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Pearlie uncaged: a puppy mill story - 11/9/11
Pearlie Blue is an incredibly tiny blue and white chihuahua. She has spent her whole life in a cage. She has never run around in fallen leaves, never played with a toy, never curled up in a warm lap. She does not respond to being spoken to, since no human has talked to her before. Her existence has been nothing but a narrow space, and now that she is free of it, she is like any prisoner who has been bound for a long time; she doesn't know what to do with freedom.
Pearlie has been rescued from a puppy mill, where her sole purpose was to produce as many babies as her small body could manage over and over again. Now she lives with me, and her first days were spent in paralyzed confusion over all the sights and sounds normal dogs take for granted, like people talking and doing dishes and a big back yard full of other dogs playing. I hope with time and careful training I can help her overcome her background, and I'll update her progress here now and then, so you know how it turns out.
Puppy mills are the dark underside of the pet industry, where commercial breeders hold hundreds of dogs in stacked cages, breeding them relentlessly to supply pet stores and the public with the cute purebred or "designer dog" mixed breed puppies everyone wants. It's big business- unregulated capitalism at its worst- and sadly legal. All you have to have to run a puppy mill is a license from the USDA, and all you have to have to do is show that you provide food, water and shelter. No more. That might be okay for beef cattle (although I don't really think so) but a dog is a social animal that suffers deeply from being deprived of interaction with other dogs and humans. We have bred dogs to be our companions in a way no other animal is, and they need us now.
there are 6,000 licensed 'commercial breeders' in the US, and heaven only knows how many operating under the radar. Unfortunately, the Amish are sometimes puppy mill breeders. They have the reputation of being honest people, but they also see animals in a different light than we do; a more utilitarian view that allows them to use dogs as a way to make money from the "English" as they call non-Amish.
Dogs in puppy mills suffer greatly. They are kept in small cages, the better to make room for as many as possible. Wire grids on the floors let urine and feces run out, but also can deform the feet and are uncomfortable to stand or lie on. Females are bred as many times as she comes in heat, with no rest. Long haired dogs can become so matted they can't see or move, trapped in their own hair. I could go on, but it's so depressing.
What can we do to stop this kind of cruelty? The best action is to remove the market for these puppies. No one will try to sell what no one will buy, so first we need to ban the sale of puppies in pet stores, which is the main source of puppy mill sales. Do not buy a puppy from a pet store, no matter what they tell you. Puppies should be with their mother and siblings til 8 weeks and never spend even a brief time in a pet store cage. Don't buy puppies from websites sight unseen either. If you go online to find a breeder, pick one close enough to home that you can visit. You should always be able to see where the puppies were raised and at least the mother if not both parents. Be suspicious if the breeder has several different breeds available, and always seems to have puppies. Real breeders only breed once in awhile and you might have to get on a waiting list. Don't get caught up in the "designer dog" craze, looking for a "morkie" or "schnoodle". Sorry, but these are mixed breed dogs, often created and sold at high prices without thought to temperament or health problems, by people only looking to make a buck. Go online to the official AKC website and look for tips on finding a good breeder. And finally, consider getting a rescue dog. So many need homes and often puppies or young dogs, even purebred dogs, are available.
If you, like me, think this is a blight on our society and would like to do more to shut down puppy mills, please check out the link on this website to the Humane Society of the United States, which has several ways you can join the fight and help millions, literally millions, of dogs escape the pain and fear of puppy mills.