When members of the Humane Society of Missouri raided a notorious commercial breeding facility in the state they found 220 dogs suffering from neglect, inhumane conditions and a severe lack of medical treatment. One of the dogs, CJ, was adopted by a Humane Society worker but it was soon discovered the poor dog had a variety of health and behavioral problems. Skinny and mostly bald, the tiny dog was terrified of humans. The worker also discovered little CJ was deaf, apparently from untreated ear infections that worsened over the years. While cared for and nurtured by the Humane Society worker, CJ's early poor treatment still caused her to suffer, as years of neglect and cruelty in her formative years led to permanent health problems that resulted in the dog having uncontrollable seizures near the end of her life.
CJ's story is unfortunately a common one for many of the dogs raised in inhumane and cruel conditions that exist around the country. "Puppy mills are nothing new," says the Humane Society of the United States in material for their new campaign, "Stop Puppy Mills."
"These mass dog-breeding operations have been around for decades, but they continue to be a problem because unsuspecting consumers keep buying those adorable puppies in the pet store window, some slick Internet site or even through an ad in a trusted local newspaper."
With the Humane Society of America estimating that 500,000 puppies are sold in pet stores every year, and the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimating that 150,000 dogs are also purchased via the Internet, it can be guessed that many of these purchasers know little about where their dogs come from, nor do any investigation into the conditions under which their new puppies were raised. This research, contends the Humane Society, is essential in stopping the ongoing cruelty of puppy mills.
The dog facilities are designed for profit and not for care of the animals. "Critics say these factory dog farms churn out thousands of mass-produced puppies of questionable linage in inhumane conditions for the express purpose of big profits," notes Gail Swainson in an article in the Toronto Star newspaper.
Often in puppy mills overbreeding, inbreeding, substandard food, overcrowding in tiny cages and absence of veterinary attention lead to a variety of health and social problems for the puppies. Police in Maine found a horrific kennel in which 119 dogs were living in a room with two inches of standing dog urine covering the floor and dead bodies of puppies scattered around, reports Bill Thoebald of the Gannett News Service.
Puppies from these inhumane mills are likely to have genetic problems from inbreeding, suffering from painful conditions such as hip dysplasia (a condition in which the dog's hip pops out of joint), Kennel cough (which can lead to pneumonia) and a variety of other congenital diseases. Since they are often cooped up in rabbit-sized hutches and mistreated at the hands of the humans who breed them, puppies from these mills are also often terrified of people or suffer from "puppy mill mania," causing puppies to be maladjusted, aggressive, overly shy or difficult to train.
The dogs bred are often mistreated as well, as they are kept locked away and bred every time they enter heat, often without veterinary care during their pregnancies or before. Often, these breeding dogs are destroyed when they get too old to produce more puppies.
Just recently, a bill concerning puppy mills was introduced to Congress, underlining the severity of this situation. The bill hopes to correct a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act of 1967 that currently exempts "retail pet stores" and those who sell directly to consumers to be free from the standards of animal treatment set out by the act. Such regulations are needed, and more enforcement is desperately needed for existing laws. Currently, the Humane Society says there are only 96 inspectors in the nation working for the United States Department of Agriculture to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, and they are stretched thin as they are called not only to oversee puppy mills but also zoos, circuses, labs and animal transport issues.
As the holiday season finds many families or individuals searching for a new pet to give as a gift, the Humane Society, American Kennel Club and other animal welfare groups urge consumers to take careful precautions to avoid supporting these cruel mills.
Besides supporting the bill in Congress, consumers can also take steps to ensure that any gift dogs purchased come from caring environments (which the consumer should personally visit and examine, suggests the Humane Society), researching the purchase and consulting their veterinarian. Likewise, with many dogs in need of adoption at places such as Larimer County Humane Society shelter, adopting a pet might be another wonderful route for those who want companionship this holiday season or beyond.
As the holiday times roll around, it is important to remember that the messages we hear about love and caring extend to animals as well.
Meg Burd is a graduate student studying anthropology. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian.