September 22: Puppy Mill Awareness Day


The goal behind Puppy Mill Awareness Day is to draw attention to the poor conditions found at many commercial breeding facilities: overcrowded kennels, inadequate supply of clean water and healthy food, and the lack of veterinarian care. On the Puppy Mill Awareness Day site, you can find a list of ways to help animals in this condition including:

  1. Educate family and friends by informing them that adoption is a better option than buying a pet from a store.
  2. Hold a fund-raiser to contribute towards the medical bills of puppy mill rescues.
  3. Donate regularly-needed pet supplies, such as blankets, towels, food, and treats, to groups such as Hearts United for Animals that specializes in rescuing puppy mills dogs.
  4. Get involved at a local shelter or rescue.

For more local information, read these two articles:


Guest Post: Harley’s Dream

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!

An Author with a Mission: Jana Kohl

JanaKohlJana Kohl wears many hats. The one which interests me most is that of author. On her website, Kohl states that she was a bookworm as a kid and so her love of writing may be an extension of this. She loves to express herself through many creative outlets, but particularly in words.

Writing for Kohl is not only a mean of entertaining people, but also a way to reach people on an issue. Words help Kohl perform her other jobs as activist and psychologist. Her favorite type of feedback is to get letters from readers who tell her that A Rare Breed of Love inspired them to adopt a dog, write their elected officials, volunteer at a shelter, start a petition, or in some other way change their life.

Kohl’s livelihood is earned through her work as a psychologist. On her website, Kohl shares that years before she got her doctorate, she worked for the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, which exposed her to “one of the most heinous examples of cruelty mankind has ever known”. She became a psychologist to understand why humans can be cruel and to learn how to ease the suffering of others.

As an activist, Kohl has worked to raise awareness about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. She’s also a member of the Board of an organization that seeks to help orphaned children. Since adopting Baby, a puppy mill survivor, Kohl has also devoted her life to end the suffering of animals in industries that abuse them for profit.

Kohl wears other hats too. For example, although she admits to having stage fright in her younger years, since becoming an adult Kohl has discovered a love of the public speech. During a tour for her book, A Rare Breed of Love, Kohl found herself enjoying the experience of stopping at bookstores, schools and conferences. I found it interesting to read that Kohl is fascinated by the phenomenon of something that formerly instilled anxiety in her now has become a source of pleasure.

As noted at the start, Kohl loves to express herself through many creative outlets. Since a child, one of them has been through art. Today she is also a blogger, which is of course another way of using words.

What to do About Puppy Mills

As part of reading A Rare Breed of Love by Jana Kohl, a book which I featured this week, I researched into puppy mills. A basic dictionary definition would describe puppy mills as “a commercial farming operation in which dogs are raised in large numbers.” Animal welfare organizations such as Prisoners of Greed would emphasize that puppy mills are distinguished by their inhumane conditions and the constant breeding of dogs solely for profit.

Puppy Mills Wikipedia Commons

Puppy Mills
Wikipedia Commons

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)elaborates on the latter two points. Puppy mill dogs face inhumane conditions, being kept in small wire cages for their entire lives. They do not receive adequate veterinary care, food, or water. Kohl notes these dogs often develop a host of crippling diseases and illnesses, along with heartworm, ticks, and broken limbs. Her own puppy mill survivor lacked vocal cords, due to their being cut so that the breeder wouldn’t need to listen to her bark. Nor do puppy mill dogs receive basic grooming. Kohl talks about how in puppy mills, cages are stacked upon one another, the urine and feces dripping onto one another. Is it any wonder the dogs are covered with matted, filthy hair? Nor do puppy mills dogs receive exercise, treats, or toys. Kohl shares how in 2007, there was an effort in Pennsylvania to require dogs be given twenty minutes a day outside of their cage for exercise. Unbelievably, the proposal met with resistance.

Puppy mills dogs are bred for profit. For that reason,  puppy mill owners breed their female dogs at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. One article included in A Rare Breed of Love provided the statistic that there are over 150,000 breeding dogs in puppy mills and that these dogs produce two to four million puppies each year. When breeding dogs are physically no longer able to reproduce, they are often killed. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) emphasizes how the parents of the puppies who are sold are unlikely to make it out of the mill alive. Nor will any of their puppies who are born with overt physical problems that make them unsalable.

As part of my research, I also talked to a representative at a local no-kill shelter, who has been involved in trying to shut down puppy mills. Since 1996, one main mission of Hearts United for Animals has been the rescue and rehabilitation of puppy mill dogs. The organization has rescued over 5,000 dogs from puppy mills.

ALLISON: Why did you get involved with trying to close down puppy mills?

LORI: I got involved about 12 years ago when I adopted my first puppy mill dog from Hearts United for Animals. She was obviously terrified of humans and had been abused. I decided that was unacceptable.

ALLISON: What are some some of your experiences in visiting puppy mills?

LORI: Generally the puppy millers do not let you in, they insist on meeting at a gas station or some remote location. The ones I have been to have been atrocious. The dogs are always in small cages, multiple dogs to a cage, often quite filthy. The puppy millers pick up the dogs and swing them in the air by the scruff of their neck or only a front or back leg. Sometimes they scoop them up with a shovel because the dogs will fight them because they think they are about to be handled roughly. They know that from experience.

ALLISON: What are some of your experiences in rescuing dogs?

LORI: The puppy mill auctions are awful. There are so many puppy millers in one place. Watching dogs thrown six at a time on an auction table in either heat or freezing cold and be sold off to other puppy millers is just the worst. They brag that they are bred or heavy bred and that people can double their money overnight. They talk about how they may have no jaw but “that’s not where she breeds.” Dogs collapse from heat exhaustion on the tables. Moms with new born puppies are handed off to the highest bidder. The dogs all look terrified, as they should be.

ALLISON: What has been one high? One low?

LORI: A high recently was being able to get several dogs out of a puppy mill that was going out of business and having an auction. We took the ones who had prior c-sections to save them from future lives of surgery after surgery. Getting them so they weren’t sold into slavery yet again and could lead happy lives was great.

A low would be recently rescuing dogs from a puppy mill that the state refuses to shut down. The dogs were in hideous condition. We saw two broken jaws, dogs who are heartworm positive, had hookworms, giardia, severe heart problems, couldn’t eat because mouth and teeth infections were so bad, one turning blue from lack of oxygen from pneumonia. Knowing that it has been going on for years and continues to go on there is almost too much to bear.

ALLISON: How can others support the cause of shutting down puppy mills?

LORI: They can donate to organizations like Hearts United for Animals that help rescue puppy mill dogs and fight puppy mills and also let their legislators know it is a concern. Most importantly they should never buy a puppy from a pet store and should spread the word to their friends that buying pups from pet stores keeps this cruel industry in business.

ALLISON: How would you explain puppy mills to young people?

LORI: I would say that dogs are kept sometimes hundreds at a time in small cages and are used only to breed puppies so those puppies can be sold to pet stores who sell them to the public. I would tell them that they don’t get good food or medical care and the people who do it only care about the money they get from the sale of the puppies. I have spoken with 7th and 8th graders and they seem to understand it well.

Pet Shop Puppies, a non-profit organization based in Missouri, calls the pet industry is a multi-billion dollar one that depends on the mass production of puppies for America’s pet stores. It encourages anyone who has purchased a puppy from a pet store to request your free “puppy report.”

It also provides a history of puppy mills. Briefly, in 1966, Congress passed the federal Animal Welfare Act, after public outrage at a growing business of stealing dogs and selling them for research. The original Act only regulated animals being sold to research, but as the media began to focus on the way dogs were treated in wholesale kennels and the way puppies were shipped from coast to coast, the public again asked Congress to address the situation. The 1970 amendments to the Act began the licensing and inspection process of anyone wholesaling puppies. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now responsible for ensuring that the puppies sold to consumers come from a healthy environment where the adult dogs are housed and cared for in a kennel that meets “minimum standards.”

The problem is what constitutes minimum standards. The videos in the below links are disturbing, but you owe it to all animals to educate yourself about puppy mills. And then to lend your support to the fight against puppy mills.

Review of a Rare Breed of Love by Jana Kohl

RareBreedOfLoveA Rare Breed of Love by Jana Kohl is a difficult but important book to read. To its discredit, Kohl at times strayed from her topic and a part of her book is dated. To its credit, more than once, I found myself crying at the stories Kohl shared or rethinking what I knew about puppy mills.

Kohl calls herself an accidental activist. After she lost her dog Blue to cancer, Kohl began the search for another dog. Innocently, Kohl began browsing online breeder sites. An animal welfare friend tried to warn Kohl that dogs sold at pet stores typically come from breeding factories, and to sell her on the idea of adopting from a shelter of a rescue group. Kohl didn’t listen. Perhaps that’s just as well, because what happened next changed Kohl’s life.

Desperate cries of dogs barking reached her ears as soon as she stepped out of her car at the home of a so-called reputable Texas breeder. The breeder first showed Kohl the smaller of two sheds, which housed several wire cages with puppies in each one. The larger shed, however, is what most impacted Kohl. In it, adult breeding dogs were crowded into cages and trampling each other. Some were spinning endlessly from having gone crazy, while others were maimed, and some were near death…. Kohl walked away, determined to stop puppy mills, no matter how long or what sacrifices it would require.

The first half of A Rare Breed of Love is mostly about Kohl’s discovery and adoption of a toy poodle named Baby, whom Kohl found through a rescue group. Baby had a missing leg, no vocal cords, a nervous tick, and a number tattooed on her ear, the latter marking the date Baby would have been killed at the puppy mill where she grew up. In the loving care of Kohl, Baby reveled in her new life where she felt grass on her feet, received baths, and felt the comfort both of warm blankets and human love. In the middle of telling Baby’s story, Kohl sidetracks to talk about other animal welfare issues such as the sale of foie gras. While I appreciate Kohl’s passion for animals on every level, these asides take the focus away from the topic of puppy mills.

The second half of A Rare Breed of Love is mostly about Kohl’s journey to Washington, where she introduced Baby to the men and women of Congress as a living example of the cruelty of puppy mills, and her eventual realization that laws are not enough. Kohl next turned to celebrities, in an attempt to broaden public awareness and inspire change amongst the public. In her showcase of photos of and speeches from politicians and celebrities, the material is dated. I understand her reason for reaching out to the famous; their support delivers more “bang for the buck” than that of any average person. And of course her gracious response for their support is to honor them in the pages of her book. At the same time, it’s not exactly material that I want to spend money to read. (However, all proceeds from the book are given to the Human Society of the United States to support their fight against puppy mills, and so do know a purchase will be for a good cause.)

Although my husband and I have long supported a local no-kill shelter and its campaign against puppy mills, Kohl’s descriptions of her crash course in puppy mills proved tough to read. What I’ve shared in my review barely begins to covers the horror of Kohl’s tales. As a result of reading A Rare Breed of Love, I have recommitted our family to continuing to help financially with the costs of petitioning against puppy mills. Moreover, the next time protesters picket against puppy mills, I plan to stand with them. I encourage you to educate yourself about puppy mills and to help with this critical fight–for the sake of all the animals that can’t speak for themselves.