Puppy mills are hell on earth

Dogs rescued from a puppy mill await transport. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Dogs rescued from a puppy mill await transport. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A reader of my previous Examiner page recently wrote me about puppy mills, which compelled me to post the following excerpt from my book that deals with puppy mills.  Puppy mills are a horror of animal cruelty to which we must not turn a blind eye.  We are the only ones who can stop this.

Evil: I cannot think of a more perfect description for a puppy mill, a a hellish place where literally thousands of dogs are reared on a bastardized agricultural model.

In spite of the shameful numbers of dogs and cats who are abandoned and homeless, we want more and more and more. Unscrupulous breeders, who care not about the future or integrity of a breed, but only their own financial futures, use ruthless, deplorable methods to mass-produce dogs. (Cats have been spared the horrors of commercial breeding that are imposed on dogs.)

The exact number of puppy mills is not known because their owners often fail to register their operations, as is required by law.  Estimates of more than 4,000 have been attributed to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), but the exact number will never be known.

What is a puppy mill?

We may not know how many there are, but we know what they do, and Puppy Haven Kennel, which is north of Madison, WI, is typical of their sorry operations. It is a “dog compound” that sells 3,000 puppies a year.  Nearly a 1,000 dogs at a time are housed in a series of long buildings, cordoned off by chain link fencing. One whelping house has 4,300 square feet filled with 400 dogs, most of them puppies, in 120 elevated cages. Fourteen employees, some part-time and family members, care for the animals. That means one person to care for around 115 puppies each day, if you only count the puppies.

“I feel all dogs should be bred in a kennel just like mine,” said the mill’s owner, Wallace Haven. The man who speaks these words so proudly was suspended by the American Kennel Club for ten years for refusing kennel inspections.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has repeatedly cited him for inadequate care. Despite these sanctions, his, like other puppy mills similarly cited, remains licensed—spewing out puppies despite the recurrent violations of the Animal Welfare Act—granted an impotent law that is further weakened by poor enforcement. For example, Puppy Love Kennels in Lancaster County, PA, which is home to more commercial dog breeders than any other county in the United States, had so many consumer complaints (200) that it was the focus of a “20/20” investigation. Their cruelty is no secret. Yet, in spite of fines, they continue to breed: 1,968 puppies during a twelve-month period, ending February 2006.

What is being done?

National and local organizations are working independently and collaboratively to strengthen or create laws that protect puppy mill puppies, but changing laws is a long and arduous process. Existing laws are typically weak, such as “lemon laws,” that allow purchasers to return a puppy to a pet shop (where most puppy mill puppies are sold), but do nothing to protect the puppy. Sellers covered by a lemon law will simply offer you another puppy as a replacement. And, of course, you know what typically happens to the returned puppy.  Nothing currently exists that either spares the puppy the suffering or spares the guardian the heartbreak and expense of trying to care for a sick puppy. 

Purveyors of commercially bred puppies rather replace the puppy because they know they would go broke trying to provide veterinary care. Their puppies are some of the sickest puppies you will encounter, the innocent victims of many illnesses and diseases, some of which do not manifest for years.

Reports from undercover investigations and raids reveal a disturbing picture. A senior investigative reporter at a Wisconsin television station reported that dogs purchased from Puppy Haven had conditions such as canine herpes, kennel cough, parasites, and bacterial infections. The report included a pug-beagle mix puppy whose foot had been chewed off by his mother. “That comes from having puppies in a stressful situation, and they don’t know what they are doing, and they will just gnaw,” explained a rescuer. As this book was going to press, a Tennessee puppy mill had been raided for the second time, freeing nearly 140 puppies, all small breeds (such as Yorkshire and Boston terriers, Maltese, and poodles), who were all in varying stages of medical decline, according to a report by the Best Friends Network.

Nancy Green, the assistant director of the local humane society that took possession of the hapless puppies, said, “We’re seeing skin infections, urine burns on newborn puppies, dental problems, and sore feet from standing on wire.” Adding insult to injury, puppies rescued from puppy mills remain the “property” of the owners, pending resolution of legal issues. This hampers anyone hoping to provide care of or find them new homes, but local rescue organizations, bolstered by community volunteers and contributions, take responsibility for care and foster of the puppies.

The capital of puppy hell

Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being the “Puppy Mill Capital of the East Coast,” because of the number of puppy mills in Lancaster County, PA. But the state’s former Senator, Rick Santorum, tried to stem the tide, by introducing a bill, the Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS), which called for persons who sell more than twenty-five dogs a year to submit to federal inspections or face stiff suspensions. The bill divided breeders and faced stiff opposition and ridicule.

Face the facts and stop the flow of $$$

In spite of the challenge, the only way to save puppies from the endless torture of commercial breeding it seems is to put the breeders out of business by curbing their profits with hefty fines. We have the power to curb their profits by not buying the puppies, but we refuse to admit the horrors of puppy mills. Worse yet, puppy mills have found another outlet for their puppies with the Internet.

Source: The Powerful Bond Between People and Pets: Our Boundless Connection to Companion Animals, pg. 182, by P. Elizabeth Anderson Praeger Publishers 2009 (References contained in appendix).

Updated: January 21, 2017 — 6:54 pm

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