I used to pooh-pooh the people who used to claim that the animal activism aimed at eliminating puppy mills and backyard breeders was the first step on a slippery slope of animal activism that would lead to crazy people trying to control every aspect of an animal’s care and welfare.
I say “used to” because now I’m not so sure that they were that far off from the truth. The advance of social media has created some wonderful new and inventive ways to help animals in need. More dogs are being networked and finding homes, many lost dogs are finding their way back home, but social media has also given rise to little pockets of reactionary and aggressive vigilantes who are willing to take whatever action they deem necessary to save a pet, even when that information is based on hearsay and mistaken assumptions.
When someone posted a picture of an injured dog in a private Facebook group a month ago, my first thought was to get the dog (who was hit by a car) posted on Lost Dogs MN so the owner could find him more quickly and know he as injured. Others turned to finding out where the dog was taken (a local animal hospital) so they could donate money for his care. Awesome community action right? It was, until it turned into something else. And, it happened very quickly.
Shortly after the call for help in finding the owner went out, someone posted that the vet clinic would euthanize the dog (vs. treating it) if the owner wasn’t found. (There was no evidence that this was the case, but within minutes the feed was filled with people demanding to know where the dog was and that the clinic’s number be posted so they could call and demand they care for the dog). The animal hospital was inundated with calls from people demanding they take care of the dog, and if they couldn’t, to release him into rescue. Mind you, the dog hadn’t even been in the vet clinic’s care for two hours and already all sorts of assumptions had been made about the dog’s condition, vet care (or lack thereof), and where he should go next. It was mass hysteria turned into animal activism that bordered on ridiculous. I shook my head as I watched people, effectively, lose their fucking minds. I cannot imagine what the people at the animal hospital thought.
After an hour of craziness, a rational person was able to find out that not only was the dog fine, but he had been released to an animal control center for the night. (Even then people were demanding to know if the care center would be keeping the dog under observation through the night. What if he wasn’t okay? Who would make sure he was saved?). The calls to the animal hospital ceased, but calls to the care center did not. Thankfully, the calls ended the next day when we found out that the dog had been reunited with his owner.
I’d like to say that this is the first time I have seen this type of out-of-control activism, but sadly, it is just one of many I have seen lately. Mostly it starts with a single posting seeking help for an animal, but very quickly it devolves into crazed assumptions and people wanting to take decisive action without all the facts.
I couldn’t help but shake my head when I saw this one (Rescue Groups Impersonated SPCA to Confiscate Dog: Owner) recently pass through my news feed. It left me wondering how long it would be before everyone was suspect in the eyes of the crazy and uninformed animal activist. It concerns me.
I love when people can come together to help an animal that is really in need. When the authorities are slow to act, animal activists can push them to take action sooner. They can get them to intervene before something serious happens to the pet. But, when individuals become both judge and jury in a pet-related situation, they better have more than just hearsay and speculation to fall back on. Or in the above case, more than ONE poorly taken picture taken from a bad angle.
Presenting yourself as a legal authority in order to steal someone’s dog is not only wrong, but illegal. It also makes the rest of us in animal rescue look bad. Calling a vet clinic over and over again to demand they care for a lost and injured dog (because you assumed they would not) is crazy and ridiculous.
I am all for saving animals in need. I know our country’s laws are woefully inadequate when it comes to saving injured and abused animals; they allow too many animals to suffer before they intervene, but this kind of animal activism is not helpful. It hurts the animals and it hurts those of us who are serious about helping them. It makes all of us look like crazy animal people.
I don’t want this to become the slippery slope that ends up hurting our fight to stop puppy mills, or to prosecute those charged with animal cruelty.
Stop the crazy people. Just stop. You are hurting all of us with your crazy.
Breathe. Learn the facts. Work with the authorities.
You don’t like the laws? Work to change them. Don’t break them.
I don’t know if you have seen these headlines in your news feed lately, but if not, you are now on notice. Commercial breeders (a.k.a puppy millers) and the pet store industry (specifically, pet stores that sell animals) have found a new avenue in which to use and sell their wares (i.e., products, or in this case, puppies).
- For a Better Party, Rent Puppies (Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2015)
- Party Puppies for Hire (The Bark, July 24, 2015)
- Puppy parties are a real thing — and one happened in the TODAY studio! (The Today Show, August 12, 2015)
- Puppies for Rent? The Surprising World of Puppy Temps (Rover.com, April 15, 2015)
Yes. You are reading this right. Puppy parties.
For a fee, people can rent a whole litter of puppies for a birthday or bachelorette party.
Gee, what fun.
I suppose it really would be fun to play with a whole gaggle of puppies for a couple of hours. Who doesn’t love the smell of puppy breath? Unfortunately, what the “journalists” writing these stories, and promoting them on their television networks, failed to do was ask questions. They failed to ask where the party promoters and puppy rental operators were sourcing their puppies. I suppose no one really wants to hear that something so novel and cute could have a shady backside, do they?
“We just want the feel good story ma’am.”
Fortunately, CAPs (Companion Animal Protection Society) asked the questions the journalists did not, and what they found, at least in one case, was deeply concerning:
What David Dietz, owner of PuppyParty.com and Puppy Paradise, is neglecting to tell the media and his clients who seek puppies for children’s birthday parties, bachelorettes parties and other events, is that Puppy Party puppies come from inhumane high-volume commercial breeding facilities known as puppy mills. These mills supply puppies to Dietz’ store, Puppy Paradise – the source of the Puppy Party puppies. If a party-goer happens to fall in love with a puppy, then he or she can purchase that puppy from the store.
Not only did CAPS discover that this puppy party rental business sourced from puppy mills, but that many (if not all) of the mills they sourced from had a history animal neglect and abuse. Just take a look at some of the puppy mills sourcing David Dietz’s pet store and puppy party business:
- Gayle Duncan, of Gayle’s Country Pups in Oklahoma, was exposed by CAPS for having multiple serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations. One of her mill’s employees, Gayle’s brother-in-law Jeff, admitted to running over a dog with a four-wheeler on purpose because the dog had bit him after trying to escape the pen.
- Kevin Street, one of the substandard and inhumane breeders who sold to Puppy Paradise, had a dog CAPS rescued that had signs of cattle prod burns and suffered from a painful growth that came from lying on an ongoing Ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)
- Dwayne Hurliman, was found to have a thousand dogs and puppies (he claimed to have around 500) in dirty, crowded and collapsing cages when he was investigated by CAPs.
- Maureen Butler, another horrible breeder, owner of PugPekinpoo-tzu in Missouri, kept her dogs in outside pens, exposed to extreme cold in the winter and hot sun in the summer. In one instance, she nonchalantly showed a CAPS investigator a puppy that had lost toes to frostbite, in what she described as a “cold day” in May.
- Betty Mings, owner Bet-Ter Kennel in Missouri, exposed dogs to the harsh Midwest winters. CAPS investigators uncovered AWA violations and witnessed numerous cages with days of fecal accumulation. Mines said that her dogs have puppies every breeding cycle and added, “I got dogs nine to 10 years old, still have seven, eight puppies.”
I’m not sure when puppy parties became a “thing”, but I hope you’ll spread the word. Puppy mills and pet store owners are looking for new streams of revenue, and they’re counting on nobody asking them any questions.
- Where do you get your puppies from? (They will lie to you and say they only use reputable breeders. Ask them for actual names, locations and phone numbers.)
- Can I speak with the breeder(s)? (They most likely will refuse this request, which should be a huge red flag, but if they do provide a number ask lots of questions of the breeder.
- How old are the puppies you use? (Anything under 8 weeks should raise tons of red flags. Puppies should not leave their mother before 8 weeks and ideally, not before 9-10 weeks in age. A puppy that is shipped across state lines younger than 8 weeks is illegal.)
- How long do you use the puppies in your puppy parties?
- What happens to the puppies when they are no longer puppies? (They will most likely lie to you on this one, but my bet is many of them are sold at the puppy parties. Buying a puppy from one of these party promoters is supporting a puppy mill and the continued abuse of the mother and father. Don’t do it.)
- How often are your puppies attending parties and how long are they exposed to a high-stress environment and forced to be handled? (This is something I would love to know. I suspect these puppies are getting overworked and stressed out frequently. A puppy that is not making money is a puppy that is of no use to these people.)
You can watch the full CAPS story here:
The battle rarely ends with one victory. There are always those opposing forces to deal with, the ones who don’t want you to succeed: factory farms, big Ag, local communities and politicians, and the ones who may not care, the always underfunded and under-motivated government agencies charged with enforcing the change.
You can work hard to close all the loopholes and to ensure that animals are being saved, but one failure along the chain of implementation and suddenly the fight takes a few steps back, or is put right back to the beginning.
Last year, when we passed the Minnesota Dog and Cat Breeder Law, most people thought we had won the fight. I think it would be more accurate to say we won ONE victory in the war against puppy mills and animal cruelty. Remember those opposing forces? They are always there, looking for ways to slow your roll. Progress is passing a law, but making that progress “stick” takes time, diligence and lots of dedication and follow-up.
As an example, take a look at who the Minnesota Board of Animal Health gave breeder licenses to this year:
Debbie Rowell of Country Pride Kennels – Debbie is the Pine River facility that was raided a couple of years ago. 130 dogs were seized in July 2013, including Maggie, my foster dog, and several other Shelties so damaged they will likely be in foster care for life. A Facebook page has been set up to keep an eye on Ms Rowell’s activities. We can’t know for sure, but given her past conviction, I suspect she will be in trouble again some day soon.
Wanda Kretzman of Clearwater Kennel, Inc. – This kennel was one of three kennels on the Humane Society of the United State’s (HSUS) Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. Wanda’s kennel has had so many violations that the USDA filed an official complaint in March 2015. She even made the worst list for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) in 2013. Her violations go as far back as 1997. The lovely Wanda has one of the largest puppy mills in the state (with more than 1000 dogs). Needless to say, it is hard to believe she passed an inspection by the MN Board of Animal Health. How does someone with this kind of history pass an inspection by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health? My mind is filled with theories.
John & Lyle Renner of Renner’s Kennel – Also on HSUS’ Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. USDA inspectors have found numerous injured dogs in their facility, including swollen red skin, eye and dental issues, damaged paws, etc. This kennel is so bad that it has made HSUS’ list numerous times. And yet, they too got a license from the MN Board of Animal Health.
Michelle Sonnenberg – Also on HSUS’ Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. Repeated health and sanitation violations litter Michelle’s dog kenneling history. Sounds like a place you want to get a puppy from doesn’t it? You have to wonder why she refused inspectors into her facility back in April of this year. Maybe she was cleaning things up in anticipation of a visit from the MN Board of Animal Health? Hmmm… maybe so. After all, she somehow was able to get a breeder license from them. Don’t you wonder how?
(Side note: Both Michelle Sonnenberg and Renner’s Kennels sell to the Hunte Corporation which is a broker for Petland stores.)
Eighty plus breeders have received licenses thus far. They had to submit an application and go through an inspection in order to be licensed.
You can read what the inspector looks for when inspecting these facilities in the Commercial Dog or Cat Breeder Inspection Guidelines.
You’ve got to wonder how the 4 breeders above passed inspection for item number 12, which states: “Exercise. All dogs and cats must be provided the opportunity for periodic exercise, either through free choice or through a forced work program, unless exercise is restricted by a licensed veterinarian. (346.39)”
How much you want to bet Wanda Kretzman didn’t pass that part of the inspection? I can’t imagine how she is exercising 1000 dogs, but hey she got a license, she must be exercising them right?
You probably can tell that I am disappointed in the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, but what I am not is surprised. Like I said, we only won the victory, not the battle.
What the opposition doesn’t understand is that time is on our side. More people are getting knowledgeable about puppy mills and how they work. Petlands, and other pets stores like them, are failing (the Petland in Shakopee closed last year and I am hoping the St Paul store isn’t far behind).
And, as more people get educated on what these places are like, they are also taking action. When people realized that Debbie Rowell was back in business, her Yelp profile and Better Business Bureau status took a hit. (If you think Walter Palmer, the dentist who killed Cecil, is an aberration, think again.) People are getting involved and when they do, they take action.
So, the fight goes on. The battle is not yet won. More work needs to be done.
Want to help?
- Share the information about this and other substandard kennels
- Educate others that pet store puppies come from these kennels
- Encourage friends to adopt
- Contact legislators to support legislation with tougher penalties
- Educate others about what responsible breeders do and don’t do
- Volunteer with or donate to Animal Folks MN & share their posts
- Volunteer with Minnesotans Exposing Petland & share their posts
- Report substandard breeding kennels to the authorities
- Do not shop at pet stores that sell animals of any kind
- Support pet stores that support adoption
- Contact the Minnesota Board of Animal Health: Phone: (651) 296-2942
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?