The bracing freeze that has enveloped so much of the country reminds us of the power of nature and our vulnerability to the extremes of climate. During a time like this, those of us in cold-weather climates bundle up head to toe to go outside, steel ourselves, and rush to get back inside a protected space – a home, a car, or an office building. But also at a time like this, we think about the animals who have only one coat and very limited access, or no access at all, to shelter and heat.
Yesterday, with the cold front gripping the South, including Arkansas, a band of rescuers entered a suspected puppy mill in Warm Springs to remove 46 dogs – most of them Great Pyrenees – and 11 other animals from appalling conditions. Even veteran HSUS staff and volunteers, law enforcement officials, and local rescue groups who participated in the rescue, including the Randolph County Humane Society, Humane Society of Saline County, and CARE for Animals, were startled by what they saw: dogs tied up outside, with no protection from the bitter temperature and piercing winds. Some animals had icicles hanging off their bodies. Those who were indoors were living on piles of feces and urine.
Some of the animals were suffering so severely that they needed urgent medical care. In this video, you can see the hope in the face of this dog – so emaciated that he could not move – as Ashley Mauceri, our cruelty response manager, stroked his head and then carried him out to safety.
Like Randolph County Sheriff Gary Tribble, said: “It’s frustrating to see these animals living without basic care – especially during these freezing temperatures.”
These dogs, as sad as their story so far has been, started their new lives yesterday. But so many thousands of others won’t see our teams rush toward them. Arkansas, which ranked among the five worst puppy mill states in our 2014 puppy mills report, has no law protecting dogs in commercial breeding facilities. Law enforcement cannot call us in to help the animals until the situation has already deteriorated to the level of animal cruelty. It should not be this way. The HSUS is working with lawmakers in Arkansas right now to get a bill on track to remedy this gap in the law, requiring any breeder with 10 or more dogs to be licensed and inspected by their county.
We have made strides in the fight against puppy mills, especially with the passage of a federal rule cracking down on puppy mills that sell pets online (like the Arkansas facility). But there is a challenging path forward, with thousands of puppy mills still operating in the United States today and an industry highly resistant to change.
Until the pet industry commits to supporting more humane standards of care, the only way we can succeed in helping every animal and eradicating puppy mills is when masses of people stop buying dogs from pet stores or over the Internet, and instead deal only with animal shelters, breed rescues or small, responsible breeders. Your support for our work enables these life-saving interventions.