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The term “puppy mill” has no official definition; but in the 1984 court case Avenson v. Zegart it was defined as "a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits." The ASPCA has a similar take: "a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs."
Profit over wellbeing of the dogs is a pretty broad and undescriptive explanation. We talked with Andrew Wilson, Director of Development; at the National Mill Dog Rescue in Colorado for an inside look at the organization and what they do. We will definitely get into that because what they do fills our hearts with joy; but first we want to bring you information on what really goes on behind the scenes at puppy mills and just exactly why this industry should be put down.
Many dogs at mills are kept in very small cages with little room to do anything other than stand, sit and lie in one place. Just how do you know how much space is required by law? According to the Animal Welfare Act you follow this formula:
Note: The interior height of a primary enclosure must be at least 6 inches higher than the head of the tallest dog in the enclosure when it is in a normal standing position.”
Our sweet Lab, Kona, is 36” nose to tail. 36 + 6 = 42 Next: 42 x 42 = 1764 Then divide 1764/144 = 12.25 square feet would be minimum required to house her. Imagine the cage to hold her is 4 feet by 3 feet (for easy math). That wouldn’t give her too much room to move around, stretch or switch position.
Mill owners do not necessarily abide by the spacing rule when it comes to housing their dogs. Think about how many different sizes of Labrador Retrievers there are. Are they really going to measure each dog and build a new enclosure for each dog that doesn’t fit the existing crate? Rhetorical question. You already know the answer.
Proper sized enclosures as defined wouldn’t be terrible if the dog were kept in them temporarily and were allowed out to exercise; but puppy mill breeders in many instances do not allow this. Remember, the dogs are a commodity and their well-being is secondary to the profit. The dogs remain in their enclosures/crates/cages their entire lives. That is, until they are no longer useful for breeding.
Access to food and water for these dogs is often restricted. Many times APHIS inspectors will find very thin, malnourished dogs at breeders’ operations. Reports indicate that the dogs have very little food and water. In fact, many puppy mill owners give dogs access to water only through a rabbit feeder. You know the kind. The glass bottle that hangs on the cage with the small metal tube at the end and the animal has to lick and lick and lick to get just drops of water to emerge. This creates dental issues as the dog is unable to rinse its mouth through a normal drinking process so bacteria build up. That leads to plaque, decayed teeth and abscesses making it painful to eat. If not addressed by a veterinarian, that bacterium works its way into the jaw and it rots resulting in the need to wire the jaw shut or remove it altogether. This is what happened to dear Lily who was the little Italian Greyhound who broke hearts and started the crusade to end this madness. When Theresa Strader met Lily (shown below), National Mill Dog Rescue was formed and has been saving as many abused and neglected mills dogs as possible.
When the health of dogs is disregarded in favor of profit, as you would expect veterinary care goes out the window. Many dogs contract tick fever from the bite of the deer tick. This can cause fever, stiff joints, loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. Due to the fact that momma dogs are stored in the same crates or environment as their puppies, the puppies will usually be infected as well.
Another problem our friends at the National Mill Dog Rescue see with their rescues is mammary tumors. These tumors are painful, can grow, spread throughout the body and become cancerous 50% of the time.
When dogs are rescued from these environments, they display a full range of behaviors related to the lives they have lived up to that point from normalcy to carrying a lot of baggage. Some of the behaviors witnessed are timidity and hiding as now everything has changed and they are not sure what to do. Some display fear biting as their interactions with humans thus far has been negative. Some have special issues like need for sensory enrichment. Think of their lives. They have not been exposed to grass, cars, and people other than the breeder. Many are simply terrified until they realize they have been rescued and their entire world is changing for the better. There are rescue groups all over making a difference and that’s where our friends at the National Mill Dog Rescue come in. Next time we want to share with you their mission, how they began and what you need to know about rescue dogs. Stay with us for this great story. In the meantime we want to know: Do you have a rescue dog? Share in the comments section a photo and the story about how that special fur ball came into your family and stole your heart. ‘Cuz that’s what they do.