Puppy mills are really bad, but without more public education, we're stuck with them

Editor's Note: When this article was first published, the author did not use the proper term for the breed Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. We apologize for the error, and we have corrected it in this updated version.

Puppy mills are bad, and if you run a puppy mill, you're a bad person. It's as simple as that.

A puppy mill is a backyard breeding operation that doesn't care for breed lines, only about churning out more dogs so the puppy mill operator can make more money. We're not talking about a dozen or so dogs, either, though some puppy mills are that small. But some of the worst have thousands of dogs, living in filthy crates all day, every day, without proper vetting or food or love.

The really sad part: We enable these puppy mills. If we didn't buy dogs from pet stores (which get their animals from puppy mills) or from Craig's List and newspaper classifieds, puppy mills wouldn't exist.

Sunday (Sept. 27) is National Puppy Mill Awareness Day. In Alabama, there's probably no rescue more familiar with puppy mills than the Cavalier Rescue of Alabama. I've been with these folks when they've rescued puppy mill Cavs. I've seen their hearts break, their tears, and their love.

When I first learned there was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel rescue, I was flabbergasted. Of all dogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels need a rescue? Yes, indeed. And thank goodness for the folks at Cavalier Rescue of Alabama. They've gone above and beyond in rescuing Cavaliers from puppy mills.

And why should people give a hoot about puppy mills?

"People should care because it's happening right here in Alabama," says Brittney Wilk, co-founder and rescue coordinator for Cavalier Rescue of Alabama. "It's happening right here in our backyard. Pet stores (that sell dogs) still exist here in Alabama, and people are just not educated in where these dogs are coming from."

Wilk says that Petland in Montgomery sells puppies, and those puppies come from puppy mills.

"It's come to light just how awful the conditions are," Wilk says. Pet stores like Petland use puppy mills as their supplier, Wilk says, because "no reputable breeder would sell their puppies like that. Where are their parents? No (reputable) breeder would send their puppies to a pet store."

Wilk makes an excellent point: If you buy a puppy at a pet store or through a classified ad or at a yard sale, if you can't meet the momma, you shouldn't buy the dog.

Yes, you'll pay more to a reputable breeder, but you'll get a puppy that is well cared for and not the product of inbreeding. The "Where's Mum?" campaign in Great Britain is a wonderful example of educating the public about puppy mills.

If you can't meet a puppy's parents -- or at least the puppy's mom -- don't get the puppy.

Wilk says a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel from a reputable breeder will cost around $2,500 or more. But she's seen the breed for sale online and elsewhere for as little as $400 or $500. That kind of price is a big ol' red flag.

"You may pay less up front," Wilk warns, "but you'll pay much more on the back end."

In the last regular session of the Legislature, a bill was introduced to regulate puppy mills in Alabama. It went nowhere because Rep. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, chairman of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee, didn't even let his committee debate it. That was likely because the American Kennel Club opposed the bill. But the AKC opposes just about every puppy mill regulation in every state, because it makes money on registration fees. The AKC doesn't care about the dog; it cares about registration fees.

Wilk has a puppy mill dog, Jake, bought from an auction held in July. Puppy millers often buy dogs at auction so they have breeding stock. These dogs live miserable lives, being bred and rebred until they are used up. Jake was at a puppy mill for six years before being put up for auction. It was clear that Jake suffered from some problems with his jaw and mouth, and doctors determined Jake suffers from a form of oral cancer that will, eventually, kill him.

Though Jake's prognosis is grim, his life is wonderful. Wilk has set up Jake's bucket list, and Jake is having the time of his life.

"While his bucket list is to show him the things he hasn't experienced, in fact, he has taught me and everybody else so much about cherishing all the little things," Wilk says. Like simply running through grass or enjoying a puppuccino at Starbucks.

Jake could be expected to have a long, full life if he hadn't spent so many years at a puppy mill.

"Jake's probably taught me more than we've taught him," Wilk says. "He's opened up my eyes to really enjoying every day."

One of the items on Jake's bucket list was a photo session with Connie Collum Photography. He got that.

Puppy mills are bad and shouldn't be allowed to exist. Remember: Dogs are sentient beings; they know how to love and think. They get scared and feel pain and neglect. Puppy mills are concentration camps for dogs.

And nothing will happen, Wilk says, until people "recognize the problem."

"I still don't think people know what a puppy mill is," Wilk says. "If people saw what we've seen, things would be different."

Let's somehow, make things be different.

Joey Kennedy

Joey Kennedy is president and publisher of Animal Advocates of Alabama. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Kennedy worked for more than 33 years at The Birmingham News.

5 comments

  1. Glenda 29 September, 2015 at 14:40

    Thank you, I like to ensure as a reputable breeder and rescue volunteer that the name of the breed I so dearly love and fight for is correct. A King Charles in other countries is another breed all together, which is the English Toy Spaniel in the USA. Good manners, or in this writers case, good journalism, would be to know the subject well enough that you actually get the name of the breed correct or at least the editor should have been smart enough to correct it, it’s just a bad editing job when you cannot get one of the subject matters correct in an article. The AKC is a great resource for your writer and editor to verify breed names.

    • Veronica Kennedy 6 October, 2015 at 11:44

      Ms. Schroeder: You are absolutely correct. However, you are belaboring the point. The author and the editor have apologized and corrected the error. We both know the name of the breed; we simply made a human mistake. I’m sure you have made an error or two along the way. We encourage reputable breeding, and we, too, are rescue volunteers. Perhaps you should consider using good manners when receiving a sincere apology. We both have been journalists more than 40 years each; I tell you this because I want you to understand that we really do regret making the error. I would hope that you could be gracious enough to accept our efforts to correct our mistake.

  2. Veronica Kennedy 29 September, 2015 at 13:54

    Ms. Schroeder: You are correct, and we apologize. We will correct the story and add an editor’s note. We appreciate you pointing out our mistake, but we also would appreciate you corresponding with us in a more respectful way. It’s simply good manners to do so.

  3. susan baird 27 September, 2015 at 12:29

    I too was amazed to learn that Cavaliers need a rescue organization. Over the past year I have begun to get to know the founders and members of Cavalier Rescue of Alabama. They are among the most generous, caring, hard-working people I’ve ever known. It is a privilege to contribute to this work alongside people who have a heart for improving the lives of these precious animals!

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