Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
~ William James
A while back, in my post entitled “Tribute to a Neighborhood Mascot”, I wrote about the grief I experienced when a favorite neighborhood dog passed away. Jackson was such a kind and gentle soul, leaving indelible paw prints on the hearts of all who loved him. I’m happy to report that Jackson’s people recently brought a puppy into their lives. “Beauregard”, as was Jackson, is a Golden Retriever named for a Civil War general. He’s full of spunk and irresistible cuteness (not that those are necessarily traits shared with his namesake).
On a recent morning, I encountered Beauregard out for a stroll with his mom, our neighbor across the street. I stopped to meet the newest four-legged resident of our community. In chatting with Beau’s mom, I asked where Beau came from. She told me that he’d been purchased from a private breeder. She described how she and her husband had made the hour-and-a-half drive to the breeder’s home, where they met both of Beau’s parents, and saw how the dogs were cared for. Of course, being an advocate for animals, I would’ve preferred that my neighbors had adopted a dog rather than purchased one. There are so many dogs – including purebreds – in shelters, the majority of which don’t make it out alive. Rescue groups provide foster care for as many as they can get out of the shelters, caring for animals till the perfect forever home can be found for them. It seems a shame to me to support additional breeding when tens of thousands are being killed every day simply for not having a home. That said, at least my neighbors used the services of a private breeder, whom they met in person, rather than buying their puppy from a pet store.
More than 90% of the puppies in traditional pet stores come from commercial mass breeding facilities, commonly known as “puppy mills”. Thanks to public education campaigns such as Best Friends Animal Society’s “Puppies Aren’t Products”, pet lovers are becoming ever more aware of the atrocities inherent in puppy mills. Abundant in the mid-western states, the breeding dogs at these operations suffer unimaginable cruelty, languishing in deplorable squalid conditions, deprived of adequate shelter, basic veterinary care, and human contact. Crammed into filthy wire cages, they can barely even turn around, much less ever feel the joy of running on grass or a gentle hand stroking their fur. For the commercial breeder, these poor dogs are mere commodities. The less money that is spent on care and shelter means more profit. Animals are fed just enough to keep them alive, and if they become ill, they either suffer till they die, or are sometimes killed (often by gunshot) by the breeder. Disease and infections are common, both in the mother dogs and in their pups. Puppies are shipped across the country to retail pet stores, enduring the stress of transport. Pet stores command a high price for these “products”.
As more people learn the truth about the horrors of puppy mills and their ties to pet stores, there is a growing trend to adopt furry family members instead of buying them. The now-familiar phrase, “Adopt, don’t shop!” is frequently seen on posters, t-shirts, and other merchandise. The way to put an end to puppy mills is to reduce the demand for their “products”. Many stores that formerly sold puppies have successfully converted to an adoption-only business model whereby they offer rescued animals for adoption, and sell food and pet accessories. Consumers have embraced this animal-friendly model, and cities across the nation have taken legislative measures to prohibit retail pet stores from operating within their jurisdiction. I’ve personally been active as a foot soldier in this campaign, educating the public, speaking at city council meetings, and protesting pet stores that support puppy mills.
Not long after welcoming Beauregard to the neighborhood, my husband and I joined some friends on their boat for a cruise around the harbor. Toward the end of the evening, they mentioned that they’d recently gotten a new puppy. “Congratulations”, I exclaimed, and then asked where they got him. “Russo’s”, they told me, referring to the pet store at the nearby upscale shopping mall. I couldn’t contain my horror at this news, and reacted as if I’d just taken a shotgun blast to my gut. “Oh no!” I cried, my hands covering my suddenly blanched face. Russo’s is a notorious dealer of puppy mill-bred dogs, and the subject of much local controversy. The Irvine Company, which owns the mall property, created a policy a couple years ago whereby they will not lease, nor renew any existing leases, for businesses which sell companion animals. This laudable stance against the commercial breeding industry was highly publicized and praised by the animal rights community. Russo’s is allowed to continue operating at their present location until their lease expires in a few years. Meanwhile, the store is the target of periodic protests designed to alert the public to Russo’s unscrupulous ways. It’s the sole pet store in Newport Beach, the only other one having been forced to close after doing business for less than a year due to sustained public outcry.
At my friends’ revelation, I did try to enlighten them on the pet store-puppy mill connection. They know of my activism, seem to be informed citizens, and I actually thought they were already aware of the facts. To my great dismay, they became very defensive, rebutted my claims, and regurgitated the propaganda that had been fed to them by Russo’s employees. So entrenched were they in the deception, that they simply would not consider the substantiated information I offered. They even knew that their puppy came from Missouri – widely recognized as the puppy mill capital of America! This fact did not disturb them in the least.
Having been fighting so hard on behalf of the dogs who are suffering in the puppy mill industry, I felt disgusted that my own friends were actively contributing to the problem. Our boat ride was nearing its end, otherwise I would’ve been tempted to jump overboard and swim to shore rather than spend one more minute in the presence of these selfish, uncaring people. I’ve lost respect for them. I can forgive ignorance, but not indifference.
To learn more about puppy mills:
- What pet store staff might tell you, and what it really means: Pet Store Doublespeak
- Humane Society of the United States Puppy Mill Campaign
- ASPCA Puppy Mill Campaign
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What you can do to help stop puppy mills
- State-by-state list of Puppy Friendly Pet Stores