In 2014, Tina Nelson had no idea that a little chihuahua named Harley would have such an impact on her life. Harley is the face representing the cruel reality that is the legal commercial dog breeding industry. When Tina heard Harley’s story on Facebook, she immediately became one of many Harley fans across the country and world. She also felt compelled to learn more about puppy mills, so she could share Harley’s Dream of ending them. Today she also volunteers on behalf of Harley’s Dream and the Bailing Out Benji Nebraska team. This is her message.
What happened to Harley’s eye? That is what Omahans have been asking since a billboard went up at 26th and Farnam in April displaying a picture of a one-eyed Chihuahua and that same question. On the brink of death, after spending 10 years living in a puppy mill where he’d lost an eye when his cage was power-washed (a common practice in puppy mills), Harley was finally freed in March 2011. He immediately received much-needed medical care and found love with a special family. To the surprise of the veterinary community, this strong-spirited, little six-pound Chihuahua continued going strong in spite of terrible medical conditions which were the result of neglect and abuse from his years living in a cage. For five years following his rescue, Harley worked hard educating children and adults alike about puppy mills. Harley personally participated in the freeing of more than 700 dogs from puppy mills across the Midwest and raised the money that gave freedom to hundreds more. He even won the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Award in Beverly Hills in September 2015!
What exactly is a puppy mill? We’ve all heard the term and assume they’re bad, but sometimes they can be hard to define. A puppy mill is any commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the health and well-being of the dogs. Sadly, this is a legal industry dating back to the late 1940s. In a puppy mill, dogs live their entire lives in tiny cages and the females are bred at every heat cycle in order to maximize profits. Their puppies are usually taken from them too young (often with genetic defects) to be sold in pet stores and online across the country. These wire cages are housed in a variety of barns and sheds, and even stacked in semitrailers and rabbit hutches, which often have no heating or cooling or protection from the elements. The dogs are not socialized, they receive little or no veterinary care, they do not have beds or toys, and they never get to run and play in the grass. Some dogs never even see sunlight. And though they yearn for it, they never receive love. When a dog is no longer productive, typically from five to seven years old, or a puppy is unwanted, standard procedure is to destroy or discard the dog.
It is estimated there are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in the United States with over two million puppies bred each year, the majority being located in the Midwest. There may be as few as 100 breeding dogs or as many as 1,000 breeding dogs housed at a single facility, but smaller doesn’t mean better conditions. Only one-third of these mills are licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture, as dogs are legally classified as livestock. Puppy mills are regulated at the federal level by the USDA; some (but not all) are regulated at the state level. Nebraska is not immune to this issue. In Nebraska there are over 100 puppy mills (five of the worst in the country) with over 3,000 adult dogs trapped. State and/or county and/or municipality legislation or proposals must be introduced, and in many areas regulatory agencies or committees need to be created to enact and enforce new laws. If puppy mills no longer existed, there would be approximately 75 percent fewer dogs in shelters and rescues.
What can you do to help bring an end to this cruel industry? First and foremost, adopt, don’t shop! The Nebraska Humane Society and local rescues have so many dogs and puppies in need of a forever home. Boycott pet stores that sell puppies; there are three such stores in the Omaha metro area. Next, educate yourself so you can inform family and friends. Two websites with excellent resources and information are Harley’s Dream and Bailing Out Benji. Watch the documentary Dog By Dog which is now available on NETFLIX, Amazon, Itunes and more. This nongraphic film explains the puppy mill industry and the money that keeps it thriving. Third, report any questionable breeders to the proper agencies; they can be found in the above-mentioned websites. Contact your local, state and federal legislators. Beginning at the most local level of government, you have the ability to spread the message about puppy mills and raise awareness with those who have the power to create better laws. Finally, join the Omaha chapter of Harley’s Heroes Puppy Mill Action and Awareness Project; become one of Harley’s Heroes and be a part of Harley’s Dream. We’re a small group that spreads awareness in our community. I would LOVE to have more members; you can participate as much or as little as you would like. Please email me. Because puppy mills are legal and supported by many large corporations and dog registry groups, it will take huge numbers of concerned and dedicated citizens and a tremendous amount of persistence to bring about change. But it can be done. We can make a difference!