“Green beans, peach pie, Akita puppies.”
If only I had my cell phone with me when I recently came upon that sign outside of a picturesque Amish country road leading up to a seemingly charming house. Journalism Rules 101: Have a camera with you at all times. Which I had failed to do. The words etched on that sign, however, are an eternal snapshot in my mind.
Seeing that sign on a trip to Lancaster, PA, left me with a different feeling than I’d gotten on previous trips in the region. Since my previous visits I’ve learned that this agrarian community is home to a deep dark secret: The area is known for its dog factories, puppy mills, torture houses — call them what you will — and the sign was evidence, however slight, of what goes on there.
The tourism bureau boasts that there are “so many things to do, you’ll come back again and again,” but it neglects that Amish Country is also dubbed “the puppy mill capital of the world” by several animal advocacy groups.
ALERT: I promise not to show you pictures or videos of suffering dogs, deplorable conditions, or anything else that is disturbing. I will educate you and tell you what you can do to help stop this abuse from happening to dogs across the country.
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
Lancaster County is home to what many consider the oldest and largest population of Amish in the United States, about 30,000. Often called “Dutch Country” because of the Pennsylvania Dutch who were among the first Europeans in the region, this area was also the home of my dog’s veterinary specialist for years. We took the road less traveled to appointments, through Amish towns including Intercourse, Blue Ball, Lititz, and Bird-in-Hand — and on a few occasions, we turned the vet trip into a vacation, yet I somehow missed the seedy secrets.
Of course, not all Amish are puppy-mill breeders, and scores of non-Amish folks are horrible puppy-mill producers. The Amish are depicted as comprising a quiet, hardworking culture, people who grow their own foods and live without electricity and modern conveniences.
According to the website Pet Watch New Jersey, “Many puppies sold in New Jersey pet stores originate from Amish and Mennonite puppy mills in Pennsylvania, with the highest concentration coming from Lancaster County.” How could I have driven through this area so many times and not seen it? Apparently, this is what the area relies on: clueless tourists.
Undercover video obtained by Main Line Animal Rescue (located near the Valley Forge National Park in Chester County, PA) several years ago revealed dogs are improperly bred and live in filthy conditions. Many never see the light of day. In a story reported by ABC News, Bill Smith (of Main Line Rescue) shared that dogs are often euthanized and sometimes are “legally” shot. Smith told ABC News, “Unfortunately, if a kennel breeds less than 60 dogs, they can shoot them,” he said. “If it’s over 60 dogs, they can’t be shot.”
Shot. As in dead.
99 percent of all pet store puppies are from puppy mills.
Approximately 2.5 million puppies are born in puppy mills annually and more than 400,000 breeding stock dogs are imprisoned in these kennels.
An estimated 3 to 4 million shelter dogs die each year.
Stopping the Madness
Many people — including the governor of my state — have called for reform of the law that allowed that, and web research was inconclusive as to whether the law still stands. Regardless, it’s horrific to think that as recently as 2009, courts in Pennsylvania ruled that it was legal — if disturbing — for people to kill their pets if they wanted to.
In 2008, Main Line Animal Rescue put up a billboard in Chicago, which caught Oprah Winfrey’s eye. It said, “Oprah: Do a show on puppy mills. The dogs need you.” Winfrey sent journalist Lisa Ling into Pennsylvania’s puppy mill country for what became an award-winning expose.
The Amish in Pennsylvania are not alone in their outrageous and harmful breeding practices.
I’ve recently encountered two groups that are doing something about this abuse.
Cari Myers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project (TPMP) says, “The Puppy Mill Project (TPMP) is my dream, my passion, and my life’s work. Since 2009, my team of volunteers has been working tirelessly to educate the public about the atrocity of puppy mills. Our goal is simple: put an end to puppy mill cruelty.”
Active throughout Chicago and the suburbs of the area, in 2010, Governor Pat Quinn signed the pet store disclosure law requires Illinois pet stores to post breeder information on or near the cage of each puppy sold in that store. This disclosure is a very important step in assisting the consumer with conducting the necessary research before purchasing a pet.
Here are the recommendations of TPMP and what you can do to help stop this madness:
ClosePuppyMills.com is a non-profit organization dedicated solely to the cause of closing down puppy mills everywhere. I met Deborah Bull and her sisters, Chris and Pat, recently at a Pugs for Pinky Fundraiser in Maryland.
Like many puppy mill rescuers, Deborah got involved because her own dog, Bailey, was a puppy mill victim. She writes ,”Just 4 weeks after her second surgery at only 5 years old the Vet said nothing more could be done as Bailey gasped for breath. I made the agonizing decision to euthanize her. At the moment Bailey took her last breath I felt as if my own heart had stopped beating…….”
Here are tips on how you can help from ClosePuppyMills.com:
Fi-dose of Reality
Remember, that a dog being registered and having papers does not ensure a puppy did not come from a puppy mill. Refuse to shop at stores that sell puppies from puppy mills. My first dog was a puppy-mill rescue, and this I know: I loved her more than life itself, and she had extensive health problems.
I know better now, but the problem that causes such suffering continues.
I am joining in a blog hop with several other pet bloggers to get the word out and stop puppy mills. In all honesty, if every person who reads this, does something immediately afterwards – a tweet, a Facebook share, an email to a Congress person, imagine how many dogs’ lives will be saved.
Thanks to special host of this hop, Dolly the Doxie, and I am co-hosting. This one’s for you, Brandy Noel. Forever mighty dog and eternally missed.