I've become friendly with a woman I see at the hair salon, an esthetician. She and her husband are thinking about getting a dog. She mentioned that they were looking at the puppies in the pet store at the mall.
I told her that it wasn't a good idea to buy puppies from malls, and I told her a little about puppy mills. I was trying hard to be informative without being strident, to strike a conversational tone, even though to me it's a matter of great urgency. I've learned (the hard way) that this is often the best way to reach people.
I see this woman about once a month. She always asks how my dogs are, and she tells me she is still considering getting a dog. We go over the same ground each time; I have no idea if it's sinking in. Every time we see each other, it's like I've never said anything.
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You all know about puppy mills, right? They are "farms" where dogs are forced to breed constantly, until the females die of complications or exhaustion. Puppies are kept in filthy, overcrowded cages, where they are under-fed and not given proper medical care, let alone human kindness and love (which every dog needs). Then the puppies are plucked from this mess, cleaned up to appear presentable, and sold to retail pet stores, usually in malls.
Puppy mills violate many laws against animal cruelty and farming practices, but enforcement is sporadic, or nonexistent. There is general agreement in the animal welfare community that the best way to combat the horror of puppy mills is to educate the public about retail pet stores that sell dogs. The smaller the market, the fewer dogs will be ordered by pet stores. As demand shrinks, supply will shrink. When the system is no longer profitable, it will shut down. But as long as there's a market, the puppy mills will continue.
Even if you're not in the market for a puppy or kitten, you can help fight this problem by never purchasing anything from a retail pet store that sells puppies. And you can go one step further by telling the company - dropping an email or postcard to their customer service department - why you will never shop there. That's an important piece. They should hear from potential consumers, and know how much business they're losing.
The big pet-supply chains such as PetCo, PetCetera and PetSmart have been a great turning point in this battle. Not wishing to be the target of animal welfare activists, and desirous of pet-friendly publicity, these stores do not sell puppies or kittens at all, and instead work with local rescue groups to promote adoption. This has been a huge milestone.
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Back to my story. Two days ago, I was at the mall, and the store I needed was right next door to the pet store. There were two dogs in the window who were outgrowing their cage. They were still puppies, but their legs were getting long. Most of the floor space of their cage - maybe 90% - was a wide metal grid. The cages are constructed so the dogs can relieve themselves without soiling the cage itself, which wouldn't look very presentable to the public, but the dogs don't need to be walked.
But a puppy won't stand on a wide grid - it's frightening for them and it hurts their paws. So these dogs had only the tiniest bit of solid floor space to curl up in. They barely fit in.
I stared at the dogs for a while. I thought about living in a tiny cage, never going outside, never getting any exercise or fresh air, never having any human contact. It just about broke my heart. The store was full of shoppers, cooing at the puppies in the windows, oblivious to what lurks behind their adorable faces. There was a sign for the store's "spring puppy special" - 20% off. It made my stomach turn.
I forced myself to walk away, knowing that it would do no good to go into the store and ask about the dogs. (In fact, puppy-mill activists advise against this.) I managed to get home before bursting into tears while telling Allan about it. I'm going to find out what people in my area are doing to combat this. There are lots of animal activists around here; I'm sure this store must be the target of a campaign already. I want to help the effort, whatever it is.
I was also thinking about my friend in the salon, and feeling so helpless that I couldn't get through to her. By coincidence, I had an appointment there the folowing day (yesterday). I couldn't decide if I should say something or not. If she didn't listen, I would just feel worse, more frustrated. But how could I not?
After the usual pleasantries, I plunged in. I said, "I was thinking about you yesterday. I was at the mall, and I saw the puppies in the store, crammed into this little cage. I got really upset, knowing the kind of life they have. Are you and your husband still considering getting a dog? If you are, please, please do not buy a puppy from the mall." It was the first time I was ever that direct.
To my complete amazement, she replied, "We're not. Not since you told me about that, and the - what did you call them? the mills? I told my husband about it, we went online and read about it, and he said, no way, this is horrible."
I almost cried with joy. I told her, "You just made my week. I didn't know if we were connecting on this, if you were really hearing me." She said, "Oh yes, I heard you, I paid attention, there is no way we want any part of that." She said her husband is also concerned about getting a healthy, normal puppy - which is another excellent reason to avoid puppy mills.
She also told me that they've decided to delay getting a dog altogether, that they don't think it's the right time and they're afraid they can't make the commitment yet. That's another huge relief to me - just the fact that they are thinking in those terms.
It was the perfect "each one, reach one" activist moment. I had educated one person, and helped her make a more responsible decision. And who knows, maybe she'll tell other people, too, and on it goes.
But this isn't really a happy ending. My conversation with in the hair salon doesn't help those dogs I saw yesterday.
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Stop Puppy Mills is the best site I know for puppy mill information and activism. Other excellent sites are Prisoners of Greed, No Puppy Mills Canada and A Dog Owner's Guide to Stopping Puppy Mills.