Disaster for Dogs

Leslie Irvine, author of Filling the Ark speaks out about animal welfare in disasters.

Filling the Ark

Filling the Ark

On Wednesday, February 11, a team of trained disaster responders converged on a home in Sparta, Tennessee. The effort involved law enforcement and medical personnel, forensics investigators, and emergency relief vehicles loaded with supplies. Rescuers who entered the premises had to wear respirators and other protective equipment. Most of the victims required immediate medical attention. Four were found dead. Many victims were pregnant or nursing mothers. The rescue effort eventually involved over fourteen agencies in several states, along with dozens of volunteers. Rescuers transported the victims, who numbered nearly 300, to an emergency shelter at a local fairground. Many have since moved to temporary homes in other states. Even after they move into permanent homes, some of the victims will suffer the effects of trauma forever. The rescue cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and untold hours of work.

This is a very typical description of a disaster response, but the victims of this event were dogs. They were rescued from a disaster known as a “puppy mill.” In these large-scale breeding operations, profit trumps animal health. Because the animals are essentially breeding machines, they receive no bedding, minimal food, and no veterinary care. Like most dogs in puppy mills, the Tennessee dogs lived in dirty, overcrowded, poorly ventilated conditions. They suffered from malnutrition, dehydration, dental problems, mange, matted coats, and abscesses. The females were bred repeatedly, over the course of years. At the time of the rescue, many of the dogs had never breathed fresh air. Most states have no laws regulating commercial breeders, and in those that do, breeders can often slip by unnoticed. In a rural setting, such as the one in Tennessee, neighbors never suspected what was going on behind the fence. The local humane society had learned of the horrific conditions from someone who went there to buy a dog. This is the cause of the problem, but it is also the key to the solution.

In Filling the Ark, I argue that animals face unique risks because we make them uniquely vulnerable. This accurately captures the situation of puppy mills. Dogs suffer in puppy mills because people support them. The horror of puppy mills persists because ignorant and unsuspecting people fall in love with puppies in pet stores or on web sites. Even well intentioned people who think they are “rescuing” a puppy from a pet store are supporting puppy mills. No responsible breeder would supply puppies to pet stores. If you are considering getting a dog, consider adopting from a shelter or rescue group. If you decide to buy a dog from a breeder, groups such as the Humane Society of the United States offer tips on how to find a reputable breeder. We created the horror of puppy mills, and we can end it. Surely we owe it to the animals we call our best friends.


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