Puppy mills pose uphill battle, but recent progress persists

A 6-year-old Lab Golden mix, Annabel, was rescued from a Lancaster County puppy mill.

"She was basically kept in a horse stall in filth and mud and all that kind of stuff," said Manager Heather Hatt of Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue.

Annabel is part of Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue's Project Home Life, a place where puppy mill survivors are trained to socialize and transition into forever homes.

Hatt says a third of their roughly 300 rescues per year come from puppy mills, but she sees recent progress firsthand.

"Years ago we got a lot of very shut down, very scared dogs. A lot more dogs with more major health issues from puppy mills," she said.

The Humane Society defines a puppy mill as anyone who is maximizing profit at the expense of the animal.

They say Pennsylvania ranks second in the country, just behind Missouri.

"She's a puppy mill dog, yes she was just spayed," Hatt explained while looking at a pup in their rescue.

Hatt says the huge stacked crate operations you may think of have been replaced with smaller operations.

Although still cruel, Hatt says the culture is changing.

"Puppy mills are more willing to turn them over to people instead of kill them," Hatt said.

"As long as there's a demand for puppy mill dogs they will continue to produce them. For every kennel shut down a new puppy mill opens based on demand for puppies," Pennsylvania Humane Society Director Kristen Tullo said.

Tullo says commercial pet stores continue to play a vital role in fueling the puppy mill problem, even if the store says it doesn't sell puppy mill pups.

"If they're not able to show you the conditions of where animals are coming from, they don't want you to see those conditions, they're often filthy," Tullo said.

However, Tullo says progress is being made.

Pets Plus Natural is an example.The regional chain sells only rescue dogs.

And California recently passed a law stating all dogs, cats and rabbits sold through pet stores must come from shelters and rescue organizations instead of breeders and puppy mills.

State Rep. Jason Ortitay is circulating a co-sponsorship memo to do the same here in Pennsylvania.

"What we need to do as the public is realize that even if we are purchasing a puppy we are inadvertently supporting puppy mills," Tullo added.

While stopping the sale of commercial puppies is an uphill battle, puppy mill survivors do have a better future ahead.

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