I was sorting through oranges in the produce section of a local grocery store the other day when an acquaintance stopped to congratulate me on Saving Gracie. We chatted for a few minutes and then she asked: “Are puppy mills still a problem?”
The answer, sadly, is yes. Not only are they a problem (as if my book would have made any serious dent), puppy mills remain epidemic in scope.
In the last month alone:
– Sixty-one Chihuahuas were seized from Lake County, Fla., home.
– A dozen Chihuahua-dachshund mixes were taken from a subsequently closed kennel in Troutdale, Ore.
– 113 dogs were rescued from a substandard kennel in southern Indiana.
– In Aardmore, Okla., a breeder closed shop and turned 120 Yorkies, Pekingese, Chihuahuas, dachshunds and other dogs over to rescue groups.
– In Medford, Ore., a breeder voluntarily relinquished 41 dogs.
– And especially tragic, a breeder outside Oberlin, Kansas euthanized 1,200 dogs after officials traced an outbreak of distemper at a pet store to his kennel.
The horror stories continue. And yet, 2010 was full of hopeful news as well.
For example, more and more pet stores proprietors have gotten out of the business of selling dogs. One of them was Tim Wilson of Kansas City, Mo., who sold dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Shih tzus and other breeds at his store, City Pets and Ponds, before he decided to stop selling dogs and instead partner with local shelters and rescue groups to find homes for needy pets. “I’m in a rare position to make a difference,” he said.
Two of the worst puppy mill states, Missouri and Oklahoma, passed new laws requiring breeders to provide food, water and minimum veterinary care. Missouri breeders will now be limited to 50 adult breeding dogs, a fraction of the number some kennels previously had. Opponents are threatening to overturn the ballot initiative cracking down on bad breeders; it failed in rural areas but succeeded thanks to a strong urban vote. But the Humane Society of the U.S. and other supporters are pushing back with a series of billboards featuring a black and white dog and the message: “Missouri voters have spoken. Will you listen?” and I’m hoping legislators there will.
Little by little, change is coming. Salt Lake County, Utah, voted this month to require any breeder producing more than one litter of dogs in a year’s time to obtain an annual license. Anyone convicted of animal cruelty within five years’ time will be denied a license.
In Ohio, the Coalition to Ban Ohio Dog Auctions is working to get an initiative before voters in 2012 to forbid the auctioning of dogs taken from local puppy mills or brought in from out of state. Lake County and Geauga County, Ohio, are home to some of the biggest puppy mill auctions in the country. and dozens of puppy mills have set up shop in the area as a result.
In Illinois, a new law requres pet stores and animal shelters to post the history of a dog or cat, including the name and address of the breeder, the animal’s date of birth, breed and other details, its medical record and a list of veterinary treatments and vaccinations. Until now stores were required to disclose the information only if asked.
In courtrooms, bad breeders are paying a higher price for their crimes. After her conviction on animal cruelty charges, Toledo, Wash., breeder Theresa Hahn was sentenced to 50 days in jail and 400 hours of community service and forbidden to ever own dogs again. The lifetime ban is unusual, but I’m hoping it becomes the norm as authorities better understand that unless they’re stopped, the recidivism rate for puppy millers is nearly 100 percent.
Here’s a trend I especially like: Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is using a tax law to go after problem kennels in his state. Breeders who fail to pay income and sales taxes from their cash-and-carry transactions risk having the book thrown at them. In one case, a Bloomfield breeder found to owe more than $311,000 in taxes had his taxable assets — 120 dogs – seized.
And the feedback I’ve gotten since Gracie was published nine months ago tells me awareness about puppy mills continues to spread. That’s how atrocious kennels will be put out of business — from the ground up. So as 2011 unfolds, let’s resolve to do our part to protect man’s best friend.
The Humane Society of the U.S. has a toll-free puppy mill tip-line, 1-8770-MILL-TIP. Use it to report bad breeders. The HSUS helped rescue dogs from 50 puppy mills around the country this year. They’re serious about cracking down on the problem.
Happy New Year to you all!