By Christie Keith
April 26, 2010
Would it shock you to know that there are good, dog-loving people out there defending puppy mills?
It’s some kind of misguided fear of the slippery slope, that if anyone ever suggests we should advocate against people cranking out puppies like they were washing machine parts then all of us who keep, breed, or simply value dog breeds will instantly and utterly lose our rights to continue doing so.
That was the subject of a long conversation I had a few months ago with Stephanie Shain, who heads up the HSUS’ campaign to stop puppy mills. Among other things, we discussed that almost no one in the dog fancy will speak to her, even though she has repeatedly and publicly stated that she supports and believes in good dog breeding and breeders, and that good breeders are “the first line of defense against puppy mills.” From our conversation:
When I came to HSUS almost nine years ago, puppy mills were at the top of my list to work on. And about five years ago we said, â€œYou know, something is wrong here, because we have people who want to do the right thing. They donâ€™t want to get a dog who came out of a puppy mill. Theyâ€™re coming to us saying, ‘Please help me find a breeder,’ and weâ€™re not helping them.”
And to continue to have that â€œdonâ€™t breed or buy while shelter animals dieâ€ mindset felt wrong in a lot of ways. Number one, it felt wrong for those of us who had personal relationships with dog breeders that we had known over the years, and we knew they took amazing care of their dogs, and adored their dogs, and all of those great things that we all do, and it felt silly.
I mean, weâ€™re trying to help people, they want to get a dog of a certain kind, and whether we think the greatest dog in the world is sitting in a shelter or not doesnâ€™t really matter, because for this family, this is the kind of dog that they want. So letâ€™s start talking about where to get that dog and helping them identify a good, wonderful, compassionate responsible place to get that dog.
So it was about five years ago that we decided this is crazy, and started talking about responsible breeders. And weâ€™ve taken some heat for that, certainly, from people in the animal welfare community, who say, â€œThereâ€™s no such thing as a responsible breeder.â€
We expected that that would happen, but we really felt like there is a very big difference between someone who is taking care of their dogs, and that dog is living in the home, and is part of the family, and theyâ€™re breeding, and having puppies, and selling puppies. That is like night and day when you look at a puppy mill.
But whatâ€™s been the most frustrating, having worked on it for so many years, is that I expected flack from the animal welfare community but I expected a different kind of a response from the dog breeding community, and that for the most part just hasnâ€™t happened.
Look, I don’t approve of everything HSUS does. Hell, I don’t approve of everything my own family does, or the other bloggers here.
But when it comes to puppy mills, yes, I absolutely agree with HSUS in opposing them. And, as I tell Stephanie in our conversation, this is why:
I donâ€™t have a puppy mill breed myself, but I was at a friendâ€™s house once who breeds and rescues Italian Greyhounds, and she put a little puppy mill rescued breeding dog in my lap, who had lived her whole life in a mill, and I looked into that dogâ€™s eyes, and there was nothing there. She was dead inside. And thatâ€™s why it doesnâ€™t matter to me how sanitary or well-lit or well-ventilated a high volume puppy farm is, or how many vets or vet techs work there, it will never be acceptable to me. It can never be okay.
Now, maybe your antipathy to HSUS goes so deep that even reading that doesn’t change your view. Fine.
So if you still think HSUS sucks so badly you can’t even get behind them raising and spending money to support things you believe in, then get off your asses and form your own group to stop the mass production of family pets in barns and warehouses.
Stop hiding in the shadows and letting your enemies define what dog breeders and fanicers are.
Stop hoping no one will notice your little breeding program and wall of trophies and ribbons and just letting the big puppy brokers and retailers do the lobbying for you.
Because their interests are not your interests. Not only don’t they care about your dogs (or their own), they don’t care about you, either. When California twice tried to pass mandatory spay/neuter laws, the power of the puppy mill lobby got them exempted from the legislation, but they didn’t do anything to help you; the fancy and the working dog folks fought that back on their own.
And if you’re not going to do any of those things, then get over this “all or nothing” attitude about the things HSUS does that you don’t believe in, and utilize the massive resources and infrastructure of the nation’s largest and wealthiest animal organization to help stop the soul-deadening cruelty of puppy milling.
At least check out my conversation with Stephanie Shain. Open your mind for a few minutes that there’s the possibility we could really get something done if we worked together on this one issue.