I engage with a lot of animal welfare advocates across the country on a variety of issues. I've had conversations with advocates in multiple states recently about two issues I consider our national shame related to companion animals: puppy mills and killing in animal shelters. The two issues may seem unrelated, but they are absolutely related. The puppy mill industry produces millions of dogs each year, infusing them into the supply system as a result of public demand. The public has been bamboozled into believing pure bred dogs are superior to mixed breed dogs or dogs in our sheltering system and has confused cost with value or worth. At the same time those dogs are being marketed as superior, we are destroying great dogs in our antiquated animal sheltering system, often just for space or convenience. This continued slaughter of dogs using our money simply serves to perpetuate the stereotype that something is wrong with them and that we have no choice but to destroy them. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Beyond this connection between puppy mills and shelter killing is issue of what is being done about both problems. A lot of people think that national animal welfare organizations are working hard to eradicate the evils of the puppy mill industry and working hard to reform our tax-funded shelters. Not so much. There is some good being done by what I call the alphabet soup of animal welfare (since most organizations are known by acronyms we all use to describe them). But the truth is this: the greatest good being done across our country to bring awareness to the topic of puppy mills is being done by grassroots advocacy, by the people "in the weeds" of putting this topic on the public radar. The same is true for the animal shelter issue. If you seek reform of your local animal shelter, don't look to a large, national organization for help. Your best help and support is going to come from other advocates like you who can guide you regarding effective advocacy.
We will bring an end to shelter killing when enough of the public knows what is taking place behind closed doors using their money and while they are blamed for the process. We will bring an end to puppy mills when enough of the public knows what takes place in the supply chain before that cute puppy ends up in that pet store, on the internet or in that newspaper ad.
So, what can you do about puppy mills? The answer is pretty simple: Just Say No.
• Say no to dogs in pet stores. Even if you are told they come from a USDA licensed kennel, they are from a puppy mill. When you buy a dog in a store, you are simply creating demand and are making the industry profitable.
• Say no to dogs on internet websites. It is easy to make a good looking website while having the dogs live in absolute squalor and while receiving no veterinary care. If you believe a website is run by a reputable breeder, do your due diligence to learn more about that breeder to determine how many litters they produce each year and about the health of their dogs.
• Say no to dogs in newspaper ads. While some reputable breeders do use newspapers to sell dogs, they are ordinarily very transparent about how they function if they are legitimate. Make plans to meet the parent dogs, see the conditions in which the dogs live and ask questions about how many dogs are sold each year.
• Say no to dogs in store parking lots. It is easy for someone who is running a backyard breeding operation which would horrify you to bring a box of cute puppies to a parking lot near you and spin some tale about a dog who got loose, resulting in an unexpected litter. It is very likely that you are supporting a milling operation which the person selling the dogs does not want you to see. If you think the person is being honest, ask so see the parent dogs and the conditions in which they live.
• Say yes to adopting a puppy or a dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. You will have saved a life and you’ll get a wonderful companion in the process.
If you want to get involved yourself on a grassroots level and become part of the advocacy effort taking place across our country, consider getting involved with Harley's Puppy Mill Action and Awareness Project. Harley was the 2015 American Hero Dog and while he is no longer with us, his family is continuing his legacy by promoting grassroots advocacy across the country by small groups of people just like you in order to change our culture. Some of the most productive conversations in our country about puppy mills are taking place not in conference rooms but in grocery store check-out lines, at banks, at parks, at social gatherings and on airplanes as animal advocates look for opportunities to talk about puppy mills and help educate the people around them about the evils of the industry.
If you want a wearable conversation starter to make your advocacy easier, please consider supporting the Just Say "No" To Puppy Mills campaign going on now with Bonfire. All proceeds will go directly to Harley's Puppy Mill Action and Awareness Project and you'll be spreading awareness effortlessly. The shirt design was donated by the very talented Morgan Spicer of Bark Point Studio. Thank you so very much, Morgan!
Sometimes a shirt is more than just a shirt. It is a way to start a dialogue with others who may tell even more people as we turn the tide on the mill industry and take back the power for the sake of the dogs we say we love and value.
Just say No.
(image subject to copyright of Bark Point Studio and Rudi Taylor)
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