Just like all of you, I'm up to here with political ads and can hardly wait for the election to be over. There's only one issue on the ballot that I really care about. If you live in Missouri, you hold the only tiny thread of hope available to tens of thousands of innocents suffering beyond comprehension at this very moment. I'm talking about the parents of those darling little pet store puppies - the ugly adults being bred to death while they live in filth, pain and loneliness to provide financial support for humans who couldn't care less.
It's wrong. And Missourians have a chance to do something about it.
Missouri has more puppymills than any other state in the union. If Proposition B passes there, then there is hope anywhere in the United States, from the Amish puppymills of Pennsylvania to the rural pits of southwest Texas.
Puppymillers have a powerful lobby. There is lots and lots of money in breeding dogs to death. They have successfully squashed every previous attempt to pass legislation that would require them to provide humane care for animals in commercial breeding facilities. Providing humane care would cut into their profits. It would mean that every single breeding dog they own would be required by law to see a vet at least once a year, have access to exercise, and live in an environment free of unbearable heat and wire floors that injure sensitive paws. Why, those puppymillers might have to spend the price they get for a single one of their own pitiful dog's progeny to actually provide a bit of medical care for the parent. Perish the thought! Yes, every previous attempt at passing a puppymill protection bill has failed.
But this time is different.
Someone in the opposing camp is throwing serious money into the effort this time, inundating the airwaves with a terrific commercial featuring reputable breeders illuminating the differences between themselves and the large, commercial operations. The puppymillers are feeling the heat this time. For those of us in the rescue trenches, it's exemplified by their dumping animals left and right, frantically reducing their stock to a managable size. One breeder told me she was selling her dogs through classified ads becuase, she said, "they are going so cheap at auctions, you have to sell them in groups of three or four or five to sell them at all, and you can't make any money". Many are liquidating everything, getting out of the business altogether.
So be it. It's a shameful business, no better than children working 12 hours a day in sweatshops. If you cannot do something honorable to make a living, you don't belong in a civilized society. Kids, animals and the elderly - the Triad of Helpless Beings - are protected by a civilized people, aren't they?
Recently, I was told that Proposition B was just another law, and we don't need to be making any more laws we can't enforce. What's the point of passing Prop B if we don't have the ability to enforce it? It's very true, enforcement will be a tall order. But it's like this, folks - you have to start somewhere.
Filthy matted mill dogs in wire cages aren't even the tip of the iceberg of cruelty taking place in puppymills. I have been to puppymill auctions, have seen and heard much worse. Rural puppymillers will not spend a penny on their breeding stock, even to euthanize them. Why buy a bullet when swinging them by their legs and smacking their heads on a truck bumper is free? Think I'm kidding? A friend of mine who attended auctions posing as a puppymiller once told me how a well-known puppymill veterinarian in southern Missouri described to him in great detail how he debarked his dogs using a metal rod, which could be brutally shoved down their tracheas to rip their vocal cords to pieces. My friend, who was a Vietnam vet, told me it took every ounce of strength in his body to keep from strangling this man. The same vet is famous for telling his puppymiller clientele how they can dose their dogs with tetracycline to get a false negative on their brucellosis tests so they can be sold to other unsuspecting puppymillers.
Puppymillers are not an ethical lot, even to each other.
Several years ago, when I was fairly new to rescue, I took in a sweet little puppymill poodle from a monster (I cannot call her a woman) in southern Illinois. This monster turned the dog over to rescue because the dog had killed and partially eaten her last litter of pups. The dog was in horrid shape when I got her. She had two ruptured eyeballs from untreated infections, and was missing a paw on her back leg. The transporter, who acted as a go-between for rescues, said the monster had told her how it happened with no hint of shame or remorse. The poodle had been kept in a stacked wire cage, and gotten her paw stuck in the wire floor. A dog in the cage below had chewed it off while she screamed with no one to hear or help her.
Can you imagine having your hand held in a vise while it was eaten from your arm? How about being blind so that all your other senses are heightened, and being forced to endure such a thing?
I named her the poodle Sweetie Pie, because she was one. This sad, abused little dog was so incredibly responsive to the least bit of kindness given her, I never thought to call her anything else. Anytime Sweetie Pie was near me, she practically melted into me - she craved affection so badly. Sweetie Pie was no trouble at all. Even blind, she followed the sighted dogs everywhere, hobbling on three legs while she carryied her maimed leg in the air. She quickly housetrained.
It was not hard for me to understand why she killed and ate her babies, in fact, it was probably the smartest move she ever made. After that, she was no longer useful. Remember, the breeder got rid of her because she was a bad mother, not because she was injured or in agony. Dogs with missing eyes and limbs are still breedable. They can still make money.
A friend of mine in recently asked me how I let it go. "I dream about them," she said. I told her, in order to continue doing rescue, I make myself focus on the dogs I save. Were I to dwell on the thousands of others like Sweetie Pie, still suffering with no warmth or compassion, no help or relief, I don't think I could bear to go on. I have to "let go and let God". That allows me to continue functioning. And like the starfish in the parable, there are many sentient beings out there who are safe and living well because I function. I suspect that most rescuers have similar coping mechanisms that work for them.
Sweetie Pie was adopted by a wonderful woman named Crystal, a human being with a huge heart and enough love for a whole herd of tortured little puppymill survivors. The last time I saw Sweetie Pie, it was in a photograph. She was beautifully groomed and wore a bright pink collar. She was laying on a white chenille bedspread with her best friend, a little puppymill dachshund. Crystal said she had fit right into the family and was doing great! I've long since lost touch with Crystal, and that picture resides on some old computer that now sits rusting in a junkyard somewhere. But I can see it in my mind as clear as I saw it the first time.
If you live in Missouri, or if you have a friend or relative who lives in Missouri, please ask them to go out on Tuesday and vote YES on Proposition B. We have to start somewhere. Having the law in place is a good beginning, I think. Then we can work on the next step - making the law work for all the Sweetie Pies still suffering in loneliness and neglect, terror and endless torture. A wise man once said the journey of a lifetime begins with a single step. So the first eye-teeth of justice for one third of the Triad of Helpless Beings begins the same way, with a single step. Missouri is poised to take that first step.
Please. Let's do everything in our power to make sure we do.