I got another foster dog last week. Jocko is a 3-year-old purebred Havanese and since he is non-shed I will be able to rehabilitate him.
It will take a while because, despite assurances to the contrary, he was a puppy mill breeding dog. Jocko’s purchasers had been told that Jocko was no longer needed for breeding and that he had “lived in the home, played with children and toys, was housetrained, and a shy but, sweet dog.”
The family realized that they had been duped when Jocko’s promised blankets and toys arrived with price tags on them. Jocko was underweight and had never played with any toys or even slept on a blanket. For three years, all he had was a small cage in a kennel and a hard, cold concrete floor.
Unaccustomed to homes and people, Jocko was unable to assimilate, and I offered to take him. I knew that Jocko needed a dog to teach him how to be a dog.
Since Jocko had little contact with humans, he can be uncomfortable when approached (typical signs of a puppy mill breeding dog). He is not house trained. He is afraid of things that go bump in the house, the appliances, the street noises, the cell phone ring.
Like most puppy mill dogs, he gets along great with other dogs. Jocko will learn how to live in a home by watching how my dogs behave.
I lost count of how many puppy mill moms and dads I have rehabilitated over the years, probably over 50. For that reason, it is hard for me to see the purebred and hybrid dogs on my walks, knowing that most of these dogs came from puppy mills.
Advocates estimate that 90%- 95% of puppies sold on the Internet and pet stores are from puppy mills. An estimated 2 million puppies are purchased each year from the 10,000 puppy mills. Puppy mills mass produce the most desirable dogs including purebreds and the “in dogs” which are now poodle mixes.
How can you tell if your dog was purchased from a puppy mill?
Not from the breeder! Breeders will assure you that the moms and dads live in their home and the puppies run free on rolling hills of rich green grass.
But here is what to look for if you want to avoid purchasing a puppy mill puppy.
- Stay away from the Internet, some classified ads and, of course, pet stores. A relative bought a puppy from a pet store and believed their assurances that their puppies came from reputable breeders—that is—until she saw that her puppy had been shipped from Romania.
- Puppy mills typically have puppies available at any time.
- Puppy mills usually offer more than one dog breed.
- Most of the hybrid puppies (e.g., poodle mixes, “doodles,” puggles, etc.) are from puppy mills. For that reason, the original breeder of labradoodles now regrets creating the breed.
- The states with the most puppy mills are: Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
- Breeders from the Amish and Mennonite communities (particularly in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania) are notorious for running puppy mills.
- Bottom line: You cannot be sure unless you visit the facility and meet the parents. If the parents are shy and skittish, chances are they spent their life in a kennel.
Puppy mill breeders will do everything they can to assure you that, unlike the others, THEY are not a puppy mill. Right, and they also may try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.
How did I learn so much? About 20 years ago, I bought a cockapoo puppy from the Internet. I have been trying to pay it back ever since.
I get it. It is so easy to use the Internet to find the right puppy just when you want it. Legitimate breeders don’t usually have puppies available and carefully evaluate if you would be a good home for their puppy. It is harder to buy from a legitimate breeder than to click on that cute puppy that is available today.
Some people are under the misconception that buying a puppy from a puppy mill “saves” that puppy. Sadly, it does not. While most of the puppies live amazing lives; their moms and dads live in squalor, suffering horribly until they are rescued or killed.
One of my dogs, Annie, is a puppy mill mom. She was kept in the bottom cage.
What does that mean?
In many puppy mills dog cages are stacked on top of each other, packed with barking, neglected dogs and (so that the “miller” doesn’t have to clean them) the “floors” are wire grates. Since Annie was on the bottom, she was covered in the urine and excrement from the dogs above her. Her feet are permanently splayed from living on a wire floor. She weighed 12 pounds (normal weight is 18 pounds) when she was rescued. She still suffers from PTSD.
Other parts of Annie’s story are too horrible to speak of.
But she is one of the lucky ones. Most mothers are killed at six years old because their breeding capabilities decline. Before that, they will give birth to two or three litters a year. The dads are kept in cages for 8-10 years until they are killed or rescued. Most facilities lack electricity so the temperatures can be extreme. Dogs are fed minimal, non-nutritious food, and receive little or no veterinary care. All day they must crouch in small, overcrowded wire cages listening to the incessant barking of dozens or hundreds of tortured souls.
The puppy that I bought (mistakenly) from a puppy mill was one of the best dogs I ever had. She was adorable, sweet, kind, beautiful, a special, special dog; we adored her. But I still cringe knowing where she came from.
Little Jocko watches my dogs. They will teach him how to bond with people. They will teach him how to chase squirrels. They will teach him how to bark and annoy my long-suffering neighbors.
Housetraining puppy mill breeders is not for the faint of heart. These dogs have learned to live in their feces and urine. Teaching them about personal care takes a while. (Annie took 6 years!)
As I start to pet my dogs, Jocko lines up behind them, while they jostle each other to get more affection, he watches them. Finally, it is Jocko’s turn and he steps up to me, as if called to attention by a drill sergeant. I softly pet him and scratch him behind his ears. He looks up at me with his sweet, questioning eyes that seem to ask, “do I like this?”
And I smile at him and whisper into his ear.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.