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'Rolling Stone' writer takes on puppy mills

by Kelly L. Williams

Journalist Paul Solotaroff meets a dog from the puppy mill raid in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS.

In 2013, Rolling Stone published journalist Paul Solotaroff’s searing exposé of the meat industry’s efforts to conceal cruelty. HSUS CEO and president Wayne Pacelle thanked him—and offered advice: “You’ve only written half the story. When you’re ready, the other half is dogs.” Three years later, Solotaroff joined The HSUS on a puppy mill raid in North Carolina to see that other half. His story—“The Dog Factory,” published in late December— uncovers the horrors of puppy mills. In this edited interview with All Animals editor Kelly L. Williams, Solotaroff shares his experience.

What did you encounter during the raid?

Massive cruelty toward the most vulnerable, the most tortured, the most suffering creatures I’ve ever seen. The lucky ones were the puppies. Sick as they were, congenitally damaged as some of them were, they got out. The much sadder and more agonizing sight, sound, smell was the hidden bunker where the owner kept the breeding dogs.

How was it worse?

The stench in that room was indescribable. It was like a punch in the face. It was pure ammonia. It made breathing next to impossible, and it saturated everything you were wearing such that you had to burn it later. And that’s how those dogs lived. With no ventilation, no natural light, no access to exercise, socialization. Nothing.

How did the experience change you?

It sensitized me to a problem right beneath my nose. I have a purebred whom we bought from a local reputable breeder, but I also have a beautiful bichon-poodle mix from a rescue group in Houston. That dog is such a delight that it’s unimaginable that someone gave him away. If you want a dog, there are hundreds of thousands of them, many bought from pet stores and abandoned, available on petfinder.com or at a local shelter. That’s where you get your dog.

What do you hope your readers learn?

I want everyone in America to know what grinding hell commercially bred dogs come out of. I want them to know the ways in which the parent dogs are horrifically exploited. This is what is happening in our name. This is who pet stores are buying from.

Did anything you saw inspire hope?

Wherever there’s a grotesque injustice, whenever there’s something broken, there are people—really good people—trying to repair it. Getting to know the HSUS animal rescue team and puppy mill campaign members was such a privilege. Every single one of those people is a warrior who picked the right fight, and I stand in awe of that.

You can read Solotaroff's story here.

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