By Janet McAfee
This precious Shih Tzu spent the first three years of his life suffering in a small cage inside a garage in the sweltering high desert heat. Other dogs were caged above, below, and next to him. Frankie was part of an illegal large scale “backyard breeding” operation also known as a “puppy mill” where dogs are bred indiscriminately, confined to cramped spaces, frequently mistreated, and often experience untreated illnesses and death.
These cruel facilities operate out of the public eye, posting cute pictures of puppies costing many thousands of dollars online. These large-scale operations ship fragile and often sick puppies across the country to unsuspecting buyers. In 2018, California banned the retail sale of dogs and cats in pet stores unless they were from rescues and shelters. Dishonest puppy store merchants then “forged” records to circumvent the law, and finally additional legal efforts closed them down. The unscrupulous became more creative, hiding behind computers luring prospective adopters with cute photographs and deceiving information.
How are the parent dogs treated? Frankie tells you his story, hoping to help save some of the millions of animals still suffering in these cruel operations:
“My feet were sore and swollen from standing on the wire mesh of my cage in the sweltering garage. I could not turn around, and my legs cramped with pain. The stench was overwhelming, and the wail of the dogs made it difficult to sleep. Sometimes waste products from the dogs above me dropped into my cage. Some days we had no food. We never saw the sun, the moon, or the clouds. We never smelled the flowers, saw the rain, or felt the soft grass underneath our feet. We never knew a loving touch from a human. Sometimes one of the men got angry and hit me as he shoved me back into my cage.
We were removed for brief times to mate with the females who were weak from having so many puppies. In the summer, the heat was unbearable, and I smelled death coming from some of the cages. Many of the dogs were sick. My fur was so matted it felt like a painful helmet encasing my body. I was shut down and frozen from the endless suffering.
One day the garage door opened! Humans in uniforms took us away, and a nice woman took me and a few of the other dogs to Loving All Animals. I went to live with Kim Bledsoe and Linda Williams who have another dog. My new sister Willow has only one eye. Willow seemed happy and wanted to play.”
Linda Williams recalls, “I learned that dogs like Frankie lacked socialization and feared people because of their horrible treatment. I prayed I was up to the challenge of helping Frankie. He wouldn’t look at me in the eye, and it took me five days to get him to walk. He slept standing up with his head drooping. I pushed Frankie in a pet stroller around the neighborhood to introduce him to the world. One night Frankie had a bad dream, and I woke him up. A miracle happened when he ran to me and put his front legs around my neck and gave me a huge hug. He is still a bit timid around strangers, but he is a happy boy and always stays near me. When I’m coming home and I’m a block away, he knows it and becomes overjoyed.”
During the pandemic puppy mills operating online experienced a boom in their business. Some “scam” operators require large deposits and airline fees in advance, and then no dog ever arrives. They don’t care about the dogs’ welfare, as “pets for profit” is about the dollar signs. If the pet you purchased online or from a backyard breeder arrives with a medical or behavior problem, don’t expect to be compensated or have your phone calls answered.
Sandy Miller, local dog trainer extraordinaire, warns, “You don’t know what problems you are getting when you adopt online. When the animals are unknown and unseen, adopters may experience the tragedy of having to put a new pet down due to extreme medical and behavior problems. The indiscriminate breeding done by these sellers can produce genetically inferior dogs when related animals mate. Many of my clients have adopted from online sellers only to have huge medical bills.”
The list here of shelters and rescues can help in your search for a wonderful new pet. Rather than pay thousands of dollars for a pet, you can adopt a vaccinated, microchipped, and spayed/neutered animal from shelters and rescues for a nominal cost. The Palm Springs Animal Shelter, and the Coachella Valley Animal Campus are large shelters with many adoptable animals. If you seek a specific breed and age of dog, go to www.perfinder.com and type in the breed along with your zip code for a list of dogs close to your home.
Rescue dogs and cats rock!
(Photograph by Alicia Bailey)