Sunday, September 14, 2008

Puppy Mills Breed Misery

When I was younger, my family would browse the pet store in the mall while killing time for a movie. We'd look at the cute baby animals, never once wondering where they came from. Never considering that they were viewed not as precious creatures but as inventory.

Puppies -- and kittens, although I've never seen a story about it -- come from mills, facilities that churn out puppies for profit, selling them to pet stores or directly to average people.

In late August 55 dogs were seized in a raid on a puppy mill in Central Illinois.

"They were in deplorable conditions," said Dr. Kathleen McManamon, Douglas County's animal control administrator.

"Most of the adults had sores on their feet from being in wire cages, they had swollen feet, reddened skin and they were urine- and feces-soaked."
Somehow, though, no charges were filed against the owner, due to a lack of evidence. Yet it doesn't appear that he will get the dogs back. Seems shady to me.

The Decatur Herald & Review has published a wonderful story about the future of the dogs and about puppy-mill dogs in general. (Also check out the video on that page.)

"Before you see the dogs, you smell the dogs," [said Carolyn Warnhoff, a volunteer with a Westie rescue.] "Once you smell true puppy mill dogs, you never forget that smell. There's just no describing; it's a mixture of fecal, urine, birth, death. It's a smell you'll never forget."
Holly Crotty, who I know through volunteering with Cairn Rescue USA, said that a key to helping puppy mill dogs is to have patience with them.

"I love mill dogs," she said. "I think when they warm up, they are the most affectionate, loving dogs who feel like they appreciate their second chance at life."

But that doesn't happen right away, she said. It can take days, weeks or months. Lenny, a former mill dog Crotty fostered for nine months, was adopted and returned twice. He hid upstairs for almost the first three months with her.

"The first person who adopted him returned him because they said he wasn't a dog because all he would do was hide in the bedroom," she said.
I've fostered three puppy-mill dogs -- Straggles, Wags and Cookie -- and by far Straggles had the most to overcome, as she was the most timid. Because these dogs live in cages their entire lives, they don't even know what grass is or what toys are. Each day, though, she'd become more trusting and more confident. I enjoyed coming home from work each evening to see what she'd learned that day. I can only assume my dog, Poncho, had helped her a bit while I was away.

The following excerpts from my Foster Dog Log illustrate the condition puppy-mill dogs are initially in and how, despite their horrific experiences, they learn to trust and be loved. The first is from the first full day I had Straggles.

She won't hold her tail up, but she wagged it for the first time -- it was down and wagging -- when I was getting her and Poncho ready to go outside this morning. And she wagged it again this afternoon. I think she wags hers because she sees Poncho's. ... She also took a few steps from the blacktop driveway into the grass in my front yard. I'm glad I have Poncho because he unknowingly shows her how to do things and shows her that it's ok.
Day 3:

After work I walked Poncho and Straggles on separate leashes, and Straggles actually walked on the sidewalk. She was slow and would stop and look around, but we made it down the block and back. I was so proud of her.
Day 4, after reading about a protest planned at an area pet store:

But you know what I'd REALLY like to do? Bring her to the protest. She's a puppy-mill breeder. Or was until recently. The poor thing is scared out of her mind and doesn't know much of anything about how to be a dog. She's learning to walk on a leash; she only ventured into the grass once. She has yet to potty outside. She loves my dog but is scared of me.

And physically she's a mess. Much of her fur is gone, and her nipples are huge. It infuriates me that puppy mills exist, but all that most of the public sees are cute little puppies in pet stores. They don't see the mothers of those dogs.

So I think it'd be great to bring a mother to a pet store, so customers can see how things really are. But it wouldn't be good for her to be in that situation right now.
Day 9:

I saw the most wonderful thing today. My neighbor, Ashley, recently got a puppy and he came out while I was walking Poncho and Straggles, so we stopped to see him. Poncho couldn't care less about the little dude, Rocky, but Straggles actually played with him! She was lying on her tummy and swatting at him, and her tail was wagging, and she'd Army-crawl to get closer to him. And he climbed on her back a couple of times, and she didn't mind at all. And they were play-biting and everything. She looked like a much younger dog. I couldn't believe it! She even knew how hard to bite so she wouldn't hurt him. It was the most fantastic thing!
Day 15:

When Poncho and I come down and get Straggles in the morning, she's all happy. Her tail wags so much that her butt wiggles back and forth.
Ten days after that entry Straggles went to her forever home with a nice couple from Chicago and their young dog, Monty.

With millions of dogs euthanized in this country each year simply because they don't have homes, please don't support puppy mills and pet stores. Please adopt a dog from an animal shelter or from a rescue organization. Petfinder is a great source for finding pets, and if you need further help, please feel free to contact me.

(Photo is of Straggles on Day 5.)

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