Updated on January 17, 2010
Puppy Mills: People and Their Puppies Pay the Ultimate Price
Twice during the last month, I’ve experienced feelings of anger while in the midst of euthanizing one of my patients. Normally I feel mostly sadness, often combined with an element of relief knowing that suffering is gently and humanely coming to an end. Anger is an unusual visitor, but this emotion is sure to surface whenever I euthanize the innocent victim of a puppy mill (puppy mills are large scale breeding operations that produce puppies for profit with little or no attention paid to breed related inherited diseases). I feel angered when confronted with a sweet little life, cut way too short and clients left confused, bereft, and devastated by the untimely loss of their beloved puppy. Such was the case with Max and Chloe and the people who cared for them.
Max, was an insanely sweet and adorable Boston Terrier. Once an effervescent, bubbly Boston, this nine-month-old pup had become listless- fatigued by the exertion of breathing. You see, Max was born with an abnormally narrowed windpipe (imagine you or me trying to breathe through a straw). My client Ed recalled thinking that his new pup’s breathing seemed abnormally noisy when he picked him up from the airport. He was shipped to California at 10 weeks of age from a breeder in Missouri. Ed had been looking for a Boston Terrier and fell in love with Max the moment he saw his photo online. He did not feel the need to visit the kennel where Max was born because he was so reassured by the emails and telephone conversations he and the breeder had exchanged. She seemed to provide all the right answers to Ed’s questions. Max’s health was guaranteed- any problems and Max could be returned, no questions asked.
Other than the extra noise associated with Max’s breathing (not uncommon in a smoosh-faced breed such as a Boston Terrier), Ed thought he had a normal puppy on his hands. It was only as Max’s body grew in relation to his small windpipe that he developed labored breathing, eventually needing to utilize almost every ounce of energy struggling simply to breathe. Ed was devastated by the news that we had no way to fix this problem. With his own heart breaking, he held his sweet little Max tightly as I injected the euthanasia solution.
Chloe, an eleven-month-old Cocker Spaniel, was born with defective kidneys. Joe and Cindy first laid eyes on Chloe when they happened to pass through a shopping center pet store on their way to the movie theatre. They never made it to the movies that afternoon- they bought a puppy instead! They simply couldn’t resist the charms of the little blonde puppy with the big brown eyes. Joe and Cindy noticed that Chloe drank lots of water, and she could never be fully housetrained. A few months later, when she began vomiting and refusing her food, kidney failure was diagnosed. Ultrasound revealed that both of Chloe’s kidneys were small and malformed- clearly a birth defect. The once vigorous playful puppy gradually had become profoundly weak and lethargic. Unfortunately, we had no reasonable way of creating long-term improvement for Chloe. Heartbroken, Joe and Cindy gently stroked and loved their little girl as I ended her life.
Puppy mills stay in business by preying on people who are willing to buy a puppy without doing their research. These puppy purchasers simply don’t know better or allow their emotions to override their sensibilities. They are vulnerable to the precious face in the online photo or the adorable puppy in the pet store window (pet stores are notorious for purchasing from puppy mills). Puppy mill breeders often “seal the deal” by guaranteeing their puppies’ health, knowing full well how emotionally traumatic and near impossible it is for most people to “return a pup” once deep attachment occurs (deep attachment typically requires less than five minutes!).
My new year’s wish is that my veterinary colleagues and I will see far fewer victims of puppy mills in 2010. You can help my spreading word to people you know who are interested in purchasing a purebred or “designer hybrid” pup. Educate them about the dangers of purchasing a puppy online, sight (and site) unseen. Encourage them to avoid the impulsive pet store purchase. By buying online or from a pet shop, they may be risking losing their beloved new family member at much too young an age, or inadvertently committing the next 10-15 years of their lives to taking care of an inherently unhealthy product of a puppy mill. One less purchase from puppy mills, even indirectly is one step closer to their eradication. Please stay tuned. In my next blog, I will teach you how to recognize the telltale signs of a conscientious breeder.
Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health,
Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.
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