It’s a rare human being who is able to resist a puppy. The sweet puppy breath, soft fur, pink bellies and paws. Yes, people flock to a litter of puppies like migrating birds heading South for the winter. It’s true. We witnessed this phenomenon during a recent Bark in the Ballpark at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Generally led by a female human, her first reaction upon seeing the puppies was to let out a high shriek, “Look, puppieeeezzzz!” This was followed by an Oh-My-Gawd hand to mouth motion which alerted the other women in the flock, all running towards the puppy pile. The age of the girls did not matter – from youngsters to grandmothers – the reaction, once the puppies were discovered, was always the same. The puppies, in this case, were being hosted by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Thankfully one or two were adopted as a result of their appearance that day.
Puppies have a way with our hearts. All our senses are lost, replaced with the impulse to buy and no regard to the cause and effect of this spur-of-the-moment decision. We’ve heard, and repeated this fact before: people spend more time researching and contemplating the purchase of their cars than they do on the acquisition of a puppy.
After President Obama and his family were presented with the gift of Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, sales of that breed increased across the country. At the time, upon hearing of Senator Ted Kennedy’s gift to the Obamas, Dr. Jana Kohl, an animal-rights activist said, “This will fuel the breeding industry, which will fuel the puppy mill industry, which will increase homeless dogs at shelters and increase the numbers of dogs euthanized every year.”
A Florida groomer we recently spoke with said that after Bo arrived at the White House, she saw four new clients, each with Portuguese Water Dogs. That was somewhere between 2009 and 2010. The groomer told us that those dogs are no longer with those families, and more than likely ended up at the shelter. People forget that puppies grow up, oftentimes to be big, slobbery, peeing, pooping and eating machines. People also don’t realize the expense that goes in to caring for a dog, whether it is healthy or not.
But, even more troubling is the fact that by purchasing a puppy over the internet or in a store that profits from selling puppies, the puppy mill industry continues to thrive. Many Florida pet stores obtain puppies from out-of-state #puppymills and dupe consumers into thinking their newly purchased puppy came from a local breeder.
Stuffed into small cages, covered in their own waste, the breeder dogs languish in horrible conditions. The dogs are often exposed to the elements, suffer chronic illnesses and rarely, if ever receive veterinary care. Consumers who typically purchase these puppies online (sight unseen), or in a storefront have no clue as to the conditions under which the puppy was bred and raised.
Recently, #TheNewBarker dog magazine was invited to photograph six “survivors” of a puppy mill. The dogs were part of a rescue effort of around 60 dogs pulled from a North Florida puppy mill, transported to the Bay Area by Laura Fletcher of Loving Friends Transport. VIP Rescue Florida volunteered to foster 20 of the dogs. At least two of the dogs were pregnant. In fact, Terri Ensign of VIP Rescue Florida telephoned several hours after we had taken the photos to let us know she was, at that very moment, “birthing puppies.” The rescue group is currently in dire need of foster homes. And, by the way, the North Florida puppy mill was not shut down, only fined. “Guess what we’ll be doing in another six months,” Ensign rhetorically asked.
Once you’ve seen a breeder dog, smelled a breeder dog and looked into the eyes of a breeder dog, you will be forever changed. It will bring you to tears. Sunday, September 22 is National Puppy Mill Awareness Day. To those of you who are volunteers with a rescue group, thank you for your hard work and dedication. This work is not for the faint of heart.