Does that sound absurd? Who would take a four-week-old puppy across country at all, let along without its mother? Would you be surprised to know it happens all the time? Here’s the story of one woman who learned this sad truth firsthand:
As a child, I spent my summers living with my grandparents, who were dog trainers and owners of a dog training school for over 40 years. They also bred and showed Boxers. In fact, I learned to walk holding on to the back of a Boxer and spent many hours holding conversations with some very attentive dogs!
As an adult, I realized that my lifestyle could not accommodate a dog, and so over 20 years passed before I could properly bring a dog back into my life. One thing I had learned from my grandparents is that I should never buy a dog from a pet store, although I didn’t really understand what puppy mills were or why they were bad. Therefore, even though I knew not to buy a dog from a store, I still would look at the puppies at the pet shop at my local mall while I was researching what breed to bring into my life.
I finally decided that a Cavalier King Charles would enjoy my lifestyle and would also be a good fit for me. Nevertheless, I continued to poke my head into the dog store at the mall, fully confident that I was going to get a Cavalier from a reputable breeder.
One day, as I was in the process of contacting Cavalier breeders, I passed the pet store and spotted a little Cocker Spaniel puppy who was seven weeks old and adorable. I fell in love immediately just as pet stores want you to. But I walked away knowing that an emotional purchase based on a cute face would be a mistake, and while a Cocker and a Cavalier are both spaniels, each breed had very different needs. However, that little Cocker was so cute… I made a bargain with myself that if the puppy was still there a week later, “it was meant to be.” I really thought the cute dog would get a home, and I would then go about my business of getting a Cavalier.
A week later I returned to the mall, and amazingly the little Cocker Spaniel puppy was still there. I spoke to the store manager and learned that in fact the puppy had been purchased by a man who wished to breed Cocker Spaniels, but he returned the puppy after two days when he realized that he could earn more money from a female selling her puppies rather than from a male. I was angry and disturbed, particularly because the dog store manager did not seem to be upset at all that someone would buy a puppy for breeding purposes. At that point, I felt that I was “rescuing” the dog by saving him from a dog store that would sell a dog to anyone without caring whether the purchaser would actually be a good owner. That was my first real wake-up call about pet stores and puppy mills.
I purchased the puppy. Within a day he was sneezing and coughing and lethargic. I took him to my vet, who told me the puppy had pneumonia and a heart murmur and that he was going to be nothing but a money pit with health problems. The vet advised me to return him to the store and get a refund. Although I was not emotionally bonded to the puppy at that point, I didn’t want to return him to a store that clearly did not care about his health or safety and only wished to make money off him. I was so naive about the puppy mill industry at that time. I foolishly thought that sellers actually cared about the lives they were selling. Why I thought that is beyond me.
After six weeks of medication, the dog recovered, and I received his paperwork from the pet store. It turned out he was born in Arkansas, and taken from his mom at four weeks of age (way too young to be weaned). He was transported to Missouri, where he sat at a puppy mill stacked in a crate for a week. Then he was transported across the country to Massachusetts, where he was dumped off at a truck stop with other dogs before being distributed to the pet store. This was all by the time he was six weeks old. This was my second wake-up call regarding the trade of pets. For the first time I began to understand the horror of puppy mills.
Because of learning what my dog went through as a puppy mill offspring, I began to do my research into puppy mills and backyard breeders. I am now an advocate for legislation regulating breeding practices and the closure of puppy mills.
Despite his early trauma, Tucker has turned out to be a fantastic dog and is now extremely healthy, especially for a puppy mill dog. I credit this not only to his own little character but also to my diligent, non-stop care and training when he was young. I am a dog trainer now, in part because of this little dog. Although I purchased Tucker from a pet store, I believe that I ultimately rescued him from a sad fate of being purchased by a family who bought him only for his cute face and would have never devoted the time to learning to raise a great companion pet.
I will never buy from a pet store again. I will do everything I can to encourage people to get a dog from a rescue organization, and any future dogs that come into my life will be from rescue only.
-By Catherine Tieman