Long ago and far away, when crop yields were low and the American farmer was struggling to make ends meet, a government organization looked for a way to help them out. The government agency was the USDA. Their solution? Encourage farmers to raise a variety of livestock that could then be turned into a cash crop and allow them to thrive.
The “livestock” the USDA encouraged them to sell were dogs, cute and cuddly, little purebred puppies that could be sold to an ever-growing American middle class, who had begun to see the dog as a part of the American dream (a house, a fence, two kids and a dog).
What we couldn’t know then, but know now, is that this industry would grow and spread across the United States, and it would increase in scope and size and numbers. It would become a burgeoning industry that made farmers money and would feed an ever-growing American need for a dog – a purebred dog, a designer dog, an -orki and an -oodle, and every other kind of combination of dog possible.
Farmers, including the Amish, benefitted from this cash crop in tough times. They found this type of farming appealing and one that could supplement their incomes and help their families. To them, dogs really were livestock. They were just like cattle or sheep, only smaller and cheaper to raise. They could be kept in cages and bred and their offspring could be sold to pet stores across the country. The adults could be harvested for their pups, and when too old to produce, could be sent off to the slaughterhouse, much like a dairy cow, only in their case the slaughterhouse was out back of the mill, the one in which they had lived for their whole life.
For years, the argument has been made that dogs raised in puppy mills are livestock, not pets. They are bred for one purpose, profit, and thus should not be afforded the same kind of care as a dog raised in home. Viewing puppy mill dogs as livestock and not as companion animals, allowed farmers (a.k.a. puppy millers) to argue that they should be treated the same as a farmer raising beef cattle. It allowed them to argue that additional regulations should not apply to them since it did not apply to farmers who raised cows and sheep.
And this argument has worked, for a very long time (and continues to do so, if you live in Missouri).
But in Minnesota, there is reason for hope. There is reason to believe that this argument (that puppy mill dogs are livestock) may be changing.
Recently, a dog breeder, Dayna Bell, was convicted for animal cruelty. And this year, she tried to make the argument that her breeding stock of dogs were not companion animals or pets, but in essence “livestock,” and thus she was not subject to the state statutes that were used to convict her of felony animal cruelty.
Unfortunately for her, the Minnesota State Court of Appeals disagreed.
You can read the full background and history on the case against and the conviction of Dayna Bell and the recent Minnesota State Court of Appeals opinion on the Animal Folks MN site, but here is an excerpt from the court papers.
“….Under Bell’s interpretation, so long as her subjective “enjoyment” of a dog at her kennel amounts to use of the animal as a vessel for conceiving, birthing, and rearing puppies that would be sold as pets, the breeding dog would not qualify as a “pet or companion animal” under Minn. Stat. Sec. 343.20. We presume that the legislature does not intend results that are a “absurd, impossible of execution, or unreasonable.” Minn. Stat. 645.17(1)(2012). Just as a farm cat that is kept in a barn to kill mice or a hunting dog that is used to retrieve game can still be a pet, some of Bell’s dogs may have served incidental roles that imparted some economic benefit. But these animals continue to qualify as pet or companion animals under Minn. Stat. 343.20, subd. 6. In every objective sense, the dogs and puppies that Bell “enjoyed” at her kennel were small-breed, household dogs raised to be and treated as domesticated pets, and Bell sold many of them as pets. Each of these dogs, colloquially referred to as “man’s best friend,” qualifies as a pet or companion animal under the non-exhaustive definition of Minn. Stat. 343.20, subd.6, which is sufficiently definite such that “ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited.” State v. Newstrom, 371 N. W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. 1985) (quotation omitted).”
Puppy mill dogs are not livestock. They are pets and companion animals, and yes, man’s (and woman’s) best friend.
Do they look like livestock to you?
I know some of you will think this means that I have fallen in love with Maggie and just can’t bear to part with her, but that would be incorrect. Yes, I love her, but I have three dogs of my own and the reality is four is more than I can, or want, to handle on a permanent basis. So, I while I will be sad when she is adopted, I am okay with her finding a new home – as long as it is the “right” home.
The real reason my reaction was less than enthusiastic is because 1) I do not think Maggie is ready for a new home yet, and 2) because when it comes to puppy mill dogs like Maggie, I struggle with trusting that the potential adopter(s) truly understands what they are getting themselves into.
I have met people who think they are absolutely the right home for a puppy mill dog only to realize that they didn’t really get it. They had fallen in love with a face, a story, but not with the reality of what life is truly like with a mill dog. They didn’t understand that most puppy mill dogs don’t like to be touched (at least not at first) or that some may never be able to leave a yard to go for a walk. They didn’t get that calling the dog’s name and holding out a treat would not result in the dog running to them with a wagging tail. They didn’t quite get the potential “flight risk” of a mill dog. They thought love could fix all the dog’s fears when the reality is that love has little to do with helping a puppy mill dog. It’s good to have it, but more is required.
That is not to say that there aren’t people out there who DO get it. There are. I have met them as well. They are awesome and amazing people too, and I hope one of them finds Maggie and adopts her.
But, I also know of other dogs who came from Maggie’s puppy mill and who are now lost because someone did not understand the flight risk. I know of one that was sold on Craigslist because the adopter could not handle the dog they adopted (fortunately she ended up in the absolutely perfect home). And I know of another dog who now faces being returned, or euthanized, because the adopter was not told what she could expect adopting a puppy mill dog and she does not want to see her suffer.
Puppy mill dogs are special and they deserve a home and an adopter who gets it. I know from experience that adopting a mill dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences of one’s life, but I also know the time, patience, work and commitment are needed to help them thrive. Not everyone is cut out to for that kind of work, and that is okay, but I want Maggie’s adopters to understand the commitment involved and have the knowledge and support needed to ensure that they, and their dog, are successful.
Maggie (and I) are lucky Minnesota Sheltie Rescue (MNSR) gets it. I know they will make sure that Maggie lands in a home with an adopter who gets it too. They will make sure it is someone who understands the special needs of a puppy mill dog. They will also make sure the adopter is educated on flight risk and how to keep them safe. They will offer support and guidance, as needed, and will ensure that the adopter knows of the resources available to them (like Shy Sheltie Classes) and their dog. Maggie has what she needs to back her, and her adopter, up when the time comes and she is ready for her new home.
Not all puppy mill dogs have that chance. Not all rescues and shelters provide adopters of puppy mill dogs with the support and information they need to be able to help their dogs. I hope this will change with time. Debbie Jacobs, of FearfulDogs.com, just wrote about this in her blog post, “Should this dog be up for adoption?”
On Monday, I will be attending a Speaker’s Forum hosted by Animal Folks. The speaker is one of the premier experts on puppy mill dogs and the mental and emotional impacts puppy mills have on them. The speaker, Dr. Frank McMillan, is a board-certified specialist in veterinary internal medicine and the director of well-being studies at Best Friends Animal Society (Utah). I am really excited to hear him speak, but I am also excited that both rescue groups and veterinarians will have a chance to learn more about the trauma these dogs suffer and how we can help them when they come into our care. It is my greatest hope that in the future puppy mill dogs will go into homes that are ready for them, and that they too, are ready for their new home.
I plan to share more about Dr. McMillan’s speech on my blog at a future date, and hopefully, some additional info on how we can all help puppy mill dogs.
In the meantime, here is the latest Maggie video. I share it with you to show you where Maggie is at when it comes to doorways. While Maggie has made great progress, she is still a very scared dog. She had been going through the door on her own all summer long, but then the snow came and she got spooked. Since then she has had a hard time with it again.
I have been using the long line to catch her. Without it I would not have a chance . I have been outside as long as 40 minutes, just trying to herd her inside. With the long line, she is less fearful and follows me inside easily. I reward her with treats immediately so that she knows going inside means good things. I am hoping that we can work more on doorways so she feels safe enough to go through them again. Cross your fingers!
More than any year before, my voting concerns weigh heavily around animals and animal welfare. I’ve never been a one issue voter. I’ve always tried to look at the whole picture and make the best choice based on a wide variety of issues. But this year we have a Cat and Dog Breeder Law in place. This year we are finally heading in the right direction when it comes to puppy mills and the treatment of cats and dogs in these facilities. I don’t want that to change.
There are those who want to gut this bill or rescind it completely. There are those who want to eliminate nine years of progress. They want to maintain the status quo. So for that reason, this year, I am more motivated than ever to vote for those candidates who support the legislation that passed this year to help dogs and cats in breeding facilities.
I also want to support candidates who support the Beagle Freedom legislation that made it a law that dogs in testing facilities get a chance at a life in a home when they are done. No more euthanizing dogs after testing is done. Not without a real chance at being adopted. There were other wins this year too. You can read more about the progress made this year in the Minnesota Humane Scorecard.
Progress like this is unusual. My vote matters because it means these laws can stay in place. Your vote matters too, so I hope you’ll get out and vote. No matter what. Get out and vote.
If you’re curious about who in Minnesota is on the side of animals, the group Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection has posted a list of state legislators who rate high on the list.
Need help on other voting issues? There is a great app that will help you decide on the best candidates for you. It’s called isidewith.com. Answer a few questions and get a full list of candidates to vote for. No need to register or log in.
I can still remember the very first time I noticed Daisy wag her tail.
It was in the garage after she had just come in from outside. I was standing by the kitchen door, about to let her inside the house, when I noticed her tail up and wagging freely. Who would have thought that something so innocuous to so many other dog owners would be so amazing to me? It was one of the most beautiful moments I can remember and one I will always cherish. It meant Daisy was happy.
When caring for a puppy mill dog, you start to pay attention to every little step forward. It’s all about watching the subtle changes in behavior – the slight turning of their head to indicate they want to be petted, the tentative movement towards you when they have always run away, the increased confidence in how they carry themselves, the very slight reach out for a treat where there was none before.
Last night I realized that Maggie was spending less time with her ears at the back of her head (a sign she is nervous and stressed) and more time with her ears perked and forward (a sign that she is curious). It might seem like such a small thing, but it is a sign that she is feeling more comfortable, and perhaps even a little more confident, about her environment and living in a home with us. For me, it was one of those moments worth remembering.
On Friday, I was alerted to this Action Alert from the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS):
PLEASE ASK USDA TO ENFORCE THE ANIMAL WELFARE ACTSeptember 30, 2014 – In a stunning setback in their efforts to increase enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), USDA has suddenly reversed course and decided to, once again, tolerate substandard conditions at puppy mills.Dr. Chester Gipson, USDA’s chief of enforcement for the AWA, recently told animal advocates that the USDA needs “to enable breeders to sell their dogs to pet stores” and citing violations is an impediment to such sales…..Shockingly, USDA has made the decision to help substandard breeders circumvent these ordinances and to continue to sell puppies in spite of continuing violations.
I found myself at complete odds. The idealistic activist side of me wanted to scream in outrage at what appears to be a setback in the fight against puppy mills, while the veteran, and somewhat jaded, side of me could only sigh and shake my head in resignation.
If you have any knowledge, understanding or experience with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), then you know this is simply par for the course for them. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say they are probably one of the worst agencies in the federal government.
Whether it be the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and for inspecting puppy mills, or the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, the USDA seems to excel in their inability to perform their job.
In 2010, the Office of Inspector General issued their latest audit (one of many) of APHIS and their performance as it came to enforcing the Animal Welfare Act with commercial breeders. The results, while not surprising, were damning.
They found the following deficiencies:
- The Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers -The agency believed compliance could be enforced through education and cooperation and thus took little or no enforcement action against most commercial dog and cat breeders
- Inspectors Did Not Cite or Document Violations Properly To Support Enforcement Actions – inspectors did not correctly report all repeat or direct violations and did not take pictures or document properly. As a result, some problematic puppy mill dealers were inspected less frequently and in many cases got off easily.
- APHIS’ New Penalty Worksheet Calculated Minimal Penalties. Although APHIS previously agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to produce “significantly higher” penalties for violators of AWA, the agency continued to assess minimal penalties that did not deter violators. In other words, puppy millers received minimal penalties a majority of the time.
- APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators – Inspectors misused its guidelines so that violators would be penalized more lightly than warranted, even for repeat offenders with serious violations.
- Some Large Breeders Circumvented AWA by Selling Animals Over the Internet. (This was recently changed, but given their past history, I doubt it will be enforced or treated any differently than today.)
- Did Not Adequately Establish Payment Plans for Stipulations – Payment plans for violators were not adequately established so they rarely paid, and if they failed to pay, there was no process in place to follow up. (What a joke.)
- Enforcement Policies Do Not Deter Repeat Violators
- Some Inspectors Performed Insufficient Post-Mortem and Sanitation Inspections
- Swine HIMP Pilot Program Lacks Sufficient Oversight (HIMP = HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) for swine.
- FSIS Could Not Always Ensure Humane Handling at Swine Slaughter Plants
Or look at the Office of Inspector General’s report on Verifying Credentials of Veterinarians Employed or Accredited by USDA or the Office of Inspector General’s report on FSIS and their E. Coli testing on boxed beef or numerous other reports related to APHIS or FSIS.
Yes. The USDA’s supervision of animals (in puppy mills and/or other animal facilities) is a complete and utter failure and has been for a very long time. Maybe that is why I am not surprised by this most recent setback. The truth is this is not a setback at all. It is simply a new iteration of what they have always done – let the violators go free, unchecked, with little chance of ever having to face charges for their violations. Same dance, different dance hall. If anyone thinks the USDA or APHIS is going to start enforcing the law now, then they are sadly mistaken. They haven’t been doing so for years.
I don’t discourage from contacting Secretary Tom Vilsack, as CAPS requests, just that you not expect much from this agency. This is just the same dance in a different dance hall.
You can contact Secretary Tom Vilsack at AgSec@usda.gov or leave a message at (202) 720-3631.
Maybe the best plan of attack is to take the middle guy out and just take the fight to your own local town and city governments. The more you support ordinances and laws that outlaw the sale of pets in pet stores in your community the less power the USDA has to influence anything. Let’s take the fight where it is most effective. Lead the charge locally and eliminate the need for the USDA at all.
Over the past week, I have inadvertently ended up in discussions with two different co-workers about puppy mill dogs. Each shared their experiences with adopting a puppy mill dog themselves. They shared what they had done/not done to work with their dogs and how the dog was doing now. The outcomes were very different and I suspect that this was directly related to their experiece with dogs and with the support structure they had around them.
One co-worker was an experienced dog owner who had trained dogs previously and had a lot of dog training knowledge, and access to a lot of other experienced dog people. The other did not seem to have a lot of experience or an extensive support network and struggled with helping her puppy mill dog along, eventually euthanizing him because of his biting behavior.
Both examples were great reminders to me about how important it is that those of us who have experience share our stories with others. Not only share our stories, but also work to build a community where puppy mill owners can share their struggles and victories, and learn how to manage their dogs in day-to-day life. From personal experience, I can tell you that a support network can really help when working with a puppy mill dog. It also makes the process a little less overwhelming.
Dr Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal Society recently collected data from the foster parents and owners of puppy mill dogs to better understand what works or doesn’t work (Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs).
One of his findings was how much owners can be impacted in the process. Being the owner of a puppy mill dog, when there are no other dogs in the home, can be frustrating, discouraging, and even disappointing.
In many cases, there is no connection between you and the dog (this is especially true in the early days). The normal behaviors and interactions one expects when getting a dog is not there. There is no wagging tail or happy face or cuddling on the couch. It takes time to build a relationship with a puppy mill dog, and it is even harder when they don’t have another dog to look to for guidance on how to “be” a dog. I can personally attest to this. When I lost my dog, Aspen, I felt very much alone, even though Daisy was there with me.
Even the most wonderful adoptive dog parent will get down and depressed under such circumstances. Having a community to go to during those tough times is necessary. Building a community of people who can support and encourage one another and offer ideas about what worked or didn’t work is so vital. One community worth checking out is the Fearful Dogs group on Facebook. It is a great resource for dog owners with fearful dogs. There is guidance on how to desensitize and counter condition your fearful dog, progress updates on dogs who have struggled, encouragement and advice. It is a support structure that I am sure many a puppy mill dog owner has taken advantage of, but if you have not, please do so. You will find it very valuable.
Even as we work to build that community, we know now (based on Dr. McMillan’s study) that puppy mill dogs are nor are they viewed as a burden by those who adopt them.
When asked if they would adopt another puppy mill dog (after their experience with their current puppy mill dog), adopters overwhelmingly responded Yes (95%!).
When it came to recommending the adoption of a puppy mill dog to others, 53% said Yes, 45% said Maybe and less than 5% said No. (I think this makes sense. Not everyone is suited for a puppy mill dog. Maybe they do not have the experience, time or energy to work with one or they just aren’t looking for a challenging dog.)
Even more encouraging however is how puppy mill dog adopters responded to the question around satisfaction levels. When asked their level of satisfaction for having adopted a puppy mill dog, respondents overwhelmingly said they were extremely satisfied. In fact, 91% said so (7% answered moderately satisfied, 1% slightly satisfied and 1%not satisfied). This is wonderful news. It means that even without a suypport network, puppy mill dogs and their owners are managing to have a connection that is valuable and satisfying.
I wonder how much more this would be the case if they had a support network?
Something to think about for the future. :)
Yesterday, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), a lobby group for pet stores, puppy millers and pet product makers, announced they had hired the former head of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Ed Sayres to lead their group.
Shocking? Yes, but maybe not as much as we would like to think. After all, Ed left the ASPCA under less than positive circumstances. He and the board were in disagreement over several things, among them Ed’s half a million dollar salary and which legislative battles to pursue. And if one close to the situation is to be believed, there was also a battle going on over focusing more on animal welfare than fundraising. I’ll let you guess where Ed fell on this disagreement.
The decision to hire an industry insider who may have the ASPCA playbook is no accident. The puppy mill industry is running scared. They know that the tide has been turning, and not in their favor. Cities, towns and counties are taking action where national and state legislators have failed. They are banning the sale of cats and dogs and requiring pet stores to follow the rules, move or close down. If the puppy mill industry hopes to have any chance of turning things around they have to act now. Their hope is that Ed Sayres will be their savior.
The question is… can they turn back the tide? Can they stop social media from continuing to educate the average consumer about pet stores and puppy mills? Can they stop local grassroots organizations from working with their city, county and other local officials to stop the sale of puppy mill dogs in their towns and cities? Can they ever encourage the average consumer to buy a puppy mill dog once they have seen what a puppy mill parent goes through? Can they get people to un-see what they have already seen or forget what they already know?
It will be some time before we know if Ed will be the savior PIJAC hopes he will be, but my bet is on you, the average consumers and pet lover.
You and I, we care about our pets. We care where they came from and the conditions they were raised in. We want to make a difference. We believe in fighting for those who have no voice. We also believe puppy mills need to go. We may not win every legislative battle, but if we change people’s minds, and their spending habits, then we still win. Ed or no Ed.
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