Apr 5 2012
The sad eyes stared up at me, some jumped up at the edge of their cages, as if trying to get my attention. Others just sat on the ground, looking helpless, as though they had given up a long time ago. But what hit me hardest was the silence. The absence of noise didn’t register at first. Then I suddenly realized, what should have been a cacophony of barking, actually sounded more like quiet coughing. Why weren’t these dogs barking? That’s when I realized the dogs had all been “debarked” a brutal process, perfected by the Mennonites and Amish, that involves sticking a metal pipe down the throat and hitting it with a hammer to either sever or severely scar the vocal cords, silencing their voices for life.
Several weeks have passed now since my trip to the mill liquidation, and I can’t seem to shake the feeling of sadness I took away that day. It would be impossible for you to understand what one of these auctions for the closing of a puppy mill is really like without taking you along, but let me try to paint you a picture. This one was in Princeton, Missouri, a small town near the Missouri-Iowa state line about two hours northeast of Kansas City. On the drive, I braced myself for despair, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw when I got there.
More than six hundred dogs were caged up in outdoor pens with no shelter over their heads. This was one of the reasons the Department of Agriculture was shutting down the operation. The dogs were living in appalling conditions. Last year’s Animal Care Facilities Act finally started the crackdown on mills like this one. Thanks to the new law, breeders are required to protect their animals from the elements.
These dogs were separated, packed into pens based on their breed and their size. At one end you had the Rottweilers, at the other end the Chiuauas. In between, it was like a dog encyclopedia, with almost every breed you could imagine. Some were just puppies, others had been there for years, turning out litter after litter. And each of these dogs had lived their whole life in the outdoor cages of this puppy mill.
With treatment worse than inmates in a third world country, these dogs were penned up with no access to fresh water and were being fed a diet of hay (much cheaper than nutritious dog food). One male Standard Poodle, which I fell for immediately, had an ear infection so bad that my vet says he might never hear again. Of course, this was the first time this dog had ever been to the vet. None of these puppy mill prisoners had been given vaccinations or medical care of any kind.
When I opened the mouths of the dogs, I discovered yet another atrocity. Many of them were toothless. Their teeth pulled by a mill owner who didn’t want them nipping at each other and causing potential damage to his property. Those lucky enough to keep their teeth often had them filed down to nubs for the same reason.
At the auction that day, some of these purebreds were auctioned off for thousands of dollars, while others, on the verge of being “put down” on the spot, went for a dollar. If I had a dollar from each of you, think of all of the prisoners I could have busted out that Saturday. Instead, I carefully added up the money I could afford to spend saving lives and started picking out as many dollar dogs and really needy cases as I could. An old-as-dirt Italian Greyhound with only one testicle: $1. A fuzzy fellow I call Crunchy who reminded me of one of my babies waiting for me on a comfy dog bed back home: $1. These were the dogs nobody else wanted.
Because, keep in mind, I wasn’t the only one bidding. The place was crawling with dog brokers. This is the profession that supports puppy mills by buying their dogs, then turning around and selling them to legitimate-looking pet stores. That’s right … the stores you see in strip malls around town. The puppies behind the glass weren’t born in the store. They came from brokers who bought them at mills just like this one. But brokers don’t buy dollar dogs. And if I didn’t, these dogs didn’t have a chance.
That day I tried to save as many old, suffering, pregnant and pitiful dogs as I could. Imagine the A-Team, busting into this prison for dogs and liberating one after the next. Packed into kennels in the back of my car, headed down the road toward freedom and a better life, these dogs had no idea what was ahead. They had never known the kindness of humans. They were treated like a cash crop then sold for a buck.