“Those who feel the impulse to get a puppy on the Web should stop and think about the puppy’s mother and father back at the puppy mill. Those dogs are spending their entire lives in tiny cages.”

PET CONNECTION by Christie Keith
Universal Press Syndicate

When Dr. Helen Hamilton of Fremont, Calif., noticed an upswing in very sick puppies coming into her veterinary practice, she started asking her clients where they got their pets.

What she found surprised her: They were coming from the Internet.

Consumers can buy anything from a book to a car online, so it might seem perfectly logical to buy a new family pet the same way. But when Hamilton and her staff went to the source of some Internet puppies, what she discovered horrified her.

“There were dogs with no eyes, dogs missing ears, dogs with old, untended bite wounds and cage wire injuries,” she said. “We saw, over two days, two different females in labor go on the auction block.”

Hamilton was part of a team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians who brought back 49 dogs from the dispersal auction of a breeding operation. The dogs were not only in poor physical condition, but most of them were also fearful and shy of people. That’s because they’d spent their lives isolated from loving human contact while producing puppies for the pet trade.

One such dog was Sunshine, a golden retriever so afraid of people that she had to be lifted out of the van, shaking so hard her teeth chattered — a hard thing to see, given the usual happy, tail-wagging, people-crazy nature of the breed. Another was Savannah, a miniature dachshund who huddled in her crate, crusted with diarrhea and weighing only 6 1/2 pounds — around half her healthy body weight.

“She was suffering from malnutrition from being loaded with hookworm and whipworm,” Hamilton said. “She was emaciated. And she must have been starved, because I can find no other medical problems to account for her condition.”

All the dogs brought back on their most recent trip to a dog auction site in Oklahoma were suffering from health problems, many of them genetic. There were dogs missing an eye or an ear or part of a tail, dogs with inguinal hernias from having too many litters, dogs with evidence of do-it-yourself C-sections.

All of these dogs were cleaned up, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, wormed and treated for other medical conditions. All are now being placed in loving homes. But while everyone involved knows that they’re making a difference for these particular dogs, they acknowledge they’re not even making a dent in the overall problem.

“There are thousands of dogs that run through the auction. You can only buy a few,” Hamilton said. “But that’s not the point. Of course we want to get the dogs out and get them in loving homes. But the real point of doing this is to draw attention to the lives these dogs live.

“We want someone who feels the impulse to get a puppy on the Web to stop and think — not about that cute puppy, but about his mother and father back at the puppy mill,” she said. “Those dogs are spending their entire lives in tiny cages and cramped, filthy runs. And once they realize that, they’ll think again and walk away.”

Hamilton is working to place the dogs she brought back into new homes. But she stresses that the only real way to help the Sunshines and Savannahs still in the well-documented filth of puppy mills is simple: Stop buying those kinds of puppies.

“It’s a money-driven industry, and the only way to stop it is when people become educated not to buy puppies from these sources,” she said.


The appeal of puppies as a retail item goes back at least as far as the old song “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” But cruelty in the high-volume breeding operations that feed the pet trade has been documented for decades.

While there are operations that practice husbandry at least as humane as that offered to livestock, other breeding businesses care little for their animals. And even the “good” commercial breeders do not offer what behaviorists argue is essential for a temperamentally sound family pet: constant in-house exposure to normal family life and gentle socialization by all manner of people.

“Commercial kennels” become “puppy mills” when animals are housed in inhumane and filthy conditions, offered little in the way of proper medical care and disposed of when they’re no longer productive as breeding stock.

There’s really no way to determine what misery may exist behind the puppy you’re buying unless you investigate. At the very minimum, buy only from people who are happy to show you their kennels in person. Even better is when the puppies aren’t kenneled at all, but raised and socialized in the house.

While investigating a puppy’s background isn’t as easy as ordering with a few online clicks, you’ll likely get a healthier, happier pet — and you’ll know you won’t be supporting a puppy mill. — Gina Spadafori

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