There’s no better evidence of our efforts to root out cruelty and exploitation than our operation yesterday at a miserable puppy mill in Madison County, Arkansas. In cooperation with local law enforcement, our Animal Rescue Team found hundreds of animals in extreme distress, many of them caked in mud and standing ankle-deep in feces.
Carcasses of dead dogs were strewn across the property, including a mummified puppy in a cage with a dead mouse. Some animals were so sick that they could barely move. There was a pug with a busted eye, and a puppy so malnourished that he was unable to properly use his front legs. A little poodle had a mat on his back as big as his body. A few dogs had nails so long they had curled back into their pads, undoubtedly causing them acute discomfort and pain.
The animals had no access to clean water and food. “It was a horrifying sight,” said Amanda Gossom of the HSUS Puppy Mills Campaign. “The animals were filthy, were in need of veterinary care, and had been living in unsanitary conditions. There were at least five dead dogs, and perhaps many more at serious risk of dying had we not arrived there to help.”
Altogether, our Animal Rescue Team, working with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office and local animal organizations, removed 295 animals from the puppy mill. The owner surrendered to authorities and has been charged with two counts of animal cruelty. The dogs have been transported to a temporary emergency animal shelter where they will be thoroughly examined by veterinarians and receive any medical treatment necessary.
These dogs are now out of hell, but weak state laws on the inspection of such facilities have made Arkansas a hotbed for puppy mill breeders. This puppy mill sat in a remote area with practically no visibility from the road. Arkansas doesn’t license and inspect commercial dog breeders, allowing facilities like these to remain invisible even as they keep the animals in deplorable, cruel conditions. The dogs are then sold at flea markets or over the Internet to unsuspecting buyers who have no idea about the miserable backstory behind their acquisition of a pet.
USDA records show there are 127 licensed commercial dog breeding facilities in Arkansas. But there are certainly many additional unlicensed ones, like the operation we shuttered yesterday. We are glad we could be of help to these dogs, but there is a desperate need to tackle this problem at the root so animals do not suffer needlessly before an expensive and time-consuming intervention is needed. State Rep. Jim Sorvillo — who introduced a bill in Little Rock in 2015 that would require state inspectors to visit every dog breeding facility, helping them improve their standards of care before conditions deteriorate so horribly — has said he will bring that bill back in 2017. We know there is significant interest in its passage from leaders in the legislature and we hope they will see it through this time.
But it is ultimately we, as consumers, who can make the biggest difference by refusing to purchase a dog from a pet store or the Internet or a classified ad or at a flea market – all most likely sourced from puppy mills. If people stop buying dogs from these hellholes, dogs will no longer have to live in them.
P.S. Even as we were rescuing the dogs in Arkansas, we got some great news from Boston, where the city council voted to ban the retail sale of puppies from puppy mills in the city. Also yesterday, a New Jersey Senate committee advanced a groundbreaking bill to cut off means for puppy mills to sell dogs to the public. We’ll continue with the policy efforts and the rescue efforts until we have helped the last dog suffering in these mills.