“Green beans, peach pie, Akita puppies.”
If I’d had my cell phone with me on a recent trip through a picturesque Amish countryside, I would have snapped a photo of the sign scrawled with those very words in front of a seemingly charming house. The first rule of journalism is to always be prepared with a camera. However, I didn’t need a camera to forever embed the sign — and its ultimately dark message — in my memory.
Seeing that sign on a recent trip to Lancaster, PA, left me with a different feeling than I’d gotten on previous trips in the region. Since my previous visits I’ve learned that this agrarian community is home to a deep dark secret: The area is known for its dog factories, puppy mills, torture houses — call them what you will — and the sign was evidence, however slight, of what goes on there.
The tourism bureau boasts that there are “so many things to do, you’ll come back again and again,” but it neglects that Amish Country is also dubbed “the puppy mill capital of the world” by several animal advocacy groups.
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Lancaster County is home to what many consider the oldest and largest population of Amish in the United States, about 30,000. Often called “Dutch Country” because of the Pennsylvania Dutch who were among the first Europeans in the region, this area was also the home of my dog’s veterinary specialist for years. We took the road less traveled to appointments, through Amish towns including Intercourse, Blue Ball, Lititz, and Bird-in-Hand — and on a few occasions, we turned the vet trip into a vacation, yet I somehow missed the seedy secrets.
Of course, not all Amish are puppy-mill breeders, and scores of non-Amish folks are horrible puppy-mill producers. But my interest was piqued in returning to Amish Country while channel scanning this fall. I stumbled on the TLC reality show, Breaking Amish, and spawned by “must see” instincts, I headed for corn rows.
The Amish are depicted as comprising a quiet, hardworking culture, people who grow their own foods and live without electricity and modern conveniences.
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According to the website Pet Watch New Jersey, “Many puppies sold in New Jersey pet stores originate from Amish and Mennonite puppy mills in Pennsylvania, with the highest concentration coming from Lancaster County.” How could I have driven through this area so many times and not seen it? Apparently, this is what the area relies on: clueless tourists.