I have written before about the concept of pets as property and how that can be a good thing in our current social climate as it relates to legal rights. Yes, our animals are precious to us and they are not property in the traditional sense because we consider them priceless. Because my dog is my property, I have legal rights related to him being taken from me by law enforcement authorities, related to him being stolen from me and related to him being destroyed unnecessarily by an animal shelter. Until we change our laws so that I have rights similar to rights related to children, I am fine with him being called my property as long as I can protect him from harm.
The issue of dogs as a commodity, as inventory and as livestock is, however, a completely separate issue for me and it is one which is infuriating. Puppy mills exist today because we created them. The first commercial dog breeding operations came about thanks to a USDA program implemented decades ago to help struggling farmers. Dogs were promoted as a fool proof cash crop. They are easy to produce and the return on the dollar is high compared to other products. Americans love dogs, so what could possibly go wrong? Everything. Dogs began being produced in huge numbers while being housed in conditions we would normally find inadequate for any animal of any species. The commercial dog breeding industry became big business and it still is today, leading to the creation of a number of organizations which focus solely on saving mill dogs and on educating the public about mills. When we talk about puppy mills, that description encompasses a wide range of businesses and places. Some are large breeding operations with hundreds of dogs who produce thousands of dogs each year. Some are more rural operations managed by those in the Amish culture and yet others are simply backyard operations which go on unseen, unheard and out of the public eye. There is also the distribution system, the most notable of which is a distribution facility managed by the Hunte Corporation which takes puppies from breeders and ships them across the country in unmarked trucks to a pet store near you. A large number of the dogs produced commercially are sold to brokers who then sell them to pet stores. Many dogs are simply marketed through the internet using polished looking websites which present the illusion of proper care and cleanliness. Still others are sold through newspaper ads, on street corners and in the parking lots of large chain stores.
Although I am not a fan of breeding dogs, I fully recognized that there is such a thing as a responsible breeder. There are people who breed and then sell dogs while taking excellent care of the parent dogs and while doing all they can to perpetuate breed standards and have healthy puppies for people to buy as family pets or to use in some service capacity. There is a continental divide between a responsible breeder and a puppy mill, no matter the size of the mill. In a mill, the “breeder stock” is housed in unthinkable conditions, often in small wire cages with no flooring. They receive no veterinary care (or very little veterinary care) leading them to develop a host of conditions and diseases. Many have missing eyes from having been sprayed by power washers or tumors from lack of care or nails which have grown so long as to become ingrown. If you were to stop and try to think of a house of horrors for dogs, that would be a puppy mill.
The sad truth as it relates to the mill industry is that all puppies are cute and that we are blinded by the cuteness that we see. Even if we know it’s possible that the cute puppy in the pet store may have come from horrific conditions, we really don’t think about that much because the dog is there and he or she needs a home. I have known of some people who are well aware of the conditions in mills and yet they have rationalized buying a dog from a pet store in order to "save" it or "rescue" it. I have often though that if the puppies came with accurate labels, or were accompanied by a realistic image of the conditions in which their parents live, we would be so appalled we would know better than to buy one, cute or not.
Here’s the thing. Puppy mills thrive because of us. We make them profitable. We create the demand. And they will continue to dot our landscape across our country, keeping canine prisoners in horrific conditions, until we say “enough” and we stop buying what they are selling.
We created mills. We can stop the mills by speaking out against them, by telling everyone we know about them and by simply refusing to purchase dogs which millers see as nothing more than inventory. It is up to us to say, “no. That is not what our culture is about.” We like to think of our country as being animal friendly. The time has long since passed for us to stop patting ourselves on the back for being dog lovers while allowing such an insidious industry to exist in our country and doing nothing to stop it.
Adopt-A-Pet, Inc. is hosting a Puppy Mill Awareness Day event on September 18, 2016, at Buchanan Park in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, often called Puppy Mill Capital of the country. It is a day-long event which will have activities geared specifically toward educating children. The guest speaker is Victoria Stilwell who has written a host of books regarding dogs and who is a dog trainer and television host for a number of series about dogs. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning about puppy mills and how to stop them to consider attending this wonderful event.
I prepared a couple of projects for Carol Araneo-Mayer for her event and am sharing them here. I hope she has a huge turnout and that people come away both educated and empowered. Perhaps if we adults are too complacent to end the mill industry, our children can. Even children know that puppy mills are bad.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson