25 March 2009 ~ 98 Comments

400 dogs in wire cages: HSUS’ Mike Markarian on puppy mills

Just a few days ago, I wrote this post about the Humane Society taking action against puppy mill ties to the the retail pet superstore chain Petland. We received a lot of great feedback from that post, and are excited to have Mike Markarian, Executive VP of the Humane Society of the United States and President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund as a guest contributor today on joetrippi.com (read more about Mike’s career fighting to protect animals here). The story of puppy mills across the US is heartbreaking, but with the efforts of the Humane Society, they may soon become a thing of the past.

I’m proud to call Mike a friend and partner in the animal protection movement and hope you will continue to follow him online on his blog and Twitter (@mmarkarian). Thanks again to Mike for sharing his unique perspective here today.

On Monday, The Humane Society of the United States and local law enforcement officials rescued nearly 400 dogs living in unacceptable conditions at a large-scale puppy mill in Logan County, Ark. The dogs, ranging from Shih Tzus and poodles to Akitas and Shelties, were suffering from serious medical ailments and housed in filthy and dilapidated structures. Many of the dogs were severely matted and suffering from untreated lacerations and serious skin and eye infections. Some of the first to be freed were day-old puppies. It was obvious that many of these animals had never known life outside their wire cages.

It was a new day for those hundreds of rescued dogs who will now have a chance at a loving home. But it’s just another day in the fight against abusive puppy mills. In recent months, similar raids have taken place in Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Quebec. A series of HSUS investigations pulled the curtain on pet stores that support puppy mills. The Oprah Winfrey Show exposed this cruel industry to a nationwide audience.

At puppy mills, breeding dogs are often stacked in filthy, wire cages for years on end, to produce litter after litter. The puppies are sold through pet stores or over the Internet, but the mother dogs live their lives in confinement, with no socialization, exercise, or human interaction. They never know the simple joys that our own dogs know—a treat, a toy, a walk on the grass. They are not treated like family pets, but like a cash crop.

Because the dogs receive improper care, unsuspecting customers often have to bear the burden of thousands of dollars in veterinary bills, or the death of a pet they just purchased. As Joe Trippi reported last week, consumers have filed a class action lawsuit accusing the Petland retail chain and the Hunte Corporation of conspiring to sell unhealthy puppy mill dogs to the public. Since the lawsuit was filed, hundreds of people have contacted The HSUS to tell their heartbreaking stories of purchasing dogs they were told came from good breeders.

Lawmakers, too, are taking action. Last year, state legislators in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia passed tough laws to crack down on puppy mills. Now, more than 30 states are considering similar bills.

In the U.S. Congress, the final Farm Bill enacted into law in 2008 banned the import of young dogs from foreign puppy mills—stopping the long-distance transport of unweaned puppies from China, Mexico, Russia, and other countries. When the Obama Administration enforces the law, thousands of puppies will no longer endure extreme temperatures in airline cargo holds, freezing to death or arriving at LAX and JFK airports sick or diseased.

Federal lawmakers are also preparing to address the problem here in the United States. New legislation—known as the “Puppy Uniform Protection Statute” (PUPS), or “Baby’s Bill” in honor of rescued puppy mill survivor Baby who is the subject of Jana Kohl’s new book “A Rare Breed of Love”—will soon be introduced in the Senate by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and in the House of Representatives by Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.).

The legislation will close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that currently allows large, commercial breeders who sell puppies online and directly to the public to escape licensing and regulation. Only facilities that breed dogs for commercial resale through pet stores are required to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thanks to a gaping exception in the law, puppy mills that sell directly to the public are exempt from any federal oversight whatsoever, allowing unregulated Internet sellers and other direct sales facilities to sell thousands of puppies a year to unsuspecting consumers.

The bill also requires that dogs used for breeding be removed from their cages for exercise every day. It’s a modest step, but a much-needed upgrade to our nation’s laws that protect man’s best friend from cruelty and harm.

On Sunday, April 19, the Humane Society Legislative Fund will hold house parties across the country to call attention to the problem of puppy mills, and to push for state and federal policy changes. You can host a party or attend one in your area, and join a nationwide conference call on puppy mills with me, Ben Stein, and Reps. Sam Farr and Jim Gerlach. Please join us in speaking out for dogs, and making sure these creatures get the protection they deserve.

Find out more by visiting humanesociety.org/stoppuppymills.

Don’t forget to follow Mike on his blog and Twitter (@mmarkarian. Thanks again for all you do, Mike.

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