The more you dig into puppy mills, the more you learn about the physical and physiological repercussions it has on the mother dog (and that doesn’t even take info consideration the genetic issues) and her puppies.
Last fall, when Dr. Frank McMillan spoke at an event (hosted by Animal Folks MN), he shared some data on the behavioral issues that show up in puppy mill puppies sold in pet stores. The results were quite startling:
- Out of 14 behavioral variables measured across puppies from responsible breeders and those sold in pet stores, the pet store puppies were found to have fared worse in 12.
- As they grew up, pet store puppies showed more aggression towards their owners.
- Pet store puppies also displayed more aggression towards other dogs.
- Puppies who are purchased in a pet store are more likely to escape and run away.
- Pet store puppies tend to be under-socialized because they are taken away from their mothers too early and are likely to experience trouble as they grow up.
You can read more about Dr. McMillan’s study via Penn State here: Penn Vet study finds pet store puppies come with increased risk
Puppy mill breeding dogs have their own set of behavioral issues – almost all due to a lack of socialization and fear and ongoing abuse, but now we can show that the puppies they bear have problems too. Why is this the case?
New evidence suggests that mother dogs experiencing extreme levels of stress can pass that stress on to their puppies, and that stress can impact their lives long after they have been weaned and adopted into loving family homes.
The body is designed to protect the puppies from normal amounts of stress:
“Normally, an enzyme inactivates cortisol at the placenta, protecting the fetuses from the level of cortisol that the mother is experiencing. But when the cortisol level is extremely high, some passes through the placenta to the developing puppies. They receive the extra cortisol as information: The world is scary. We should be prepared. “
You can read more on this in the Whole Dog Journal from their November 2014 issue, titled “How a Mother’s Stress Can Influence Unborn Puppies: A highly stressed mother dog may influence her unborn puppies and affect their adult behavior.”
That pet store puppies are more likely to carry this stress message in their systems should not be all that surprising. After all, past evidence has shown that the stress of the mother passes down to the baby, both in humans and rats.
Puppies born in mills experience the stress of the mother in utero and after they are born. When you add in the fact that they are then pulled away from their mothers at a very young age, shipped across country in trucks with other sick little puppies, manhandled and placed in a pet store window, where they are on display and handled over and over again until they are adopted, it’s a wonder any of them survive, much less make it into a home as a normal dog. That they fare poorly on 12 of 14 behavioral variables should not be surprising either. It makes one wonder why anyone would want a dog from a pet store at all.
Daisy’s last litter of puppies were kept by the organization that saved her life. They were going to be trained to be service dogs. I wonder how many of them failed to make the cut? I hope not many, but the more and more I learn about puppy mills and their impacts on the dogs and their offspring, the more I believe that they were doomed from the start.
Now how sad is that?
This past week I read a really great piece that was posted on Facebook by 4Paws University. It was a powerful message and one that seemed to resonate with people (it had over 900 shares, 930+ “Likes,” and so many comments I had to quit counting. You can read the actual posting here: BONE TO PICK: THE RUSH TO ADOPT THE SAD STORY DOG.)
The post has to do with America’s penchant for the “sad story dog.” You know the dogs I am talking about, the ones that come from a sad situation, get shared in the media, and generate a mass swelling of people who want to adopt the dog and “save” them. It happens time and time again.
You and I have both seen those individual stories of that one dog who was abused and saved, or the dog who ended up in a serious, life-threatening situation and suddenly needed a home. But the most common situation you and I see is the one where there is a mass rush to adopt a dog after it has been rescued during a puppy mill raid. Stories like these make the local (and sometimes national) news. The pictures and video are usually heart-rending. People follow the story closely. When the dogs are ready to be adopted, there is usually a big media campaign to let people know about them and to encourage them to adopt.
None of this by itself is bad, but what gets missed is that some of the people wanting to “save” the dogs involved in the sad dog story are not always the “right person” for the dog and his/her needs. People who are drawn to a hard-luck story may be motivated by different reasons, and not all of them are motivated by the right reasons.
When foster Maggie and her fellow puppy mill friends were rescued, there was a lot of media attention around the raid and the care of the dogs. The facility that cared for them was flooded with adoption requests. I could not help but wonder the motivations of those who wanted to adopt a puppy mill dog. It wasn’t like this facility didn’t have dogs available for adoption before the raid, or that they ran out of dogs after the raid. So what motivated the people to adopt when they had not done so before? Was it the hard luck story? Did they see themselves as the hero in that story (rushing in to “save” the dog)? Or, did they want a certain breed that was rescued in the raid? Were they already looking for a dog and this just happened to be the right moment? Or, did they just act on impulse and get a dog with a story?
All too often we are motivated by the sad story dog without knowing a lot about what a commitment it is or whether the dog is a good fit for our family or lifestyle. Too many of these dogs are getting swooped up by emotion and being left behind by reality. Some of Maggie’s fellow puppy mill survivors have been re-homed, lost or discarded because the people adopting them did not know what they were getting into. They did not understand that the sad story dog they were getting was one that required work, time, patience and in many cases, another dog, to help them to start to live a normal life.
As adopters, we need to take more time to do our research. It’s great that people are excited and want to help by adopting a sad story dog, but we need to understand our motivations for adopting and recognize if it is a good fit. As rescuers, we need to be more diligent about who adopts a sad story dog. Rescuing a dog from a sad situation is not enough. We need to make sure that where they land is the safe landing we want for them too.
Sad story dogs will continue to come along. We just need to be prepared to ask the questions that will ensure it lands in the right home.
It’s hard to believe, but in a few days Maggie will have been with us one whole year. Puppy mill dogs can take a long time to rehab, so I am not surprised that she is still with me, but I am more surprised at how far she has come… and how far she has to go. Seeing her progress through pictures is quite encouraging. I had forgotten how much fear was in her eyes in those early days.
Back then, Maggie spent her time hiding from shadows in the daytime (she often hid in my closet or the quietest spot in my bedroom) and sitting next to me or Daisy at night. She was afraid of every sound, every movement and every reflection that came through the bay window. Doorways were scary, The sound of cars driving past the house was unsettling. Barking from neighbor dogs was terrifying.
But over the past few months, Maggie has discovered that she likes being outside, “cheese” is good, and ice cream is even better. She loves watching my dogs do tricks for treats, and solve doggie puzzles, and she has discovered that she wants to play too. She is learning that life in a home can be good and that a being a dog is much more than just living in a box.
It’s been a lot of fun to celebrate the successes. I hope you will enjoy this short video I put together highlighting her progress.
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.