There is an evil thing happening in Ohio right now – the reckless breeding and exploitation of canines via puppy mills. Such mills have existed for decades in America, but have become an epidemic problem in recent years. Ohio currently ranks sixth nationally for high volume breeders, and Holmes County is Ohio's epicenter for dog auctions. The vast majority of puppy mill operators in Ohio are Amish.
Before I proceed, let me make it plain that there is a sharp delineation between puppy mills and legitimate breeders. In puppy mills, female dogs are constantly bred – delivering litter after litter nearly without pause. They spend their entire lives confined to cages. Typical puppy mills can have literally hundreds of breeding dogs, which give birth until they are no longer able to carry. At that point, the dogs are removed from their cages and shot. These dogs are never properly socialized to humans – and the litters they give birth to are not properly cared for in the first weeks of life. The puppies are auctioned off to pet stores or, increasingly, sold via the Internet to unsuspecting buyers.
This is not the case with legitimate breeders, where the health of the mother dog* is paramount, stud dogs are carefully selected, and puppies are closely monitored in the earliest weeks of life. There is a place for dog breeders in our society, particularly in the creation of service dogs.
Puppy mills were common in Pennsylvania – with Lancaster County called the “puppy mill capitol of the world” – until Governor Ed Rendell signed legislation that clamped down on such practices. Following that, a portion of mill activity found its way to Ohio. There is currently an effort underway to outlaw dog auctions in Ohio either through legislation or a ballot initiative - such a ban would deal a major blow to puppy mills.
Some people have opposed this initiative based on a rose-tinted image of the Amish: simple folk who live in harmony with nature and God. But in recent years, a truer picture of the Amish has arisen, one in which cruelty toward animals and even fellow humans is common. Others oppose it based on the false idea that we should not be worrying about dogs when there are so many humans who live in misery. My response is that human problems are generally caused by humans – either by themselves or through the actions of others. The problems dogs face, including the tragedy of puppy mills, are also caused by humans – and require a human solution.
Recent evidence indicates that the human/canine bond has existed far longer than previously thought – as long as 31,000 years – and that man’s domestication of wolves may have been reciprocated. The presence of dogs in our lives may have been a critical factor in the evolution of human society from loose groups of hunter-gatherers to stable communities. To this day, dogs continue to be of service to humans in war and in peace. How have we repaid canines for their service to man? By ignoring the need to spay/neuter, we’ve allowed them to overpopulate – to the extent that millions are euthanized each year. We’ve created designer breeds in a manner that has placed appearance above health. For example, the English Bulldog, once a great breed, has been inbred to the extent that cardiopulmonary problems are common and their lifespan has been reduced. The posture of the German Shepherd has been adversely affected by breeding for an aesthetically pleasing appearance – resulting in epidemic hip dysplasia. Is this any way to treat Man’s Best Friend, a creature WE created, and which aided us in our own formative era?
Legislation to outlaw dog auctions is only part of the solution. The more critical element is raising the awareness of those looking for canine companions. Far too many people have been so caught up with dogs of specific breed that they are unaware that dogs of mixed breed can often be a preferable option. I hold the American Kennel Club responsible as the primary perpetrator of this snob appeal. More often than not, a mutt will carry the best traits of each breed in its mix – this is known as hybrid-vigor. I’ve seen it personally in my Labrador/Collie/Shepherd mix Mason: He has the friendliness and playfulness of a Lab, the intelligence of a Collie, and the watchfulness and protectiveness of a Shepherd.
Dogs are not accessories - they are living, beathing, feeling creatures!
I urge all my readers, both in Ohio and out, to support this effort.
* I refuse to use the term “bitch”, which is more commonly a pejorative term in America .