A little over three weeks ago, I visited a Missouri puppy mill in the guise of being a fellow miller in order to purchase Pomeranians that were being "liquidated" by the owner.
The conditions I saw made this a wretched day. What's happened since convinces me that even the smallest, most neglected animal can have a profoundly beautiful soul.
Meet Caesar below the jump.
The puppy mill in rural Missouri was typical - way off of the beaten path, sheds and shacks and trailers and the roar of dogs barking, howling and whimpering. Wire cages stacked three high, allowing feces and urine to drop on the dogs in the cages below. A chilly day and no heat or protection from the elements for these dogs. And there were hundreds of them - Jack Russell Terriers, Beagles, Bichon Frises. Some had cage insanity - dogs that were never allowed to leave their confinement for exercise, going in endless frenzied circles, unaware that anyone was standing nearby.
In Missouri, it's all business. The puppy mills in this state export a third of all puppy mill dogs sold in pet stores, over 144,000 per year. What's sad is that this man's operation is the norm rather than the exception.
He sold me all 15 of his adult Pomeranians, all of them filthy, wet, and crawling with parasites. He then invited me into an unheated trailer on the property because he 'thought' he had more dogs inside.
Upon entering I saw a litter of Pomeranian puppies laying on a piece of newspaper. There was no mother present. He told me they'd been born the night before. In a corner I spied another puppy, a little older than the litter. He was covered in feces, looked emaciated and was shivering. I took all of the puppies, paid him $80 for all of the dogs ("you can make thousands from them" he told me cheerfully) and headed home with the adults and puppies.
None of the newborn puppies survived, despite the best efforts of the staff of my animal hospital. The largest newborn died first and the vet believed that he had problems in the birth canal, which likely killed the mother. The others died within the next two days. None of them lived the week due to exposure and neglect.
I have placed all of the adults into good homes with the exception of two sisters that are currently being fostered by kind-hearted friends.
That leaves the cold and frightened little five week old puppy I spied in the corner that day. After I had him - and all the dogs - checked by my vet I took him home. He was listless and not very responsive. Upon examination he was missing part of his left ear, and I'm guessing that since he was left to roam in that trailer he approached a nursing mother for food and she bit him, protecting her own puppies. I don't have his own mother or any of his littermates so I'm assuming none of them survived.
I hand-fed him for a couple of weeks and he started to come around. I have two puppy mill rescues of my own, Guido and Luigi, and they help me foster my mill rescues and are a big help in socializing them. The puppy loved them both and followed them throughout the house and learned what it means to live in an actual home. He began exploring and discovered the joy of toys, and his current favorite is a little yellow duck. He plays with it for hours.
I waited a couple of weeks and finally named his Caesar, since he's taken to ruling the household. He's always ready to play or for quiet time in your lap. He has explored the yard and it frightened him a little. He's never known grass, just the inside of an unheated trailer.
Caesar never would have survived another day in that trailer without his mother. He now weighs a whopping 1 pound, 3 ounces and is thriving. I give him all the credit for his survival, since despite the poor condition he was in when I got him he seems determined to get a second chance - to play with toys, with his new pal Luigi, to eat on a regular basis and sleep in a little bed that must be pure luxury. He's a tough guy who beat the odds.
Sadly, there are lots of Caesars throughout Missouri who won't survive another day because people buy dogs through pet stores, in flea markets or over the Internet. There are Caesars who won't survive because we don't hold politician's feet to the fire to legislate the end of the puppy mill system or even require a daily period of exercise for these dogs in many states. There are Caesars who won't survive because huge dog brokers like Missouri's notorious Hunte Corporation have a host of lobbyists while the Caesars have nothing but a handful of rescue people.
If you live in Missouri, you can help by joining the mailing list for
the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation. If you don't, perhaps you can purchase holiday cards from their site to help support their efforts to tighten regulations in Missouri puppy mills.
Caesar thanks you.