In 2003 — the year before Facebook got its start, and two years ahead of the launch of Twitter — a group called Puppy Mill Awareness launched a website, designating one day in September “Awareness Day” and hosting regular events to educate people about the horrors that routinely take place at puppy mills. The site bravely faced some very inconvenient truths about the cruelty involved, namely, the cuteness available for sale at pet stores.
Today, Facebook and Twitter are two huge reasons that our nation’s awareness of puppy-mill atrocities has become prevalent. With high-profile organizations including the ASPCA tweeting with the trending hashtags #stoppuppymills and #endpuppymills, it’d be pretty difficult to remain oblivious to what goes on at high-volume-breeding hellholes (unless, that is, you live under a rock).
On Saturday, Sept. 15, in Des Moines, the Iowa Friends of Companion Animals hosted its fourth annual Puppy Mill Awareness Day Dog Walk. But as recently as four years ago, average dog lovers had no idea that those irresistible “puppies in the window” were produced — factory-farm style, for maximum profit — in appallingly inhumane, neglectful, and filthy conditions. At high-volume breeding facilities, dogs live outdoors, subject to the elements in wire cages caked with fecal matter. Without ever experiencing kindness or compassion or a single creature comfort, they are forced to churn out litter after litter. Then, when physically spent and no longer able to earn their keep, they’re tossed out with the trash and left to die. Literally.
Despite the tireless efforts of animal advocacy groups such as the Companion Animal Protection Society, celebrities continued to patronize pet shops — notably, Cindy McCain, who impulse-purchased a pup during a visit to New York City. But today, it would be political suicide for a presidential candidate’s wife to do something so politically incorrect. With a nation of dog lovers growing ever more aware of puppy mill atrocities, fixing such a gaffe would necessitate the top public relations operatives in crisis management.
More and more, groups such as Chicago’s the Puppy Mill Project are mobilizing. Meanwhile, the HBO documentary One Nation Under Dog deliberately includes shocking, unforgettable footage of dogs, living and dead, being sprung from unimaginably horrific conditions by intrepid rescuers. No one who sees this powerful film could, I believe, think it’s okay to buy a puppy from a pet store ever again.
The group featured in the film, Animal Rescue Corps, was founded by veteran animal rescuer Scotlund Haisley. He’s now a bona fide celebrity, and his palpable compassion for neglected mill dogs galvanizes new followers to the anti-puppy-mill crusade almost every day, whether as donors or hands-on volunteers.
“Many people want to join Animal Rescue Corps on a rescue, and as we grow, we hope to make that a possibility for more and more people,” Haisley says. “It is an immeasurably rewarding and memorable experience every time to witness firsthand the phoenixes rise from the ashes.”
Haisley says it’s not necessary to participate in a rescue to make a difference.
“You don’t have to be on the ground with us to put your compassion into action,” Haisley says. “Each dollar you give, each rescue image you share, each message you spread, helps us keep our promise to the animals we save that their suffering has ended forever.”
Puppy mill awareness is growing. The movement now has more than one day devoted to it — it has the entire month of September. “Don’t breed or buy while shelter pets die” is a philosophy being adopted by more Americans as understanding the pet overpopulation crisis has reached critical mass and we all pitch in to work toward humane solutions.
When and how did you first become aware of puppy mill wrongs, and the urgent need for each of us to do our part to right them? What are some of your favorite puppy mill awareness and rescue groups? How will you celebrate Puppy Mill Awareness Month? Please share in the comments.
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