This was in our morning's Philadelphia Inquirer (07/07/06). Author is noneother than columnist John Grogan, who wrote "Marley & Me."
Puppy mills not always obvious
By John Grogan
The sign rose out of the cornfields as we drove down a narrow country lane in far rural Berks County:
"Vegetables & puppies for sale."
This was the place. The place we had been looking for. Our longtime Labrador retriever, Marley, had died a few months earlier and the silence in our home had become deafening.
It was time for another dog.
We were responding to a small classified ad for puppies of mixed but distinct lineage - a cross between two types of retrievers. After our wildly hyperactive purebred Lab, the mix sounded like a good bet. The breeders were old-time, traditional farmers who raised dogs on the side.
I pulled up to the old stone farmhouse where Jenny, our three children and I were greeted by six stunningly beautiful youngsters. They were blond and blue-eyed, their skin burnished from working in the fields. The girls wore bonnets and calico dresses to their ankles. The boys wore overalls and brimmed hats. All were barefoot. No adults were in sight.
Jenny and I exchanged a smile. We both felt good about this place. A small family farm out of yesteryear; the real thing. We liked the idea of steering clear of commercial breeders, some of whom have reputations for being motivated more by profit than love of animals.
A sinking feeling
I asked to see the puppies, and the oldest of the siblings, a girl about 16, stepped forward and without a word led us toward a cacophony of barking. Near the barn we found a series of rickety runs filled with dogs of every imaginable shape, size and age. None looked like the progeny of two pure-bred dogs.
Two of the cages were rigged with spinning wire treadmills, like giant versions of the exercise wheels found in hamster cages, in which little yapping dogs raced endlessly. At once the scene was comical and heartbreaking.
It instantly felt wrong.
We began absorbing more of the scene. The puppies were crowded into a makeshift pen and some looked lethargic, with runny eyes and noses. Excrement covered the ground, so thick it was almost impossible not to step in. The mother dogs slinked around the periphery of the barnyard, looking worn out and exhausted, their teats hanging low.
It was becoming obvious this was not the idyllic rural breeder we had imagined, and that these dogs were being bred and sold irresponsibly by children without visible adult supervision. We asked if the parents were available, but got no clear answer.
Still, we persevered. Anyone who has ever taken young children to pick out a puppy knows how difficult it is to leave empty-handed. The puppies, even the sickly ones, were undeniably cute and the farm kids handed them out of the cage one at a time for my children to cuddle.
"This one, Dad; can we get this one?" they shouted for each puppy.
Jenny and I exchanged nervous glances. We both knew we would not be leaving with one of these dogs.
I called the kids over to the car for a huddle. "We're going to get a puppy very soon," I promised. "But this is not the right place." The kids hung their heads but didn't protest. I think even they knew something was amiss.
As darkness fell over the unlit farm, we excused ourselves and drove away. A mile down the road, I pulled over and we all scraped dog dirt off our shoes.
It didn't occur to me that night, or for months afterward, that what we had stumbled on was a puppy mill. Not one of the factory-like commercial enterprises Pennsylvania is so notorious for, but a puppy mill nonetheless. A place that cranks out living animals like widgets for profit and often passes along hereditary and health problems. Gov. Rendell is taking steps to crack down on these operations, and I applaud him for it.
Looking back on my experience two years later, I regret not doing more myself. I should have made a phone call, should have turned them in. But these beautiful, simple children were not what I imagined or wanted to believe puppy-mill operators could be.
A puppy mill, I now know, can take many forms. Sometimes you don't even recognize it until it is too late.
I'm right outside of Lancaster, and it was hard trying to find a reputable breeder when we were looking for a puppy. We ended up getting Zora in Maryland, because all the places seemed as though they we're some type of puppy mill . My next dog (when Zora is trained) will be a rescue.