A degree of understanding even toward perpetrators is encouraged by Officer Diaz and Brandon Hatch, both of whom believe few people start out with the intent of inflicting devastating harm on animals. But when commonsense barriers drop and greed takes over, innocent victims are left rotting in their own waste. They are deprived of the most basic sensory stimulation necessary for any living being capable of feeling pain, misery and fear.
Cicourel hopes the high-profile stories in Washington and elsewhere fuel support for continued activism that will eventually stop unnecessary suffering. People who buy or adopt animals as pets are searching for well-tempered companions. Though through an inordinate amount of care and socialization, dogs from puppy mills may become these companions, many fall devastatingly short.
My heart sank listening to Cicourel’s impassioned tale. In the shelter, I’d cared for a select group of relatively fortunate victims snatched from the confines of mass breeders. But it wasn’t hard to get to the place she hinted at—a world of despair she likened to concentration camps.
“They all have this spiritless persona. They’re like ghosts; they look right through you,” Cicourel said. “They’re empty and broken. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve ever seen.”
HELP STOP PUPPY MILLS IN THEIR TRACKS
Animal welfare officers want nothing more than to see these abusive operations shut down, but they can’t do it alone. Here are some ways you can assist them:
Fight City Hall. Check with your local jurisdiction to see which department confers licenses for kennels and breeding operations. Monitor those permit applications and watch for signs that they are properly evaluated. Get agendas for every agency or governing body hearing requests, complaints and proposed ordinances related to dog-breeding, animal cruelty, etc., and attend the meetings.
Troll pet stores. Visit retailers peddling puppies and ask detailed questions about the identity of the breeder(s) with whom they work. Not shopping for a dog? Do it anyway. Continual inquiries from a wide array of customers will send a message: The public is watching.
Rev up your (search) engine. Seek out online resources of organizations or individuals who compile information on breeders, suspected puppy mills, pending legislation and opportunities for participation. Join their mailing lists and stay up to date on their activities. (See “Hot Links” for a few places to start.)
Play snoop. Vigilantism isn’t advised, but in areas where enforcement is lax, it may be possible to assume a low-key investigative role by posing as a potential buyer and visiting operations thought to be potential puppy mills. Without trespassing or violating privacy rights, observe and document anything that suggests an illegal operation.
Support your local animal control officer. Avoid making anonymous complaints! Most jurisdictions will protect your identity from release to anyone you suspect is abusing animals. Law enforcement officers can more easily investigate and build a case if they can solicit information from, and identify, complainants who witness or even suspect abuse. Hot Links Best Friends
Comprehensive animal welfare site with links to puppy mill information. Companion Animal Protection Society
Dedicated to ending the abuse of pet shop and puppy mill dogs. Humane Society of the US
In-depth information, including a chart of state-by-state laws governing breeding and kennel operations.
This article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 54, May/Jun 2009, published as "Busted"
Photograph, puppy in hand: Scott Terrell/Skagit Valley Herald
Photograph, paw on wire: Dan Brandenburg