.
They receive minimal veterinary care (if at all), and if kept outside, are exposed to rain, wind, searing sun, and extreme temperatures.
If the cages are inside, the conditions aren’t any better. The air is thick with the stench of ammonia, from standing pools of urine.
Standing on wire their entire lives, the puppies are forced to eliminate waste where they stand and sleep. Deformities of the feet and toes are common.
The idea of using wire cages is to allow the feces and urine to leave the cage through the holes, but because the cages are often stacked, the waste often falls into the cage below. Unsanitary living conditions attract insect and rodents, which bring infectious disease.
The outlook for these dogs is bleak. Lacking fresh food, clean water, exercise, and social skills, these dogs often spend their entire lives in fear of humans, knowing only pain and hopelessness.
Females, some as young as six months, are indiscriminately bred, every time they come into heat. More litters equal more profits.
The weaning puppies are usually taken away between five to six weeks of age – well before the recommend eight – ten weeks. They begin their lives lacking the nutrition their mothers provide and social connection humans give.
Packed in crates, they are shipped all over the United States to pet shops or brokers. The Human Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that only half of these puppies survive the journey.
Due to the poor conditions mill puppies endure, they often exhibit health and social problems. As they grow older, they’re prone to developing respiratory and heart conditions, pneumonia, temperament problems, and hip dysplasia.
When the females can no longer breed, they are horrifically killed, or if lucky, turned over to a rescue for a second chance.
From The Humane Society
The HSUS reports that Pennsylvania (specifically Lancaster County), Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri (known as the ‘Puppy Mill Capital of the U.S.’) are the states with the highest concentration of puppy mills. They estimate there could be as many as 10,000 puppy mills in the United States selling more than two million puppies annually.
What can you do?
Under no, any, absolutely zero circumstances should you go looking for a canine companion at a pet store. Supporting pet shop puppy sales continues the factory-dog-farming-abuse cycle.
Educate those around you. Speak up and voice your opinion.
Get involved with an animal rights group. Find one that supports your views and make a difference.
Puppy mill owners advertise in local papers and online to make it appear that their family-raised puppies are nearby. Many legitimate, humane, by-the-book breeders will also advertise in the same sources. To make sure you’re not supporting a mill style operation, visit the facility, meet the owners, and ask to see their other animals and the dog’s parents.
How do they look? What is the condition of the facility? Are the owners knowledgeable or are they in this business to make a quick buck overlooking the well-being of the animals?
Visit the local animal shelter
With so many dogs (and cats, rabbits, guinea pigs) surrendered to shelters, your best friend could be closer than you think. Consider adopting an adult, instead of a puppy. ‘Adopt, Don’t Shop’ is the motto of animal activists.
Meet the bulldogs
My new friends, Lou (Lou Lou), Butter (Buttercup), Tilly (Mitilda), and Penny (Penelope) are four of the lucky ones. As they’ve been fostered at a neighbor’s house, I have seen firsthand how patience, nutrition, supplements, and love can turn terrified dogs into little love buckets.
In the next few blog posts we’ll meet Lou and Butter, two English bulldogs being rehabilitated. In later posts, recently rescued Tilly and Penny will have their stories told.
You’ll be amazed at how far they’ve come.