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Boots: The Sad Story of a Puppy Mill Dog

Liz loves animals. Seeing them ill, hurt, or killed breaks her heart. She advocates for "adopt, don't shop" and TNR programs for feral cats.

'Boots' The Dog

This was Boots; wasn't he cute?

This was Boots; wasn't he cute?

Both houses of the California legislature just passed a bill (AB 485), that will require that all stores selling dogs, cats, and rabbits must source them from local animal shelters, public animal control agencies and rescue groups, and not from mass breeding facilities, either in or out of state.

The law would take effect in January of 2019. This is a massive win for the animals and the people who love and care for them. As of this writing, (28 September 2017), the bill simply awaits the governor’s signature to turn it into law.

Why is this important? Because the puppy mills, as they are called, care nothing for the health of the animals; they are only interested in pumping out as many litters as they can, as fast as they can, for maximum profit.

Shocking abuses, neglect and mistreatment are the commonplace result of this sorry enterprise. The industry lobby tries to insist that pet owners, "...have a right to know the medical history of the animal…’ This is a specious bit of reasoning, because such records, if they exist at all, are liable to be sketchy at best, and false at worst.

First Hand Experience

When I was a kid in junior high school, back in the dark days before we knew better, we bought an adorable little Beagle puppy from a pet store. He was funny, smart, and loveable. We named him ‘Boots.’ Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us at first, he was also very, very ill.

In our ignorance, we mistakenly assumed that because he was ‘pedigreed,’ and came with “AKC papers,” that our purebred Beagle was a perfect example of the breed who would be with us for many happy years.

Our Assumptions Proved False

Boots was thin, severely underweight for his age, the veterinarian told us. He needed a high-protein diet to help him gain weight.

My mother spent a good deal of time cooking up ground beef to mix into his kibbles, and also bought him cottage cheese, both suggested by the vet. At the time, he was eating a small-sized kibble for puppies, and we would mix in the beef and cottage cheese very well. Apparently, Boots knew what he needed, and managed to pick out these goodies, tiny bits though they were, and leave most of the kibble behind!

Strike one for the breeder!

Yet Another Problem Developed

The special diet wasn’t working; he wasn’t gaining the expected amount of weight, and remained skinny. Why? It turned out that Boots had worms. Yuck! This is not uncommon in puppies and kittens; they often get them from the mother. (I’m not quite sure how that works, but it is the current ‘wisdom.’)

Back to the vet he went, for back then, de-worming was not an at-home easy process; it was messy, and you were happy to have the animal at the vet for them to deal with the mess resulting from the medication.

On picking him up, we learned that he had three kinds of worms all at once! Poor puppy! Those parasites were stealing all his nutrients! Thinking that was the last of the issues, we brought Bootsie back home to enjoy him.

Strike two for the breeder!

We Were Not Finished Yet!

All was well for a few months, but another curveball was coming our way. He seemed to all of a sudden have trouble peeing, and was squatting all the time, but nothing was happening.

Another trip to the vet: more parasites!! The vet was truly stumped, saying that these particular vermin were usually and commonly found in the digestive tract, but had gotten into the urinary tract instead. We were sent home with medication to give him.

Strike three for the breeder!

The Final Straw

Just when we thought we were through the worst, we were hit with another sucker punch.

The first sign was that he was always, always thirsty. He would drink massive amounts of water, and the output would be equal. We took him once again to the veterinarian, who diagnosed him as having diabetes. He was rather shocked, as he said it does happen in older dogs from time to time, but is virtually unheard of in puppies and young dogs. He also said that dogs don’t respond as well to insulin as humans do.

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It was devastating. The only choice we had then was euthanasia; there was no sense in letting the poor little fellow suffer for years to come. He wasn’t quite a year old. I cried bucketsful.

Breeder—‘yer out!’

Never Again

No, never again would we buy a pet from a pet store. I was too young then to be politically aware, and engage in any kind of activism, but the next time we got a dog, it was from a private person whose dog had accidentally become pregnant.

We were able to go to their home, select the puppy we wanted, see that the conditions were clean and safe, and the puppies socialized. Plus, we were able meet both parents of the puppy, and assess their temperament. That dog, we named Rascal. He was a mutt, but he was a good and healthy dog.

The sad experience with Boots planted the seed, though, and I have been against puppy/kitten/bunny mills ever since, and I am a staunch advocate for animal rights and their humane treatment.

© 2017 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on October 17, 2017:

Hello, Bob--Thanks for stopping by with your well-thought-out response. If you don't mind, I'll answer your points one by one, in order:

1. It’s true; the entire industry isn’t all puppy mills. However, those ARE the main source of inventory for many pet stores, particularly the smaller non-chain stores. Even some of the big chains were guilty at one point. Many objections you mentioned to shelter/rescue pets are based around a preference for a particular breed. That should be no stopper to choosing a rescue or shelter pets, as many purebreds do end up in shelters and at rescue groups, and quite frequently, at that.

2. I was in no way mocking an owner’s right to know the history, but you may or may not be correct on this one; I do know that there was no health history available for Boots.

3. Black market? Possibly true; but such a market already exists for pets that are not legal to keep, such as wild animals. Ferrets, for example, are not legal to keep as pets here in CA; that does not mean people don’t obtain them anyway.

4. I will agree that such standards and guidelines should exist, as should permits and licenses along with routine surprise inspections. However, such laws often fall by the wayside for lack of budget or personnel to enforce them.

5. True; see my answer to #4, just above.

6. That could be; but it seems at least a step in the right direction.

;-) Thanks again for your thoughts.

Bob Bamberg on September 29, 2017:

Hi Lizzy, good article. There are a lot of sad stories out there, but they are often paired with a happy ending...rescued by a caring pet parent who provides a great life for the animal.

I do disagree with you on the California law. It does nothing to address breeding programs and simply demonizes an industry that isn't all puppy mills. It forces potential owners to get their animal from a shelter, rescue group or hobby breeder...and there are people who, in expressing a legitimate preference, don't want to get a pet from a shelter, rescue group or hobby breeder.

I wouldn't mock an owner's right to know the animal's history, and for you to imply that the information probably isn't complete or accurate anyway, is unfair because it's not substantiated by facts.

No one stops to consider that a law such as California's is the first step to the establishment of a black market pet industry.

A better law would establish guidelines and standards for breeders, and there would be oversight by local, state and federal agencies.

As it stands now, there are no minimum competency standards for breeders, no licensing requirements beyond a kennel permit, and no oversight other than in response to a complaint.

Like most animal rights laws, the California law, in my opinion, means well but is misdirected and short sighted.

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