This week I am going to stray a bit from discussing local politics, upcoming county elections, or the questionable practices of predatory wind energy developers. Unfortunately, what follows will at times be both disturbing and nauseating. For that, I apologize in advance.
Last week, my wife and I received a call from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture requesting our assistance. Those that know us are aware that we operate a licensed facility for rescuing, housing, training, and re-homing large and giant breed dogs recovered from the euthanasia short lists of municipal shelters throughout the state. To put a rather fine point on it, we specialize in dogs with no other Hope.
The inspector from the Department of Agriculture asked if they could use our facility as a temporary triage area for several small breed dogs that were to be recovered during an animal cruelty investigation. A county sheriff was busting a puppy mill, and they needed someplace to take the dogs, and someone to transport them, until appropriate small breed dog rescue groups could be lined up to absorb these animals that are no bigger than half-a-pair of my Nikes
In our line of work, my wife and I have both seen the unbelievable photos of, and heard the graphic horror stories about puppy mills. However, like most canine rescue organizations, while we have taken in dogs from animal cruelty cases, we had never been involved in the actual law enforcement action. There was absolutely nothing that could have prepared me for what I experienced once we arrived.
When we pulled up, we knew we were in the right place, as the gravel road was lined with Sheriff’s department vehicles. Initially, all we could see was a ramshackle pile of chain link and tarps held together by bungee cords. When my wife and I got out of our vehicle, we were immediately hit with the smell of death. I am serious about that.
Apparently, many of the thirty two small dogs whose sole purpose was to provide an erroneously-perceived low-maintenance revenue stream had been moved out of the house and placed into the aforementioned pens after law enforcement’s initial visit a few days before. A deputy told us that the dead ones had mysteriously disappeared. The rest were taken out of the house by the sheriff’s department, and stood in the yard in their original configuration, arranged in a PVC frame structure four wire-floor kennels high and several wide. The urine and feces from the upper cages were overflowing into the food bowls of the ones below.
The house, as it was, consisted of a single-wide that someone had nailed lumber around. County law enforcement took us through the front door, and we were immediately hit with the overpowering smell of ammonia and feces. The floors and walls were literally covered in excrement. It was everywhere you looked. The ceiling of what was once the living room was a spider web of extension cords plugged into power strips plugged into power strips plugged into drop lights. Each successive room was more of the same. Although we were only tasked with taking ten, at my wife’s insistence, we took all that they could get into our vehicle, and transported them immediately to our veterinarian. Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, two Havenese puppies, and a couple of Shih-tzus. Their smell was so bad that we were forced to make the hour and a half drive to Oklahoma City with the windows down. The Havenese puppies were spotlessly clean and ready for sale, but lethargic and infested with worms. They were immobile when we arrived at the vet, and we thought that they had died en route. The two smallest Yorkshire Terriers had broken jaws and literally could not close their mouths. One also had a broken leg that had set itself incorrectly. It is unclear how long they have been this way. An excellent canine rescue from Yukon arrived shortly afterward to take the rest. As I explained to a friend, the condition of the parents is irrelevant to someone who runs a puppy mill. The money is in the puppies.
Look, I realize that animal advocacy is not for everyone, and this is not a sermon. It is a warning. If you must have a pure breed dog, don’t buy it off of Craig’s List, from a newspaper ad, in a flea-market parking lot, or by calling a number scrawled in crayon on a cheap sign stuck out on the curb. There are many pure breed dogs – some of them puppies – in area shelters.
There are both breed-specific and non-breed specific rescues like ours that do not adopt out dogs until they have been fully vetted, and who will take the dog back if for any reason, it does not work out. The money you will spend on a puppy mill dog of questionable health could be several times more than the adoption fee that you will pay for a rescue dog that has actually seen a veterinarian.
Breeders that are willing to meet you in the parking lot of some convenience store are doing so only because they do not want you to see the deplorable living conditions inexcusably provided for the parents, and the unimaginable filth in which that adorable sweet-smelling ball of fluff that your kids are so in love with was actually born.
Our sincerest appreciation goes out to the selfless individuals at OK Yorkie Rescue, Pet Angels Rescue, and Pets and People Humane Society for stepping up and offering these small dogs some Hope.