This past week, I had the opportunity to talk to Cari Meyers, the founder of The Puppy Mill Project in Chicago. Although our conversation was to be about something related to rescue and charitable giving via BumperPet.com, I quickly became enthralled both by her passion and knowledge base about where puppies in pet shops come from and the deplorable conditions under which these unfortunate dogs exist.
I have to admit, when I've walked by a pet store, I've always looked at those cute little puppies playing in their crates. And I had never thought before about where those puppies came from. I witness peoples' struggles in my professional life so I tend to avoid it in my personal life to the point that when Oprah did her special on what goes on in puppy mills several years ago, I turned it off after several minutes because it was so distressing. Maybe the time in my life to learn about puppy mills is now. So it was an awakening to learn more about the relationship between pet stores and puppy mills. I was upset by what I have learned but am now in a better position to do something about it. And then I talked to Cari Meyers.
Meyers has always had a passion for pets, both dogs and cats, and they have been a significant part of her life since childhood. Her involvement in the rescue community was initially at a no-kill Chicago shelter, but as she learned more about what goes on 'behind the scenes' with puppy breeding, Meyers began to feel that there was a need to "cut the monster off at the head" rather than dealing with the tragic aftermath. Cutting the monster off at the head meant focusing her efforts on pet stores, 99% of which get their 'stock' from puppy mills. It makes a lot of sense to me: If people who purchase a puppy from a pet store are aware that the puppy likely comes from a puppy mill, then they may be disinclined to purchase it and instead look for a reputable breeder. More important, if time and cost is a factor then pet purchasers will spend far less on health issues and behavioral retraining from lack of socialization (which should be considered as a part of the cost of a pet) … IF purchased from a reputable breeder rather than from a pet store. How to cope with impulse buying is another issue altogether.
To be a little more specific, Meyers told me that at least 99% of those very cute little puppies you see in pet shops are commonly purchased at puppy auctions from disreputable breeders who over-breed dogs in disgusting conditions with no prenatal care, ongoing medical care, and socialization (which is critical to puppies and occurs from 5-12 weeks). The breeding dogs live out their lives in filth within the confines of a cage so small that they cannot move around and are so unclean that they have difficulty eliminating due to matting and are covered in their own waste. When these dogs are too old to breed anymore, they are murdered in inhumane ways because it is not cost effective to euthanize them humanely. I won't go into details. The puppies are removed from their mothers at too young an age. When ready for sale to a pet store, they are typically transported under unsafe conditions for these youngsters. Many die before reaching the pet shop. Those who survive all the travails of the first 8-12 weeks of life and actually reach a pet shop are thus often ill at the time of purchase, inbred, unsocialized, and expensive to maintain. They end up in rescue shelters. This may mean euthanizing them. Because of their incredible numbers, more adoptable dogs who have been turned into shelters because of death of the owner or the economic downturn are not accepted due to inadequate capacity at shelter. They, likewise, are euthanized.
To organize around this goal, Meyers founded The Puppy Mill Project several years ago. Primary goals of The Puppy Mill Project are to educate the public about the direct relationship between pet shops and puppy mills, to identify pet stores who purchase from puppy mills, to have peaceful protests to address the relationship, and to increase public awareness. Her goal is simple but elegant: If there is no financial incentive (e.g., purchasers) for these huge numbers of puppies, then those who run and benefit financially from puppy mills will no longer be able to remain in business. I urge anyone reading this post to go to her website and learn the truth for yourself. You can find them on Facebook or by clicking on the title link of this post.