Friday, June 8, 2012

Puppies, Breeders, and Why I Stopped Writing Columns

Regarding dogs, two things I will never support: shock collars and commercial breeding operations.
The latter is the reason why, after three years or so of bi-weekly anchoring the Plymouth Review’s pet page, I quit yesterday. A reader alerted me to the fact that one of the advertisers, found on the same page as my columns, is a puppy-mill-type facility. The reader personally visited the Pretty Penny Kennel, but also forwarded me this visual – and don’t click on it if you can picture what a place run by someone whose primary, likely only, focus is to make many pretty pennies on the back of dogs, looks like.
Typically, I don’t publish disturbing footage of animal abuse. To the contrary, I blocked Facebook contacts in the past because they forwarded stuff that haunted, and rendered me useless, for the rest of the day, but in this context, I felt I needed to.
Just to be clear, Pretty Penny Kennels has been checked out by government officials and, to the best of my knowledge, the local SPCA, and was deemed to meet legal requirements, and that makes it legally impossible for the Review to deny advertising opportunities.
Well, Pretty Penny Kennel doesn’t meet my moral requirements, and it angers and saddens me to think that inadvertently, indirectly, I might have contributed to the dogs’ suffering. If just one person believed it to be a good place to shop since my articles were featured next to their ads – a reasonable enough possibility – then that, in my opinion sub-human, breeder and broker benefitted from me. What a disgusting irony. Well, not anymore. I quit.
Of course, anyone whose primary income is breeding and brokering dogs with no regard for their wellbeing would be out of business if people stopped getting their pups from them. Such commercial breeders are rather easy to spot.
The first clue is that they don’t investigate buyers. Obviously, they are not frank about their carelessness. Who in their right mind would even approach someone who advertises: “Sell my puppies to anyone who opens their wallet. No references or qualifications needed, because I don’t give a rat’s tail about the pup’s future living conditions, or your intent and capabilities. I just want your cash, and all the future problems I created with my greed and negligence are going to be your problems”.
They don’t advertise like that, but that is exactly what they do.
Commercial breeders often have a variety of breeds, many flavor-of-the-day ones, and always a steady  supply – and do advertise that: All colors - All sizes, is a hint.
The puppies are sold too young. The younger, the cuter, but there is another reason: Female dogs that are a commodity are bred as often as nature allows, and get the cheapest crap to eat that keeps them alive. Worn out and malnourished, mom-dog is not able to nurse her brood as long as she should, and puppies not taken care of by their dams are an inconvenience for unconscionable breeders.
The dogs and puppies live in filth, in tiny cages and kennels, often outside in every temperature, or stacked away in a barn. Some breeders and brokers conceal that and meet the buyer at a mall parking lot or on the side of the road, but others boldly broadcast it, and people get a pup anyway because they pity the pooch.
Commercial breeders don’t provide a contract, or if it is a lousy one guaranteeing neither temperament nor health.
Don’t think for a second that commercial breeders can’t be found in the show circuit. Particularly toy dogs, even if born to registered and titled parents, can come from large-scale operations that borderline mills. You might get a contract then, but everything else is the same – the living conditions, the lack of care, and the indifference placing the pup with the right owners.

Fortunately, reputable breeders are equally easy to spot. For starters, they are approachable at any point of the dog’s life, provide support and are willing, in fact insist, to take the pooch back, or help with rehoming, if the owner is unable to provide care any longer.
Reputable breeders have fewer dogs, and don’t always have puppies readily available. The interested person, provided he qualifies, is put on a waiting list. To qualify, he has to fill out a questionnaire, meet certain criteria and give references.
Reputable breeders provide opportunities to visit with mom-dog and sire if he is on the premises, and of course the puppies; will have the litter in the house, and gently handle and socialize; will vet-check and inoculate the puppies, and will not release them until they are 8-10 weeks old; will not force the female to mate by holding and muzzling her, and will not breed her more than once a year – at the most. The best breeders have the pups started on crate, house and leash training.

It is really not that difficult to separate the good from the bad, and one might expect that intelligent humans would choose the good ones. But there is a problem. Humans – some anyway, have empathy, and that makes puppy acquiring less of a brainy and more of an emotional endeavor. That includes rescue organizations, by the way. Millers and brokers who go under or are unable to sell their surplus  typically find some charitable group who picks up those dogs, painstakingly rehabilitates and then adopts them out. What else can they do? Turn their backs? Nobody who loves animals could do that. But the flipside is that the good news stories and photos of pauper dogs landing in paradise; the “all’s well that ends well” perception, is what sticks in Jane Public’s mind. I wonder what were to happen if, instead of happy endings, the public would be plastered with headlines like: “Joe Puppyseller (photo attached so that everyone can see what he looks like) of 195 Barklane Road, Wooftown USA/ Canada, busted. 45 dogs and 150 puppies destroyed. Although some were salvageable, we decided to kill them all, because we refuse to bail someone out who caused years of suffering to countless living and feeling beings.”
Yes, in theory every person should decide to shop only at reputable places. In reality, many will continue to save that one pup from its unscrupulous person. It is human nature, yet it perpetuates the problem because leaving the skinny pooch who lives in her own crap behind, thus denying the commercial breeder financial means, is the only way to stop such practices.
We surely can’t rely on our lawmakers to create change. Other countries have laws. In Sweden, for example and according to an article published in Bark Magazine Sept/Oct. 2009, a breeder is obligated to pay for all medical expenses for the first three years of a dog’s life. That would put an end to large-scale operations. To be fair, sometimes there are attempts in North America. For instance, Pennsylvania proposed regulations that would require anybody to leash walk each dog in their care for 20 minutes per day. That, too, would prevent millers and brokers from legally carrying on with their dirty trade. I don’t know what came of it though. My hunch is nothing, because in the land of the free and vocal focus groups, common-sense proposals rarely make it into law.
And we also can’t rely on printed media and for-profit online sites to promote animal welfare. They back up whoever has money, and provide the opportunities for commercial breeders to advertise their wares. So for now and likely some time to come, I fear that mega puppy-producing businesses will continue thrive, unabated and with impunity.

At least I did my part yesterday. I quit writing for the Plymouth Review. I, of course, won’t stop writing posts on this here, ad-free on purpose, blog site. Perhaps a few of my column readers I invited will join us. In the next few posts I’ll discuss NILIF, positive reinforcement, and barking and lunging on the leash. Stay tuned.
We did our part again when we chose an awesome, incredible, local breeder for our next puppy. Yeah, that’s right. It is a well-known secret around here that we are waiting for an Aussie baby, hopefully to be born in the fall. Not having a deadline isn’t such a bad thing when one has a pup. And right now it frees up diddling time I can spend in the backyard yelling names out loud to get a feel what rolls nicely off the tongue. The mom’s name is Denim, and our frontrunner, provided we’ll get a blue merle, is Indie – for Indigo, Denim’s Blue Wonder. But we are open for suggestions.


  1. I am so Very Very Proud of you and for the stand that you took. If only more would do it with other medias that sell ads for puppy mills and at same time have positive stories on the same page. This is what screws Joe Public up. You are sure in the fore front on this and much more.

  2. You've done a very good thing! Congratulations and thanks for spreading the word. Also thanks for all the great promotion of solely positive methods.

    Have you checked out Aussie Rescue Canada?

  3. I am periodically on the Aussie rescue site, Kirsten, but clicking on available dogs hasn't brought much up. Right now, it needs to be a pup because an adult would likely rock the boat with Will. The other thing too is that it needs to make my heart skip. I am so involved with other people's dogs every day, and although I love all dogs and am fascinated by them as a species, for my home-life the one I invite in for the next decade or more, I need to feel passionate about, which also means that I need to meet the pup in person.

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