• The Doggie Holocaust

    Puppy mills, otherwise known as puppy farms, are a terrible time-honored tradition in the United States. These operations feed on America’s obsession with purebred dogs, churning out thousands of pedigreed pups per year at hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars apiece. Though most people have heard the term ‘puppy mill,’ if everyone knew precisely how these places ran dog owners would likely be less inclined to buy an adorable little pooch from a pet store and more inclined to research private breeders to find their new canine companion, or perhaps even to adopt a mutt from the local shelter.

    The first question we must therefore ask ourselves is what are puppy mills? They are like any other type of mill: A grain mill produces grain; a puppy mill produces puppies. Also like other mills these operations have ‘machines’ to create their product. Unlike other mills, the machinery in puppy mills is not comprised of cogs and wheels, but fur and flesh. They are living animals, canines kept in deplorable conditions that could be likened to humans living in a concentration camp. Though the puppies produced have a chance at a good life, their studs and bitches – the dogs that spawned them – are never given that chance.

    A report by the Humane Society of the United States entitled “1,000 Freed from West Virginia Puppy Mill” discusses the living space the rescued animals had: “Breeding dogs were housed in small rabbit hutches throughout the property – many with no access to water in the potentially deadly 95-degree heat.” However, the report also states that these thousand dogs and puppies that were kept on this single West Virginian farm were in bad shape it was not the worst the rescuers had seen. Of course, it is veritably impossible for any family to keep a thousand dogs in comfortable, healthy conditions, or even fifty – which is the number of adult dogs that it is now legal to keep on a property (“Laws That Protect Dogs in Puppy Mills”). In my opinion that is still too many, and since the owners of puppy mills are not concerned with morality they often break that law.

    Poor housing is just the tip of the animal abuse iceberg, however. Because of the tiny spaces dogs are kept in it is easy to imagine the sort of health these breeder dogs are in, and the owners certainly would not waste any money on veterinary bills. Many rescued dogs are found in health conditions so poor that they must be euthanized out of mercy. Fleas, ticks, and worms run rampant. Since the dogs are unable to exercise in their tiny enclosures, leg muscles atrophy and unclipped claws grow up and back into the dogs’ paws so that they are incapable of even standing. Kept in such conditions, breeder dogs will also develop nervous disorders which may prevent the females from going into heat. Since new ‘machinery’ is so readily available in such places, females incapable of whelping are disposed of inhumanely.

    One author who is very concerned about the doggie holocaust taking place in America is Mr. Dean Koontz. Though he is a fiction writer well known for his tales of suspense and the supernatural, his recent book, The Darkest Evening of the Year, describes puppy mills and their effects on breeder dogs in a way that echoes all of the articles I have found. One of his characters in the novel owns a ranch where golden retrievers rescued from a puppy farm are rehabilitated and has this to say on the condition of those animals:

    “They come here covered in sores, some half-blind from untreated eye infections, spent their lives in cages hardly bigger than them, never knew a human being that wasn’t a greedy, hateful b*****d, never knew a gentle touch or any kindness. They ought to savage us…” (130).

    Mr. Koontz also touches on the main reason that so many people buy puppy mill products without even being aware of it: The American Kennel Club, or AKC. The AKC was founded in 1884 by a group of rich sportsmen who wanted to standardize the looks and behaviors that were preferable in different breeds of dog (“American Kennel Club - History of the American Kennel Club”). Over one hundred twenty years later, this club is recognized as the most influential canine club in American and issues registration papers for pedigreed dogs. It costs only twenty-five dollars to register a dog with the AKC, and, in return, you will receive a certificate specifying that your pup is completely purebred and within the desired range of appearance for that breed. Appearance, not intelligence or friendliness, is now the main draw of purebred canines. Every year, many puppy mill products are registered with the AKC since these papers state, as Dean Koontz puts it, “that the dog was a purebred, not that it had been bred humanely” (131). What began as a discerning club for rich dog owners is now one of the major driving forces behind this terrible tradition.

    All of the blame cannot be put upon owners who desire a purebred puppy. The people who run puppy farms are not honest in peddling their wares; those seeking a new dog may purchase an inhumanely bred dog without realizing it. When a newspaper or Internet ad boasts that its dogs were bred and raised by a loving family, it is easy to believe but is likely not the case. Likewise, most pet stores that sell puppies get their animals from mills. Petland has recently come under fire as a large chain that perpetuates the puppy mill cycle when a former kennel manager granted the Humane Society an interview. This kennel manager, Denise Jenke, states “The sales manager told me, ‘Yes, these puppies are from puppy mill, but we don’t tell our customers that. We just tell them that they are from USDA-approved breeders’” (“Former Petland Kennel Manager Speaks Out”). In her interview, she also outlines the ill conditions in which puppies arrived.

    Others before me have described the difficulty that the USDA and even the AKC have in inspecting all of the kennels which are registered with them: They simply do not have the numbers suitable to perform in depth inspections at every kennel. The point I would like to drive home; however, has nothing to do with inspections or over-burdened kennels or even manipulative pet store managers.

    The point I want to emphasize is this: If the public were more aware of the nature of puppy farms and the way the animals in them are kept, no one would purchase a dog from one and the farms would therefore become obsolete.

    Once one begins looking there is a wealth of information about puppy mills available. The Humane Society of the United States sponsors a webpage called simply Stop Puppy Mills, which goes into great detail about these operations. They offer campaign gear, stickers, and even a pledge one can electronically sign in which one vows never to buy a puppy from an unknown breeder. Perhaps most useful of all, there is a section of the site that offers guidelines to buying a pup responsibly and avoiding puppy mill offal. Most of this advice is common sense: Check out the premises and breeder you choose; make sure that the animals are housed humanely and loved by their owners; avoid buying puppies from a pet store. Lastly, there is the old standby and my personal favorite, adopt from a humane shelter or a purebred rescue group (Stop Puppy Mills).

    The most important thing any of us can do to strike a blow at the puppy mill atrocity is to be informed and to inform others. Forewarned is forearmed, and even if someone has only heard a small portion of what goes on in puppy mills, they are likelier to be careful when selecting a pup. Dogs are abused and abandoned and euthanized every day for want of a home. Until the last inhumane puppy mill is shut down for lack of business, until every dog that has been cast out has found a loving home, America cannot call itself a civil society. It is how we treat those without voices – the humblest among us who live only to please and share in our joy – which truly defines the worth of our existence.

    Works Cited

    "American Kennel Club - History of the American Kennel Club." American Kennel Club - akc.org. AKC. 28 Apr. 2009. http://www.akc.org/about/history.cfm.

    Jenke, Denise. “Former Petland Kennel Manager Speaks Out.” Interview. Humane Society of the United States. 20 Nov. 2008. 10 Mar. 2009. http://www.hsus.org/pets/pets_related_news_and_events/petland_qa_112006.html

    Koontz, Dean. The Darkest Evening of the Year. New York, NY: Bantam Books,

    Lariccia, Natalie. “A Warn On Puppy Mills.” Vindicator 25 Apr. 2000.

    "Laws That Protect Dogs in Puppy Mills." ASPCA: The American Society for the
    Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 28 Apr. 2009 http://www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty/puppy-mills/laws-that-protect-dogs.html.

    Stop Puppy Mills. 28 Apr. 2009. http://www.stoppuppymills.org.

    “1,000 Freed From West Virginia Puppy Mill.” Humane Society of the United
    States. 24 Aug. 2008. Humane Society of the United States. 10 Mar. 2009.