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 small 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 and in newspapers. There is a fine line between smaller local operations, and large scale operations that ship fragile and often sick puppies across the country to unsuspecting buyers. In 2018, California unanimously passed Assembly Bill 485 which banned the retail sale of dogs and cats in pet stores unless they were from rescues and shelters. The supply of animals in pet stores came mainly from puppy mills. Meanwhile, millions of adoptable homeless dogs and cats were tragically euthanized at public expense in public shelters. Dishonest puppy store merchants then “forged” records to circumvent the law. Additional legal efforts and public pressure eventually closed their businesses in California. The unscrupulous became more creative, hiding behind computers as they lure prospective adopters with cute photographs and deceiving information on social media.
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 barely stand up in the small cage. I could not turn around, and my legs cramped with pain. The stench was overwhelming, and the wail of the dogs beside and above made it difficult to sleep. Sometimes waste products from the dogs above me dropped into my cage, and it was awhile before someone came to clean it. Some days we had no food. We dogs in the garage 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 roughly removed for brief times to mate with the females who were weak from having so many puppies. In the summer, the heat was sweltering 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 was scared when my new foster mom tried to touch me, and even more afraid of being groomed and going to the vet. I went to live with Kim Bledsoe and Linda Williams who have another dog who was also different. My new sister Willow only has one eye. Willow seemed happy and wanted to play. I wondered if I would ever be like Willow.”
Linda Williams recalls, “I learned that dogs like Frankie lacked socialization and feared people because of their horrible treatment and living conditions. 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. Lawn mowers, leaf blowers, cars, people talking….all were new and frightening. I was determined he would get the chance at a new life he deserved. One night a miracle happened. It was late in the night when Frankie had a bad dream, and I woke him up. He ran to me and put his front legs around my neck and gave me a huge hug. It took a while, but that was a turning point. 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. I have never been loved to the extent of how much Frankie loves me.”
As the demand for puppies and kittens increases over the holidays, puppy mills operating online are seeing a boom in their business. A recent national news broadcast described how some “scam” operators require large deposits and airline fees in advance, and then no dog ever arrives. Don’t be fooled by how friendly the seller might be! They don’t care about the dogs’ welfare, as “pets for profit” is about the dollar signs that come with each litter. Sadly, many breeders are profit motivated, and won’t let you see the conditions for the breeding parents. 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 emails and phone calls answered.
Sandy Miller, local dog trainer extraordinaire, warns her clients they are asking for problems when they purchase a pet online. The problems are compounded if the animal has to undergo the dangers of airline travel in the baggage compartment, where animals get lost or suffer health problems. Sandy 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 the extreme medical and behavior problems these pets can come with. The indiscriminate breeding done by these sellers can produce genetically inferior dogs when related animals mate. Many of my clients have adopted from pet stores and online sellers only to have huge medical bills.”
The list below can help in your search for a wonderful new rescue pet. Did you know that 35% of the dogs and cats in shelters are pure breeds? 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. One of these organizations may have the pet you seek this holiday season. The Palm Springs Animal Shelter, the San Bernardino City Shelter, and the Coachella Valley Animal Campus are large shelters that often take in abandoned litters and may have puppies and kittens. Kittyland has lots of cats and kittens. Don’t forget the middle aged and older animals who need homes for the holidays too, and they often arrive house trained! 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. Email me for additional ideas.
Rescue dogs and cats rock! Merry Christmas to you and your 4-legged family members.
(photograph by Alicia Bailey)