The terrible truth about puppy mills
As Scotlund Haisley, founder of Animal Rescue Corps, walked the grounds, he witnessed an all too familiar sight. Some 132 dogs were scattered about the property, barely clinging to life. Fearful eyes peered through wooden boxes, most likely breeding dogs that only saw the world through the narrow window of wooden slats.
A few yards down, four and five dogs were jammed into 2’ x 2’cages, jockeying in vain to find a comfortable spot to sit. Those very same cages were stacked one on top of another, excrement raining down on the heads of the dogs in the cages below, forming a floor for them to stand on, the only floor they had ever known.
Forced to live in such unnatural confinement, fighting often occurs. Injuries go unnoticed and untreated, leading to death. Some dogs are forced to endure “de-barking,” a painful procedure that severs their vocal chords to reduce incessant barking, a cry for help and attention.
Nails that have never been trimmed grow back into the skin causing infection. Not only is this extremely painful to dogs, it can lead to other life threatening medical conditions. Coats matted with dirt and feces can also become life threatening because the fur actually grows into the cage, pinning the dog down in one spot.
On this day, July 3rd, Operation Liberty Dogs as the rescue was named, began the heartbreaking work of reclaiming survivors from the horror of this canine concentration camp. Six dogs were rushed to emergency veterinary care; two of them died.
The high levels of ammonia in the air stung the eyes of volunteers as they worked to free these innocent dogs from a fate much worse than death. “It’s hard not to get emotional when you reach into the cage of a dog that has known only pain and suffering their entire existence,” Scotlund said with a sad shake of his head. For Animal Rescue Corps, ending this cruelty is not just their mission, it’s their life’s work.
With the help of its strong network of partner rescues around the country, ARC not only bears witness to the cruelty of greed for the price of a puppy in a pet store, these dedicated professionals work to make a difference.
“There are quite a few logistics in getting a rescue to work,” Scotlund told us. “It’s important that we do our work to the best of our ability so that these animal cruelty cases are successfully prosecuted.”
And that’s what ARC does incredibly well. They get convictions. Working from tips or phone calls from disgusted citizens who stumble upon a puppy mill or evidence of organized dog fighting, ARC credits its success to careful planning, gathering evidence, and working with law enforcement to obtain those convictions.
With a staggering cost of between $20,000-$50,000 for rescue efforts, ARC incurs all of the expense for getting dogs removed and placed in a temporary emergency shelter, for getting them vetted, and transported to approved rescues.
In the Page County case, one of ARC’s placement partners suspected that several of the dogs they received were victims of a puppy mill. All the classic signs of abuse were there: bad teeth, extremely matted fur, emaciation, skin issues, and open wounds. Once a veterinarian confirmed the cruelty to these animals, ARC got to work.
The first action step was to drive by and take pictures of the property. Because animal protection laws aren’t what they should be in this country, ARC also documents EPA and OSHA violations, tax evasion, as well as state and county violations of the suspected property.
Their report is thorough and well documented. When Scotlund presented the report to Page County Sheriff Thomas, he was more than open. He successfully did away with cock fighting in his county, and he was ready to tackle a puppy mill. “We don’t tolerate animal cruelty in our community,” he said flatly.
Animal control officers, along with ARC and a veterinarian walked the property. By law, animal control officers have the authority to inspect a property without notice. Within minutes, all that ARC suspected was confirmed.
Conditions were atrocious with animals near death. Scotlund wrote a report on the scene and handed it to the sheriff. Within hours of the inspection, a judge signed off on a search warrant. ARC team members from other states and surrounding communities were standing by. Sixteen- hour days were ahead in order to save as many dogs as possible.
With hearts full of love and compassion, these deeply committed rescuers confronted the hell that had been many a dog’s life and death. When these dogs were finally released from their prisons and placed on solid ground, they could not stand because the ground did not make any sense to them.
Can you imagine dogs that don’t understand the ground beneath their feet? We can’t.
While it is difficult for us to even imagine such an extreme confinement, in the eyes of a puppy mill owner, these dogs are just puppy machines. But rescue is only the beginning of a long journey to wholeness. With a host of needs, emotionally and physically, ARC is the resource that vets them, assesses their behavior, their medical status, and brings these survivors back to life.
And that is the critical difference between law enforcement intervening on its own and having the resources of an organization like ARC. With tiny budgets and little experience in rescue, law enforcement departments are often forced to kill the victims of such horror. With the resources and manpower of Animal Rescue Corps, the burden of having to kill innocent dogs and puppies is averted.
Much like a prisoner of war, these animals need time to recover from their experience. ARC’s placement partners provide the love, security, and gentle re-training that helps them remember what it really means to be a dog. As you can imagine, some dogs never fully recover. For those survivors, known issues are relayed to the adopter and special accommodations are made for their new companion at home for their lifetime together.
No community is ever proud that a puppy mill exists in its midst. Instead, they are ashamed and grateful that Animal Rescue Corps was there to take it down. As Scotlund told us, “It’s our hope that we have made a lasting solution in that community, and in educating that community.”
The sad truth is there are approximately 15,000 puppy mills just like the one in Page County in the United States. These mills produce over 4,000,000 puppies each year, which supply nearly 100% of pet stores. Equally as sad, over 4,000,000 dogs are put to death in shelters each year.
When The Mosby Foundation heard of the Page County puppy mill rescue, there was no question that we would help. It broke our hearts to know that this kind of cruelty was so close to home. We also feel sure that the foundation has helped many of the puppies from that mill over the years.
While ARC deals first hand with the actual abuse of mill dogs, The Mosby Foundation sees the other side of this abuse. These are the puppies that are sold to unsuspecting dog lovers. Guardians never see the mother or father. They never see the conditions in which these animals live. And they never see the 2’ x 2’ cage that imprison them, or their lack of clean food and water.
What they do see is the product of deplorable conditions, an adorable puppy that they immediately fall in love with. What they can’t understand is why their companion develops heart or hip problems at an early age, or early onset cataracts, or a disease stemming from poor immunity. These guardians always ask us, “How is this possible? I take good care of my dog. I don’t understand.”
These loving owners wrack up hundreds and thousands of dollars in debt trying to save their dogs from a lifetime of pain. But it’s very hard to undo the torment that mill owners force upon the parents.
ARC gets a permanent standing ovation from us. They see the handiwork of society’s cruelest element. And yet, Scotlund says, “I consider it a great honor to be in a position to save lives. Because of our work, the animals will suffer no longer.”
If that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, what does?
We are tremendously proud of our donors for allowing us to support the Animal Rescue Corps with a $3,000 donation. Thanks to you, 132 abused dogs got the medical and emotional care they so badly needed. Nothing would give us more pleasure than to see puppy mills eradicated, and you understand that. The greed of puppy mill owners cost all of us in money and heartbreak.
The foundation also understands that for some, buying a purebred dog is important. That’s why we encourage you to review our checklist, “What To Look For In A Reputable Breeder.” Let’s stop this suffering.
Every dog in the world should love the ground beneath his feet.
What To Look For In A Reputable Breeder
- Loves their dog and wants to share their bloodlines with others.
- Produces litters on occasion.
- You can meet the mother and father of your prospective puppy.
- Will have a written record of the parent’s medical history.
- Doesn’t let you pick out any puppy you want. Instead, matches up the personality of the puppy with your lifestyle and personality.
- Requires you to sign a contract. Just because you have a purebred puppy doesn’t mean you should breed it.
- Will take back any animal of their breeding at any time and for any reason.
- Has a working knowledge of genetics and generally avoids inbreeding.
- Does not breed extremely young or old animals.
- Breeds in their home and considers the animals part of their family.
- Offers guidance and support to new guardians.
- Provides accurate and reliable health, vaccination and pedigree information.
- Animals are sold on a limited registration; spay/neuter contract is in place or the dog is altered before placement.
- Never sells to pet stores.
Warning Signs Of A Puppy Mill Breeder
- Refuses to let you see where the dog lived.
- Refuses to let you see the dog’s parents.
- Has no written history of the parent’s health.
- Won’t take the dog back if there are any problems with it. Or, if they do, will frequently offer you another dog and likely kill the dog you return.
- Advertising the dog for sale on Craig’s List
- There is no contract.
- Offers to ship the puppy to you sight unseen or to meet you in a parking lot.
- Sells almost exclusively to pet stores.
- Sells from a website. Also offers multiple breeds of dogs.
- Animals are kept in tightly confined living quarters with little or no access to clean water and food.
- May have significant behavioral or medical problems.
- Breeds the dog continuously. Pups are taken from their mothers before they should be. A lot of these breeders will sell these pups before they are 8 weeks old.
Please be aware that backyard breeders or neighbors that breed dogs can be suspect of many of the traits of puppy mill dogs.