December 11, 2013

Puppies Without Windows

Last month, Angels of Assisi acquired 50+ dogs from a breeder. The first part of the group arrived on a Saturday night, scared but with no glaring health issues- it was safe to say that, physically, they weren't that bad. We put them into awaiting cages in our clinic, away from the hubbub of the adoption center. As minutes turned into hours, I remember thinking how eerily quiet theses small, typically yappy, dogs were.

More arrived the next day, again with no in our face signs of cruelty or neglect. Sure, most needed dental cleanings, some had matted fur, some needed toenail trims, but overall they were OK.

Negotiations with the breeder continued, and I went to her house for the next pickup. It was tucked way back from the main road, and was a typical, nondescript house. There were no lines of rabbit cage-like structures with frozen water bowls housing filthy dogs out back. There was a porch with a  few chairs and potted plants out front. It could have been any house in any neighborhood in any part of the USA. Until she opened the garage.

As the big door opened, sunlight filtered in and the visual impact of cage after cage came across me in waves. The Everyday American House was housing an awful lot of dogs, all tucked away into the nondescript garage. Waist high workbenches filled the space in a U shape, with piles upon piles of newspapers underneath. The handmade wooden workbenches were holding wire crates pressed side to side and stacked on top of each other.

Small breed dogs filled the small wire crates- they had enough room to turn around in, and thus considered adequate by law. The food and water bowls were as clean as could be expected, and many of the dogs had blankets or towels in the crate. Again, nothing illegal to see here.

What was blatantly obvious was the desperation of the dogs for some type of human interaction, some demonstrated it with tiny paws clawing at the front of their crates, some with pleading eyes as they cowered in the backs of their crates. The breeder went cage by cage "You can have this one" "No, I want to try and sell this one" "This one... maybe. I might be able to sell it. Let me try".

As we made our way around the loop of the U shaped workbench that these dogs called home, one was at the very end, an older, white poodle crouched down in his tiny living area trembling as his eyes locked on mine. I am not a huge dog expert, but would bet money that if I had been allowed to pick him up he would be the kind that would melt into you and be eternally grateful for any type of attention. "What about him" I asked. "Him? No way. I love that dog and will never let him go".

She loved this dog so much, that she would not allow him to leave the windowless garage and be adopted to a loving family. She loved him so much that she sealed his fate to live the rest of his life as part of an operation that could never give him something not covered by law- human touch, love, and the ability to live outside of a crate.

We left without the dog in the tiny corner crate, and many others like him. Legally, they belonged to the breeder. There were more in the house that we were not allowed to see. No one knows how many.

The dogs that did come with us have the same desire to be loved, but have a hard time figuring out what to do with it; they are nervous and unsure of themselves in a home, probably because that part of their brain never ever had the proper exposure. Fortunately, they are starting to get the hang of it.

Many of the puppies we received are physically put together wrong, due to bad breeding (we know that some of the females got pregnant from the males in crates next to them, demonstrating how close the crates were piled next to each other). Some of the puppies had seizures, and too many died after birth.

The message of this post is not to criticize the animals welfare laws in Virginia (we have some of the best in the nation), and it is not to bash all breeders.

Our request to you is to stop supporting the backyard breeders who are in it to make a quick buck- the ones who sell at pet stores, Craig's list, and on-line. If, as a community, we stop buying these animals, the people responsible for breeding them will also have to stop. Will we lose some breeding animals and unsold babies in the process? Yes. But they will pave the way for the thousands of animals who could come behind them. The nondescript houses, garages, sheds, and barns could potentially be empty one day if we make a stand.

Instead, please consider adopting. There are numerous places to adopt wonderful animals in our community: Angels of Assisi, the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection, Roanoke Valley SPCA, League for Animal Protection, and the Franklin County Humane Society, along with other breed specific rescues.

If you really want that purebred animal, we understand. Check your shelters first, and there is also the ability to expand your search with a website called Petfinder. Otherwise, please take the time to find a reputable breeder. In essence, they have very similar characteristics to a good rescue- their facility has an open door policy, spay/neuter contracts, and a guarantee that they will take the animal back if you cannot keep him or her.

Here are some guidelines provided by the Humane Society of Unites States.

- Allows you to visit and willingly shows you all areas where puppies and breeding dogs spend their time. Those areas are clean, spacious, and well-maintained.

- Has dogs who appear lively, clean, and healthy, and don’t shy away from visitors.

- Keeps their breeding dogs as you feel a responsible person would keep their pets: not overpopulated, crowded, dirty, or continually confined to cages.

- Keeps their dogs in roomy spaces that meet the needs of their particular breed; for example, most small breeds will be housed in the home, sporting breeds will have plenty of space for exercise, etc.

- Breeds only one or a few types of dogs and is knowledgeable about the breeds and their special requirements.

- Doesn’t always have puppies available but may keep a list of interested people for the next available litter or refer people to other responsible breeders or breed clubs.

- Meets psychological, as well as physical, needs of their dogs by providing toys, socialization, exercise, and enrichment as befits the specific breed.

- Encourages you to spend time with the puppy’s parents—at a minimum, the pup’s mother—when you visit.

- Has a strong relationship with one or more local veterinarians and shows you individual records of veterinary visits for your puppy.

- Explains in detail the potential genetic and developmental problems inherent to the breed and provides documentation that the puppy’s parents and grandparents have been professionally evaluated in an effort to breed those problems out of their puppies. (This will include testing for genetic diseases for which there are valid testing protocols available).

- Offers guidance for the care and training of your puppy and is available for assistance after you take your puppy home.

- Provides references from other families who have previously purchased one of their puppies.

- Sells puppies only to people he/she has met in person, not to pet stores or to unknown buyers over the Internet.

- Encourages multiple visits and wants your entire family to meet the puppy.

- Provides you with a written contract and health guarantee and allows plenty of time for you to read it thoroughly.

- Sign a contract that you will spay or neuter the dog unless you will be actively showing him or her.

- Sign a contract stating that you will return the dog to the breeder should you be unable to keep the dog at any point in the dog’s life.

Is it odd that a rescue group would be giving advice on buying a puppy from a breeder? In the big picture, maybe not. Think of the powerful force that reputable rescues and reputable breeders could make against backyard breeders if we joined forces, and count Angels of Assisi in. You as the community can fill in the last piece of the puzzle by not supporting anyone who does not meet this criteria. It's sadly too late for many of the dogs living in the garages right now, and the face of the one in the corner will always haunt me. Yet at the same time, let's use him for an inspiration to work together to stop this from happening to others, like Joe, who is one of the lucky ones. 

Business, to be successful, must be based on science,
for demand and supply are matters of mathematics, not guesswork. 

-Elbert Hubbard


  1. Would it make any sense for AOA to buy (or for the Roanoke Times to donate) half a page for this to be printed... with some pics of our little dogs? Or even some of the little guys who've been adopted, with captions of their happy endings? It's very well written, and I wish it could appear in print---in public---before Christmas gets here. It's hard to believe, but there are so many people who STILL have no clue how puppies get into pet stores. Since you've mentioned RCACP and the SPCA, maybe they'd help defray some of the cost.

  2. Sounds like a good idea to us- we will send it over, and it would be great if you could as well!! Thank you!