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Sometimes I wonder how puppy mills still exist. A quick internet search uncovers endless information about how you should avoid buying dogs from pet stores or backyard breeders. At the same time, there's been a lot of media attention promoting adoption in recent years. Yet stores continue to sell puppies and kittens, while millions of shelter animals are euthanized each year. It's easy to feel disheartened, but we can't loose sight of the fact that education is the key to this fight. So I was encouraged to see Rolling Stone's incredibly thorough and moving investigative report on puppy mills .
Reporter Paul Solotaroff did a great job sharing stories from the front lines of commercial dog breeding. Paul began his investigation by shadowing Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) workers and the Cabarrus County sheriffs office on a mission to seize dogs from an operation near Charlotte, North Carolina. The breeder, Patricia Yates, had been selling puppies on multiple web sites without a license and had many buyer complaints against her. But even with evidence, busting an illegal kennel is no east feat. As the author notes, "the HSUS is unique in that it has the money and equipment to house and treat puppy mill rescues. When you close an illegal kennel, you're suddenly swamped with sick dogs, often double what had been reported."
In this case it was 105 dogs, many pregnant or in heat. Paul knew the situation would be bad, but wrote "nothing can prepare you for the house caked in pet fur and waste, damp laundry draped across every flat surface, maze of crates and garbage, and dozens of puppies in dust-cloaked cages." He describes the dogs as "so matted and excrement-mottled it was hard to tell which from which." Despite the horrid conditions, most of these puppies would be destined for pet stores across the country to be sold for top dollar.
As if the puppies weren't bad enough, the older breeding dogs were "in desperate shape: blinded by cataracts and corneal ulcers; their jaws half-gone or missing entirely after their teeth had rotted away. Some were so feeble they couldn't stand erect; their paws were urine-scalded and their wrists were deformed from squatting on wire their entire lives." These pups had spent their whole lives in slavery, never knowing what it was like to bask in the sun or romp in the grass.
As Patricia Yates was arrested, she yelled, "These dogs are the love of my life!" I'm not sure if she's lying or is just blinded by the real situation.
"Most every pup sold in stores in America comes from this kind of suffering – or worse," explains John Goodwin, the director of the puppy-mills campaign for HSUS. "If you buy a puppy from a pet store, this is what you're paying for and nothing else: a dog raised in puppy-mill evil."
Only a fraction of the 10,000 puppy mills in America are licensed by the USDA or individual states, meaning they're flying completely under the radar. But even a license means very little considering low legal standards and short staffing. The internet has only made the problem worse. The HSUS estimates that half of the two million pups bred in puppy mills are sold online, which is almost impossible to regulate.
Paul's next stop was a dog auction in Missouri where he watched 300 pups bid on and sold, many who looked battered and sick after years of producing. Paul describes the unbearable stench that came from the back room every time they opened the door to bring a new dog into the auction room.
It was here that Paul met Wes Eden, a man devoted to rescuing dogs by the controversial method of buying them at auction. Wes talks about seeing dogs with stomach hernia, bleeding rectums, and ears rotted off from hematomas. It's absolutely heartbreaking.
On that day Wes spent $60,000 buying 21 dogs, which would later require thousands of dollars in veterinary procedures. After they recover, Wes helps them adjust to their new life, teaching them how to walk and climb stairs, and eventually finds homes for them. Most rescue groups believe that Wes' methods just puts more money in the hands of puppy mills, but he can't resist helping these poor pups. Who can blame him.
So how can we change the landscape? Putting pressure on pet stores has helped, but it's also driven sales online. Strengthening laws is one tactic, but can be extremely hard to accomplish.
John believes that the answer lies with the buyers. "The only way you end it is choke its blood supply: stop buying purebred dogs, and adopt one instead." He encourages people to look at Petfinder.com, where you can search through thousands of adoptable dogs. "You can find any breed you like. The difference is these dogs are healthy and you won't spend thousands in vet bills"
The raid that Paul shadowed cost at least $100,000, mostly due to medical costs. As you can imagine, it's not realistic to eliminate the problem this way. We need to get to the root of the issue--the millions of buyers that keep these operations in business.
Read Paul's full report to learn more about the history behind puppy mills, the attempts to regulate them and improve conditions, and the stories he uncovered.
Photo by Aimee Stubbs.