In June of this year, we were asked by our friend Grace if we could help two adult pups – Jack a shih tzu, and Lily a yorkie. We work with her pulling dogs from the farms in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania, which are often referred to as ‘puppy mills’. Now, I know we have all heard this term, and I want to flesh out a little what this means.
A ‘puppy mill’ is a commercial breeding operation. This set up is where the animals are treated as assets, not pets. They live in small cages or pens – they do not have access to grass. They do not get let out for exercise, there is no play. There are no toys. There is often little shade, and they are just provided with the bare minimum to be legally kept – food, water, shelter. That. Is. It. These dogs spend their entire lives in a pen often just big enough for them to move around. If this fact alone doesn’t already make you feel some sort of way, then you probably don’t like dogs. Thinking about the lives that these guys lead makes me feel physically sick. Imagining my dogs in that situation with how much I know they love attention, and to run and play, and to chew bones, just makes my heart crumble for all of these dogs who spend years in this situation. Some of these farms do love and care for their dogs (still not like we do), but far too many live a life of neglect and cruelty.
The other half of it…the ‘why’ for them being kept in such a situation is the breeding. They are considered livestock – they are bred over and over, often having more than one litter in a year, until they don’t produce any more, and then they are discarded or given away. The adorable little puppies that you see at some pet stores, or come across online listed as coming from a ‘private breeder’ in Lancaster?? This is the outcome of the lives that the adults are being forced to live, incarcerated for their entire existence. This is why we HAVE to stop buying our dogs from these commercial operations and we HAVE to work on changing the laws to make stricter rules to protect the adult dogs in these situations. But I digress, that is a topic for another day.
Let’s get to the part that won’t make us sad…let’s talk about where Grace and Harley’s Haven comes in. Grace works hard to build relationships with the owners of these farms….and while that might seem counterintuitive, it’s because that we can save a whole lot more lives by working with them and helping to convince them to give us the dogs who aren’t producing, or the pups who get sick, or the pups that don’t sell for medical issues, instead of giving them away or an even worse fate. By working with them to take those dogs, we can work on helping to end the cycle and to do some educating along the way of proper care and housing for these animals. These kennels are legal, licensed, and inspected – so the only way we can get the dogs out is if the farmer is willing to voluntarily surrender them to us. As much as we would like to swoop in and take them all, it has to be that they are surrendered.
Jack’s owner had contacted Grace because he had Jack and Lily, who were both no longer producing, so he was ready to give them up and she jumped at the chance! She picked them up just a few days later and brought them to Pennridge. They both certainly had evidence of years of lack of vet care – some matted fur, and very dirty teeth, as well as a skin infection and fur loss for Jack. We loaded them up with some blood testing and preventatives and vaccines, and sent them on their way with their eagerly awaiting foster mom, Kim.
The day they arrived was likely the first day they ever went inside a house. The first week – Lily hid from Kim and her husband, Karl, and found refuge in her crate as a safe space. Through time, and love, and patience …they have both started to come out of their shell and their emotional and physical wounds are healing. In the past few weeks, Lily had a dental with many many extractions, and Jack was neutered. During his neuter we found that his one testicle that was retained (IE never properly descended into his scrotum and was in his abdomen instead), was very enlarged and abnormal and had a tumor growing in it. Having a retained testicle is a genetic condition, and one that predisposes dogs to developing tumors because that testicle is abnormal. In a normal home, Jack would have been neutered early on to prevent this, and even the typical breeder would have neutered him as well since this can pass along to his puppies and cause health issues for them too! But unfortunately for Jack, since he was in a puppy mill, this was not taken into consideration until he was no longer producing puppies for them.
Luckily, this chapter in his story has a happy ending! The tumor came back as a Sertoli cell tumor, which is benign and removing it is the cure! So he will go on to live a happy, long, and normal life! Lily just got adopted this week, and though Jack is thriving in his foster home, he is still looking for a forever home of his very own, to write the ending to his story.
Helping just these two dogs took several years of relationship building and convincing, then over $1000 in vet care (even with our discount), and tons of time and patience to help teach them how to be dogs. I can’t tell you the excitement from Kim the first time they ate for her, or went to the bathroom outside, or went for a walk, or played with a toy….every one of these was a brand new experience for them, despite the fact that they are both middle aged pups. And though this is a long and difficult road to save them, seeing them thriving and then ultimately so loved by their new families makes every minute and every dollar so worth it. Stay tuned for the ending of Jack’s story….he is still looking for his forever family, but I just know they are out there and will find him soon!
Want to get involved in improving the lives of dogs used for commercial breeding? Check out www.victoriaslaw.org to learn more!