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.
Want to learn more about this story?
I’ve been a bit sporadic in my posts lately, but I wanted to at least give an update on little Miss Maggie.
Do you know that it has already been a year since Maggie was rescued? On July 16, 2013, she and her babies were rescued and taken to the Animal Humane Society (AHS), where she received medical care, food, water and kindness. In the days that followed, she learned that people could be kind and gentle. She learned it from her first foster mom, Sabrina, who taught her about leashed walks, living in a real home and that steak tastes quite good (the steak was in celebration of a judge awarding her custody to AHS).
With this new freedom came opportunities. A new place to live, time to heal and a chance to learn how to be a real dog. She came into Minnesota Sheltie Rescue and soon after that into my home. I have given her time and space. I let her learn from my dogs what a dog’s life can be like. So far, she has learned bones and ice cream are delicious, and everyone goes outside in the morning and again at night. She has also learned that cheese is good, but it is even more interesting and fun when it is hidden in dog puzzles or comes after touching my hand. She has learned how fun it is to roll in the freshly cut grass and that one must be quick if they want to get a treat before one of the other dogs. She is learning new things every day and in the process becoming more of the dog she was meant to be.
Here are just a few highlights of Maggie’s progress. Don’t miss Maggie’s two videos at the end of this post!
Maggie learns Watch me
Hand targeting with Maggie (She has only done this once outside. Too many noises outside.)
It’s sad that even though Missouri passed a puppy mill bill four years ago, they remain one of the top states for bad breeders (22 of the top 100 are from Missouri this year).
Over the past few years, the Missouri puppy mill bill has been weakened by local by politicians, individuals who caved under the pressure of big Ag and the puppy millers themselves. The truth is one cannot be assured that passing a puppy mill bill will lead to an end of puppy mills or to animal cruelty in puppy mills. The battle may be won once a puppy bill passes, but the war goes on. There will always be those who prefer to take dollars from deep pockets than to do the right thing, and those deep pockets have no interest in keeping laws pertaining to puppy mills in place. They will do what they must to get rid of the bill or make it weaker so it is no longer effective. We must stay ever-vigilant if we want to see puppy mills go away.
Most of those who made the list were cited for extremely bad care and treatment of animals. According to HSUS, some of these citations included:
- A breeder in Missouri who admitted to leaving a gravely injured and nearly unresponsive Pomeranian named “Woofie” lingering for three days without taking him to a vet (Johanna Steele);
- Four breeders who listed gunshot as a method of euthanasia on their official veterinary plans (Barker in AR; Mamma’s Minis in CO; Tietz and Williams in NE);
- A breeder in Illinois who had five beagles euthanized rather than providing them with warmer shelter as directed by his inspector (Melton Christiansen);
- A breeder in Missouri who was found with a dead, four-week-old shih tzu puppy frozen solid in the outdoor portion of an enclosure when overnight temperatures had recently been as low as -9 degrees (Johnny Dake);
- Breeders who left their dogs exposed to heat indexes as high as 109 degrees or bitter cold temperatures as low as one degree Fahrenheit (Hines in SD; Pesek in NE);
- USDA inspectors photographed a Yorkie with an eye disorder at a facility owned by Andy Troyer in Fredericksburg, Ohio, in 2011 after the operator repeatedly failed to get adequate treatment for the dog. Additional problems were found at the same facility in 2014. /USDA 2011.
- A breeder in Missouri who admitted to slaughtering downed cattle (cows unable to walk and who could be ill) from a local slaughterhouse in order to feed the raw meat to her dogs; rotting meat infested with maggots was found in her kennels (Barbara Neubert); and
- A breeder in Nebraska (listed in our appendix because she was in last year’s Horrible Hundred report), who was found with no fewer than 54 dogs in need of veterinary care during a single USDA inspection (Linda Hager).
Yes. Lovely people aren’t they? I can’t imagine how one becomes okay with treating an animal this way, but I suspect your soul has to die off a bit first.
There were five Minnesotans that made the HSUS list this year. One of them is from Pine River, but strangely enough, it is not he one who ran the place Maggie came from (that one was run by Deborah Rowell). It makes me wonder – just how many puppy mills are in business in Pine River?
Here are the five Minnesota puppy mills that made the list:
- Gloria Brouwer, Jasper, MN – Three dogs died after not being treated properly. Brouwer received an official
warning from the USDA in February 2013 for failing to get proper care for three dogs who were observed to be sluggish with poor appetites in July 2011. A USDA Director of Investigative and Enforcement Services noted that Brouwer took the dogs inside when they seemed ill and attempted to treat them herself with Baytril. All three of the dogs died. The incident occurred in 2011 but the USDA did not publish its official warning until February 2013. In January 2013, the USDA cited Brouwer for several new problems, including expired veterinary drugs and unsafe housing. In February 2014, the USDA went to check on the kennel but was not given access, which is a violation. USDA #41-A-0364.
- Paul and Sheila Haag, Valley View Kennel aka A Maze N Farmyard LLC, Eden Valley, MN – Mega mill, repeatedly cited for dogs with injuries. Although it passed one USDA inspection in 2013, Valley View Kennel was cited for violations during four previous inspections in a row, including repeat violations for lack of adequate veterinary care for issues such as limping dogs with swollen feet (common in facilities where dogs are forced to stand on wire cage floors), a dog with “a red ulcer-like mass in the eye,” unsafe and unsanitary housing, and numerous other problems. The Haags appear to have an enormous amount of dogs; in July 2013, the USDA counted more than 800 dogs and puppies on the property, indicating it may be one of the largest puppy mills in the country, and the second largest in the state next to Animal control officers found deplorable conditions at Chien d’Or Kennel in Farmington Hills, MI. The kennel has registered AKC breeding stock and sells online. In recent years, the AKC has opposed more than 100 bills designed to crack down on puppy mills. /Oakland County Animal Control, 2013. Clearwater Kennel in Cushing. The facility has not been inspected yet in 2014 (as of April 10). Concerned local advocates are calling for action via social media: facebook.com/pages/Shut-down-A-mazen- Farmyard/175238609266415. USDA #41-A-0281.
- Sharon Lanz, Pine River, MN – Dogs in the freezing cold. In November 2013, USDA inspectors found a number of issues at Lanz’s kennel, including dogs outside in the cold without adequate protection when the temperature was only 29 degrees, expired vaccination drugs and accumulations of wastes and clutter. Records show that USDA inspectors attempted to re-inspect the kennel three times in February 2014 and made calls to the owner each time, but were not given access during any of their attempts, a repeat violation. Violations were also found in 2011 and 2012. USDA #41-A-0027.
- Deloris and Dick Richards, Marshall, MN – Ten dogs found with injuries; dogs repeatedly exposed to freezing cold and walking in their own feces. In January 2014, USDA inspectors found three different repeat violations at the Richards’ kennel, including dogs without adequate protection from the bitter cold, safety issues and excessive feces. In August 2013, USDA inspectors found no fewer than ten dogs in need of veterinary care at the Richards’ kennel for issues such as hair loss, bleeding wounds and blackened scabs on their ears from fly bites. In addition, the Richards have been repeatedly cited by USDA inspectors for inadequate cleaning of feces in their dog runs (Jan. 2014, Dec. 2013, Aug. 2013, April 2013, and March 2011) and for dogs with inadequate protection from the weather. In December 2013, a USDA inspector noted that dogs were not properly sheltered when “the outdoor winter temperatures and wind chills are frequently falling below zero degrees,” and that some dog runs were so soiled with feces that “there were no clean areas for [the dogs] to step without coming into contact with the waste.” USDA #41-A-0016.
- Michelle Sonnenberg, Detroit Lakes, MN – “A foul odor” and standing water was mixed with feces and maggots. USDA inspectors found multiple violations during five inspections in a row at Sonnenberg’s kennel between December 2011 and September 2013. In September 2013, inspectors noted a “foul odor” due to standing water mixed with feces and maggots, a “prevalent ammonia [urine] smell” that was “strong enough to make the inspector’s eyes burn,” dogs without adequate space, and sanitation problems. During the September 2013 visit, more than 430 dogs and puppies on the property. In February 2013 an inspector noted an “ammonia level strong enough to make the inspector cough and feel a burn in the back of the throat” and other problems. In December 2011, inspectors found underweight dogs, dogs with matted fur, numerous unsafe conditions and puppies with their legs falling through wire flooring, which, as the inspector noted, “risks malnourishment” because puppies whose legs are stuck through the wire gaps may not be able to reach their mother to feed. The HSUS has received two complaints from buyers who reportedly purchased sick puppies from the facility. USDA #41-A-0021.
Want to stop puppy mills? Don’t buy from a pet store. People who have started following and commenting on the FB group “Shut down A maze’n Farmyard” (the 2nd mill on the MN list), have mentioned buying sick puppies from a pet store that were sourced from this place. Buying a sick dog from a pet store may be saving THAT dog, but it is sentencing the parents to a continued life of misery, pain and cruelty. Just don’t do it.
Don’t shop, adopt.
Since December, I have been sharing updates on Maggie and how she is progressing after being rescued from a puppy mill in Pine River, Minnesota.
Most of my updates have been about the things I am doing to help Maggie adjust to life in a home – hand-targeting, showing her how to tell me when she wants to be touched, chewing on bones, adjusting to all the new sights and sounds she has never experienced. What I probably haven’t shared enough is all that goes on behind the scenes.
Let me just say, fostering and rehabing a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient.
While Maggie is making great progress, there are still things that she does that remind me every day that she is still dealing with the remnants of her former life:
- Unusual or loud sounds and sights during the daytime will send her scurrying for her two favorite hiding spots – the kitchen and bathroom. She prefers her kennel during the day because it is dark and quiet and safe from the reflections of light in the house. Seeing a car driving by the front window is frightening to her. She has no context for such a thing in her previous life.
- She still drags a leash behind her because she is still a huge flight risk. If feeling cornered or faced with something scary (and let’s face it, everything is scary to her right now), she will run. Fast and far.
- Doorways are still scary – she needs a lot of space to go through them on her own. In the past, I could catch the end of her long line and lead her inside (always keeping my back to her, because facing her while leading is still very scary for her), but now that she has progressed to a shorter leash, it is about pretending I don’t see her. In the winter, I would bundle up in coat and boots and go outside and slowly usher her in by corralling her towards the door until she would go inside. Now that it is warmer, I go outside in pajamas and slippers and play ball with Jasper, because that allows her to head towards to door on her own and cautiously make her way inside. If I turn and look at her while she is doing this, she will freeze and/or run away from the door. If that happens, we have to begin the process again. On days where the doorway is really scary and she won’t go inside on her own, I will coral her from a distance in the yard. This is always done from a distance because I don’t want her to feel as if she has to run from me (and all humans). I think the longest time it took to get her inside was 30 minutes, but on a typical day it can be anywhere from 5- 10 minutes.
- Touch is not alway a welcome thing. Maggie is definitely not keen on being held. Many times, she prefers not to be touched at all, especially when highly agitated or fearful. (This is when we focus on hand-targeting and using cheese to change how she feels about whatever is making her fearful at that moment.) She is learning however, that touch can be good and will seek it out from time to time (like right now, as I am writing this post).
Daisy was like this in the early days too. She has made amazing progress in the 6 years I have had her, but it did not happen overnight. I already know that.like Daisy, some of Maggie’s unusual behaviors will fade with time while others will remain her entire life (even now, Daisy still has problems with doorways from time to time). What I do know is that Maggie’s quality of life is better than what it used to be. She is learning how to be a real dog, not just a miserable being just trying to survive in a puppy mill.
Franklin D. McMillan DVM, of the well-known Best Friends Animal Society, recently released a study on puppy mills that was quite enlightening (Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs). It’s probably the most comprehensive study I have seen on mill dogs since I first adopted Daisy. It reaffirms most of what I know and have experienced with mill dogs myself.
Behaviorally, puppy mill dogs are very different from normal, well-socialized dogs.
- Have many more fears and phobias – strange people, sights, sounds, movements and objects
- Soil in the house more frequently (this has not been the case with Daisy or Maggie)
- Have compulsive and repetitive behaviors
- Are less likely to have aggression
- May be less trainable because of their fear (anti-anxiety drugs can often help them get beyond the fear so they can progress)
- Have less excitability and low energy levels
- Are less likely to chase small animals
- Have less desire to be touched or picked up
- Often have a vacant or blank stare (this faded over time with Daisy)
- Do better in homes where there is another dog or dogs
This does not mean that puppy mill dogs cannot make progress or should not be saved (in fact, McMillan’s study suggests the opposite), but rather that they need time, patience and a safe place to land, so they can adjust to life outside the mill.
If you are looking to foster or adopt a mill dog your first skill you need to practice is PATIENCE.