With all the news about the recent Tennessee puppy mill bust, I remembered the first time I’d ever heard about
puppy mills; it was from my friend Andrew Weinstein, a colleague and a
dedicated animal welfare activist who used to work as a corporate communications executive at AOL. I asked him to write a post about
how he came to care so much about puppy mills. This is his story:
I had actually heard very little about puppy mills
until about 10 years ago. My former wife and I had adopted a Rhodesian
from a local rescue league here in DC, so we had a good relationship with the
woman who ran the local chapter. One afternoon, I got a call from her asking if
we might have any interest in adopting a second dog from them.
The dog we were presented with (pictured here) had a tragic story.
Bailey was one of a number of breeding females from a puppy
She had spent her entire five-year life in an outdoor cage, on top of
another dog’s cage, through both sweltering summers and freezing winters.
She was kept continuously pregnant. Her feet were cut to shreds by the wire
mesh of her floor, she had never known the inside of a home or human love, and
the only contact she had was with the owner of the puppy mill when she dropped
some fetid food into Bailey’s cage or hosed it out every few weeks, with Bailey
Additionally, a botched C-section had left her with terrible scars on her
stomach. (The rescue league coordinator told me that the puppy mill had tried
to stitch her up with packing twine.)
The owner of the puppy mill had recently died, so the rescue
league purchased all of her Ridgebacks at an estate auction to prevent them from going to
another mill (or an animal-testing facility). Now they were looking for a forever
home for this poor dog, and they wanted to know if we were interested.
Of course we were. So Bailey came home with us the next day.
The training was incredibly hard, however. Bailey was terrified of
everything — people, noises, cars, trucks, doorbells — and dropped into a
defensive pee every time she got scared. She had no interest in food or
treats, and she panicked when you praised her or touched her, so positive
reinforcement was nearly impossible for training. She had also never been
in a house, and for obvious reasons, we could never crate her, so the
housetraining took many months.
Bailey, however, was incredibly sweet and loving, and she
slowly came out of her shell as she realized that she would never again
have to sleep on a wire floor in the freezing cold, be kept pregnant at
all times, underfed and abused. Over the following years, she became a wonderful dog, and every time she came loping into the room with a big doggy
smile on her face and a tail wagging from wall to wall, you knew how grateful
she was for her second chance.
After adopting Bailey, I decided that I wanted to get more
actively involved in helping other animals, so I started volunteering with
the Washington Humane Society in DC. Through that work, I became friendly with the head of the Humane
Society of the United States, and I ended up joining the boards of
both organizations. (The HSUS, as a national organization, takes
a much more active role in shutting down the worst puppy mills and prosecuting
their owners. Check out their anti-puppy mill Web site, StopPuppyMills.org.)
The biggest problem with puppy mills is that people don’t realize they
exist. Most people think the beautiful puppy in the pet-store window came
from doggy parents in some cozy living room with a blanket in front of a
roaring fire. Instead, it’s often a sick, genetically weak, terrified
young animal that was packed on a truck from a factory farm of abused animals.
The only long-term solution is a simple one: Don’t give the puppy millers
the economic incentive to sell puppies. Every puppy purchased in a
store, or even from a more reputable breeder, comes at the expense of another
dog who must be euthanized in a shelter. Puppies are great, and many
shelters are overflowingwith them, so there is never a need to buy one from a
store. If you see a store selling them, go inside and ask them to stop. Tell them that they will never get your business as long as
they are supporting those purveyors of cruelty.
In addition, groups like the HSUS are working to toughen regulations governing breeders, to help ensure that their dogs get safe and clean living conditions, including socialization with people and other dogs. (StopPuppyMills.org
has more information on how you can help puppy mill dogs
by putting pressure on Congress and state legislatures). Increased regulation will never, in itself, end cruelty, however.
Only by working through adoption websites like Petfinder to find our companion animals can we put the puppy mill butchers out of business.