Dr. Nancy Kay graduated from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and is the author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life. She is a specialist in small animal internal medicine at Upstate Veterinary Specialists, with offices in Asheville, N.C., and Greenville, S.C. This post originally appeared on Vetstreet.com.
Joe and Cindy first laid eyes on Chloe when they passed through a pet store on their way to a movie. They never saw the weekend blockbuster — they’d fallen in love with the little blond Cocker Spaniel puppy with big brown eyes and bought her on the spot.
Chloe quickly became part of the family, but Joe and Cindy noticed from the start that she drank lots of water and had many accidents in the house. A few months later, when she began vomiting and refusing her food, they brought her in to me and I diagnosed kidney failure caused by a birth defect.
By the time she was 11 months old, the once-playful puppy had become profoundly weak and lethargic and, unfortunately, I had no reasonable way to offer her long-term improvement. Joe and Cindy held their little girl as I ended her life.
Where Healthy Dogs Are the Exception, Not the Rule
This couple didn’t have to have their hearts broken this way. Though any pet can have unexpected medical issues, Chloe’s life likely began at a puppy mill, a veritable factory in which huge numbers of puppies are produced for profit.
Puppy millers have no significant interest in the health histories of their breeding stock, so it’s no surprise that birth defects run rampant. The millers’ sole objective is the mass production of purebred pups and the designer hybrids that are all the rage these days. Pups not used to fill pet store inventory are offered to the highest bidder at auction or sold online via websites that dupe naive buyers into believing they are doing business with a reputable breeder. Manufacturing puppies is big business.
Chloe’s story is not unusual, as completely healthy puppy mill dogs are
the exception rather than the rule. Not all medical issues are
life-threatening, but many require life-long management. Perhaps most
common are behavioral issues significant enough that affected dogs are
commonly relinquished to shelters or rescue organizations. Sometimes,
the behavioral issues result in euthanasia.
How that Pet Store Puppy’s Life Began
Just as with other forms of manufacturing, there is a system to the way
dogs are typically bred and treated in puppy mills. It is likely that
Chloe entered the world in a wire mesh cage or crate no more than a few
inches longer and taller than an adult Cocker Spaniel.
Although mama was a purebred, her matted, overgrown coat made
her lineage undetectable. The “maternity ward” was overheated and poorly
ventilated, with multiple cages stacked one on top of the other.
of Chloe’s siblings didn’t make it, although it’s a wonder that any
survived given their mother’s confinement in such a small, filthy space,
her compromised health (she likely suffered from inadequate nutrition,
parasites, and dental and ear infections), and lack of downtime between
Chloe’s first few weeks of life were probably spent exclusively
inside a cage and without any significant human contact. (The critical
time during which pups learn about and develop their patterns for social
interactions with other dogs and humans is between 3 and 12 weeks of
age.) She was well cared for by her mother — puppy mill breeders who are
not good mothers are quickly culled. There was plenty of milk to be
had; mama dogs are adept at sacrificing their own reserves before
diminishing milk production.
At 5 weeks old, Chloe and her siblings were whisked from their mother
and loaded into a van packed with crates crowded with other puppies.
(This is far too early to be separated. For purposes of socialization,
pups should remain with their littermates for a minimum of eight weeks).
Their destination was a puppy warehouse where brokers ship inventory to fill pet store orders. Chloe was one of many pups sent
from the Midwest to California. Upon arrival, not all the pups were alive or in the
best shape, but that was no surprise to those who unloaded
the delivery: As with any perishable goods, there’s bound to be some
damage during transit.
From Pet Store to New Home
By 8 weeks old, Chloe was living in a pet store. Until this point, she’d
never set foot out of her cage, but then, suddenly, she was being
picked up and examined by many different human hands (some gentle,
others not so gentle). When Chloe was 11 weeks old, Cindy and Joe
happened by. They’d never before cared for a dog, but their emotions
managed to override their sensibilities. They were reassured and
encouraged by the pet store manager, who sealed the deal by guaranteeing
Chloe’s health. She could be returned and exchanged for another pup
should she prove to be unhealthy.
(Pet stores routinely offer such guarantees, knowing full well that it takes only a day or two for most people to become too emotionally attached to ever consider returning their beloved pet.)
Shortly after she went to her new home, Chloe was diagnosed with fleas, an
ear infection and intestinal parasites. She had never voided anywhere
but in her cage, so, like many puppy mill dogs, house training never
made sense to her. In puppy class, Chloe appeared to be a social
misfit. She was fearful of the instructor, and while the other pups
played and wrestled, nervous Chloe steered clear of the activity. Then her health issues started, and, well, you already know the rest of
Chloe’s sad story.
Protecting Dogs by Putting Puppy Mills Out of Business
What can we do to stop these tragedies? One way to protect both
pets and pet parents is to campaign for the eradication of puppy
mills. Write to legislators, sign petitions, join or initiate a
peaceful protest at a dog auction. Make your voice heard against puppy
More importantly, educate everyone you know (including
your children) that the best place to find a dog is a shelter or rescue
organization. Emphasize the importance of never ever purchasing a puppy
from a pet store or online, sight (and site) unseen. One less purchase
from a puppy mill is one step closer to their eradication. And one dog
adopted from a shelter or rescue is one more grateful life changed.
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