If you love animals, you have probably stopped at a pet store to pet the adorable puppies and kittens. Sadly, very often these are the progeny of puppy mill parents that live in appalling conditions, where the owners are only concerned with making money and have no empathy for the dogs they use for breeding.
So what exactly is a puppy mill?
It is a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where the welfare of the breeding animals is not taken into consideration. One or more of the following are common:
1. The animals are kept in small wire cages, often stacked on top of one another, and are never taken out for exercise. They are forced to urinate and defecate in their cages and it is rarely or never cleaned up.
2. The cages are located outdoors or under a roof where heating or cooling is not provided, no matter how hot or cold the weather conditions.
3. The animals are not given adequate food and water.
4. The bitches are bred as often as possible until they are physically unable to reproduce, at which time they are killed.
5. No veterinary treatment is given to the animals.
6. The dogs are not protected from parasites.
The Federal Animal Welfare Act requires breeders with more than three breeding female dogs, and who sell puppies to pet stores or middlemen, called puppy-brokers, are required to be licensed and inspected by the US Department of Agriculture.
You may be disgusted to hear federal law allows a dog to be kept in a cage only six inches longer than the dog in each direction, with a wire floor and stacked on top of another cage. Fortunately additional animal anti-cruelty laws are administered on a state-by-state basis, and many states have imposed stricter guidelines for dog breeding operations, plus greater penalties for cruelty to animals. Sadly, others only offer the bare minimum of protection as dictated by the federal government.
I would never have found out about puppy mills if I hadn't adopted a dog from a rescue society.
My little Yorkshire Terrier, Purdy was rescued together with more than 100 other dogs from a puppy mill in Arkansas.
When the number of dogs rescued is too great to be accommodated by local rescue facilities, a wonderful organization called Pilots n' Paws flies them to rescue societies in other parts of the country. http://pilotsnpaws.org/
Most members of the public have no knowledge of puppy mills and the extent of the suffering these poor dogs go through. I certainly didn't until I went online and searched for 'puppy mills'. You can do your own search but I've placed some links at the end of this article. Be warned, if you love dogs this information will bring tears to your eyes.
My beautiful little Purdy was emaciated, suffering from heartworm, filthy, and almost dead when they saved her. Her teeth were falling out because of malnutrition and calcium deficiency. She was also terrified of everything and everyone. The rescuers and their dedicated staff of veterinarians treated her for heartworm and other parasites, spayed her, and pulled the loose teeth. They guessed her age was around 10 to 12, but she was so debilitated she looked more like 14. Now we know she was probably actually only six.
Her health problems, caused by the way she was abused, will never totally end. She's been diagnosed with a mass on her pancreas, and can never eat fat. We've fed her all sorts of supplements and a special organic diet and her immune system, once non-existent, has slowly begun to recover. It's been a hard seven years; emotionally draining for us, and physically tough for her, but finally, things seem to be turning around for her. She has picked up a half pound in weight, which is a lot for a dog under 10 lbs, and she sometimes goes for long spells without throwing up. I had never heard her bark until a few months ago—she was too timid. She is certainly the most loving dog I've ever owned. She expresses her love by pressing her head into me or by just gazing into my face.
It's hard to imagine how many more Purdy's are out there.
The Humane Society of the United States http://www.humanesociety.org/ and the ASPCA http://www.aspca.org/ are doing all they can to spread the word and educate people not to purchase puppies from pet stores.
The great thing is, every single person, including you, can make a difference. Here's how:
1. Spread the word about puppy mills – start by sharing this article on the social networks and with everyone on your mailing list. Even if you don't really care for dogs, great satisfaction often comes from knowing you've done a good deed.
2. Go to the Humane Society website and sign the pledge. https://secure.humanesociety.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=6041&s_src=web_86162527
3. Educate people – tell your friends why they shouldn't buy puppies from pet stores. Make sure they are aware that puppies bred in puppy mills are a bad investment because they are often inbred and unhealthy. Suggest to them that before making a commitment, they ask for the name and address of the breeders who supply the puppies, and make a point of checking up on them.
4. If you live in a rural area and hear a large number of dogs barking from a single location, make it your mission to find out if the owner of the property is licensed to keep dogs and that they have been inspected by the local US Department of Agriculture inspector. While anti-cruelty agencies and organizations work to ferret out illegal puppy mills and close them down, others are brought to justice by the diligent efforts of animal lovers, many of whom place themselves in danger by posing as buyers or puppy brokers so they can gain access to the breeding facilities. (Please do not take this risk. Go to your local authorities.)
5. Consider getting your next pet from your local animal shelter or a rescue organization. They offer hundreds of pets that may otherwise lose their lives if nobody claims them. If you particularly want a pedigreed dog with papers, look to bona-fide breeders and visit their premises before making a purchase.
6. Give a donation. No matter how small, it will be put to good use. The veterinary treatment for dogs rescued from puppy mills runs into the hundreds of thousands.
7. Consider being a dog foster parent. You'll be asked to keep one or more rescued dogs at your home and socialize them to ready them for adoption.
I love all animals, and I try to always incorporate some sort of animal in my writing. In Backwoods Boogie, the third book in my Redneck Series, which is still in the draft stages, redneck P.I. Twila Taunton rescues several dogs from an illegal puppy mill. I'm thrilled to have come up with a way to bring to people's attention the appalling conditions these dogs have to endure.
The book will be published in the fall of 2014, but you can contact me to sign up to pre-order it or ask to be notified when it's available on my website: http://www.trishjax.com
More info about puppy mills: (Get the tissues ready – the first one is really graphic).
(This story first appeared on The Write Room Blog in August, 2013)