In 2003 — the year before Facebook got its start, and two years ahead of the launch of Twitter — a group calling itself Puppy Mill Awareness launched a web site, designating one day in September “Awareness Day” and hosting regular events to educate dog lovers about the horrors that routinely take place at puppy mills. The site bravely faced some very inconvenient truths about the cruelty involved in 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 is at an all-time high. 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).
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On Saturday, September 15 in Des Moines, the Iowa Friends of Companion Animals hosted its third 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, filthy conditions. At high-volume breeding facilities, dogs live outdoors, subjected 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 to do their part. Meanwhile, the recently-aired HBO documentary One Nation Under Dog deliberately includes shocking, unforgettable footage of dogs, living and dead, being sprung by intrepid rescuers from unimaginably horrific conditions. No one who see this powerful film could, I believe, wrap their head around buying a pup from a pet store ever again.
Puppy mill awareness is spreading. The movement now has more than one day devoted to it – it’s got the entire month of September. “Don’t breed or buy while shelter pets die” is a philosophy being adopted by increasing numbers of Americans, as an understanding of 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.
About the Author: Julia Szabo is a columnist for Dogster Magazine.