Animal advocate warns against puppy mills

By Page H. Gifford

Imagine a Yorkshire Terrier puppy, a poodle, or most likely a so-called “designer” breed like a Yorkie-Pooh, whose sole purpose in life is to breed while living her life in a rabbit hutch. Her paws are lacerated from walking on the wire mesh floor of her hutch, her hair matted, tangled and knotted, and her teeth rotting away.  

Males are used as studs then discarded when they are too old to be useful. While they’re kept around, they suffer the same fate as the females in the same living conditions. Puppies too sick to make it to market are thrown into dumpsters.  

Their human contact is non-existent. Their paws have never touched grass. Their mundane life as a commodity is the only existence they have ever known. These are the puppy mill dogs with no other purpose but to be used for breeding “designer” or hybrid dogs for thousands of dollars. 

Rose LeMaster is one among many advocates, along with Kara Moran and Jaimie Ashton of Virginia Pawsivity, who are fighting against the greed and animal abuse in which some pet stores participate.  

LeMaster was president of Peaceful Passings for two years, a volunteer with the Cat Action Team of Virginia involved in a program to trap, neuter and release feral cats, and volunteers with Green Dogs Unleashed.  

“I had to become educated about puppy mills.” she said, describing the condition of her Yorkshire Terrier, Ginger, when she was saved from a puppy mill. Because of Ginger, LeMaster explored more of this horrific business and discovered things she couldn’t imagine.  

She estimated that Ginger was between 7 and 9 years old when she came into LeMaster’s life. Her spirit was broken and she sported all the signs of a puppy mill dog.  

“She had lacerated paws from the wire mesh floor of her hutch,” she said. “The reason these are not normal kennels is the dog’s waste falls to the ground below and it is hosed away.” She added that some dogs may even break legs because of these wire mesh floors.  

Other than the lacerated paws, which are a classic sign, Ginger also had mammary tumors, matted and knotted hair and teeth so rotten she eventually lost most of her lower jaw. She could not eat or drink.  

“They never ate from bowls but automatic feeders, and do not know how to lap water because they get their water from containers meant for gerbils and rabbits, LeMaster said. As the images of what Ginger lived through roll in her mind, LeMaster doesn’t deny her anger as she cringes at the thought of such flagrant abuse. “Most dogs are terrified of thunderstorms, but for these dogs the noise is magnified beyond what is normal and it is horrifying,” she said.  

“Another common trait is they pace, which is a result of never being out of their hutches, and house breaking is a nightmare, she said, and added that socialization is another issue difficult to address since these dogs don’t know whom to trust and are combative with other dogs.  

Her second Yorkshire Terrier, a male named Toby, was tossed out after he had outlived his usefulness. LeMaster described him as half-dead and emaciated with overgrown nails, rotted teeth and lacerations, most likely from fights with other dogs.  

“Pulling dogs out of these puppy mills, you have to keep your composure when dealing with these monsters,” she said. She went on to describe a Maltese that had maggots from lying in her own feces.  

Statistics show that 2-4 million dogs are bred in this environment. This practice gives a bad name to legitimate breeders who love their breed and causes problems for animal shelters trying to compete with the “designer dog” market, which can come with a price tag up to $3,500.  

Ashton is also well aware of the problem and is working hard with Moran to get legislatures in Virginia to make this practice illegal. Both she and LeMaster are in favor of good breeding techniques and are working with breeders to educate the public.  

“There are 19 pet stores in Virginia and more popping up, and they usually lease the dogs through a leasing company, LeMaster said.  

“They will lease a dog to a potential pet owner for $3,500 but the person who is leasing the dog is not the owner. Even after they have paid $10,000 to $20,000 in vet bills and even paid off the loan, they still do not own the dog,” said Ashton. While the process of leasing a pet usually starts in a retail pet store, the loan is made by a third-party contractor. The revenue model for pet leasing is the same as car leasing. The borrower enters a contract, typically for two years, and agrees to monthly payments. The customers are often people who are paying more than they expected and cannot afford it.  

Both LeMaster and Ashton want people to be aware of the pitfalls of this scam.  

“They are now creating a new cross-breed known as a Parti Yorkie (crossing a Yorkshire with a Brevor),” said LeMaster. “You create these micro dogs by withholding nutrition to keep them small. These are the unicorn fairy dust breeds of designer dogs.” The fee for Parti Yorkies is $3,499, compared with a small golden doodle for $2,499.  

“Dogs also are transported across state lines from Ohio and Pennsylvania, coming from compromised breeders,” LeMaster continued. In Georgia, 400 dogs were surrendered to the USDA and local shelters. A week later 400 more and it turned out to be 700-plus dogs rescued from this puppy mill.”  

The advocates want people to be aware and adopt dogs from shelters, rescues or reputable breeders, not pet shops. They agreed that this inhumane practice of high-volume breeding of sick and unsocialized puppies for profit has to stop.  

“Customers are contributing to this vicious cycle unknowingly,” said LeMaster. 

Giving her puppy mill dogs a home and a new life is challenging, LeMaster said, but she never gives up on them because the rewards are great. 

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