by Rebecca Richardson
The Hard Facts
In 1984, the term “Puppy Mill” was legally introduced into the societal vernacular. This term was defined in the case Avenson vs. Segart as “a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”
According the ASPCA, there are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S. and fewer than 3,000 are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The majority of dogs found in boutique pet stores, or large chain stores, begin their lives in mills.
It is estimated that more than 2 million dogs are produced in mills each year. 25% of all dogs in shelters are “pure bred” and almost 3 million are euthanized every year because no one adopted them.
Females, called “brood bitches” are baby producing machines. Their puppies are taken from them well before they are ready to be weaned, with many pups dying as a result. Females are often given only a short break before being impregnated again in order to continue the puppy producing cycle.
Males, called “studs” are used to impregnate multiple females, sometimes direct relatives of theirs. This greatly increases the risk of the offspring inheriting and developing genetic diseases that can cause long term health issues.
Moreover, despite the societal consensus that a dog is a pet; in the world of puppy mills, they are considered paychecks and nothing more. They are treated the same as livestock, being discarded once their usefulness is done.
A Chance to Wake Up
Imagine if your entire life, you had been asleep. Walking, talking, moving through each day, but never fully aware of the beauty and pleasures that surrounded you. Then, one day, you are given a shot that brings you fully into reality. Everything is new, fresh, exciting. Every opportunity you are given, you learn something, find something wonderful to explore and partake in.
This is very much what it’s like for a puppy mill dog. Many of these dogs spend not months, but years, inside dark, dank environments. Stacked in wire or wooden cages, having to pee and defecate in these tiny spaces; these dogs end up with a host of health issues including:
Urine burns, shortened limbs, deafness, blindness, overgrown nails, missing teeth, scarring, mange, heartworm, fleas and ticks to name a few.
When a puppy mill dog is given up to a rescue, it becomes their “shot”. It is truly a chance to be reborn, and hopefully, overcome the emotional damages that are often a s bad as the physical ones.
Fostering a Mill Survivor
People who choose to become foster parents to puppy mill survivors are taking on a difficult yet equally rewarding task. Think of a puppy. When one is brought into the home, a puppy must be taught all of the ins and outs of being a house pet. Toileting, training, learning his name, discovering the pleasure of a bone or toy….for a puppy everything is exciting and new.
In the case of a puppy mill dog, it is the exact same experience, however, you are dealing with years of previous neglect that need to be overcome.
Many puppy mill survivors have no idea what a bath is, or worse, what a name is. Basic human tenderness, like a belly rub, a pat on the head; it has been denied to them and now they must learn an entirely new way of life.
To foster or adopt a puppy mill survivor requires patience, understanding, flexibility and of course, love.
Let’s take a look at some common behaviors exhibited by puppy mill survivors:
- Aversion to Human Contact – Puppy mill dogs are often handled roughly. On rare times they are removed from their cages, it is a traumatic experience. The dog learns to associate human touch as a bad touch.
- Lack of Eye Contact – Eye contact in dog language is often seen as challenging behavior. As a result, a puppy mill survivor may be fearful of making eye contact, since humans are seen as something to fear.
- Potty Training – Puppy mill dogs are not potty trained. They are forced to lay in their own urine and feces. It is not uncommon for both males and females to exhibit marking behavior.
- Stool Eating – It is not uncommon for a puppy mill dog to eat feces. The lack of nutrition and proper supplements in their diet, often cause them to show “pica” like behaviors.
- Fear Biting – A puppy mill dog has never known loving hands. Hands coming into a cage mean trouble. Dogs are often yanked out of their cages by their tails or hind legs. Hit for non-compliance and mistreated in general. It makes sense that the sudden movement of what is considered something quite scary to these dogs, could trigger a fear bite response.
- Fear of Water- It is not an uncommon practice for mill dogs to be left in their cages when the cages are “cleaned”. This process is done by inserting a high pressure water hose into the cage and flushing it with water. The sound of sudden rushing water can trigger a fear response in these dogs.
Why Do It? Why Foster?
Knowing all the potential problems and behavior issues that a mill dog can bring, there will be some who might say “why bother”. For every person who says this, however, there are the special few who say “how can I not?” By stepping up and offering to foster, you are quite literally giving this dog a new chance at life.
Many behaviors that a mill dog exhibits can be overcome in time. It won’t happen overnight but it is possible.
The joy you will receive in watching them discover a new world, is priceless. There is nothing like knowing that your love and time and attention made all the difference for a dog whose life before you was only despair. These dogs are not called “survivors” without reason. They have seen the worst that humanity has to offer. They have been mistreated, denied the basic rights that every dog deserves. Yet, somehow, someway, the majority find a way into the light, and over time become incredible pets.
A Puppy Mill dog is living proof that second chances can truly change a life. Talk to your local breed specific rescue or shelter today and ask how you can get involved in the life of a mill dog. They are hard work, there is no doubt, but the rewards last a lifetime for you and the pup.
Former Puppy Mill Bulldog Ms. O (center) represents IL English Bulldog Rescue and is proof of how wonderful a pet a Mill dog can become when given the chance. She welcomes all fosters who come into her home with open paws and teaches them the ropes of being a loved pet!