March 23, 2009
Laws Needed, Puppy Mill Rescue Shows
by Julie Hauserman
As Oregon legislators consider creating the state’s first-ever law to regulate mass dog breeding operations—known as puppy mills—a group of animal advocates drove up on a scene March 13 that they say makes their case clear.
About 200 dogs lived on a dusty, bleak property dotted with cages and trailers near the town of Burns, said Scott Beckstead, the Oregon senior state director for The Humane Society of the United States. The dogs—including mixes of Shiba Inus, Akitas, Golden Retrievers, and other breeds—competed, often viciously, for food.
Many were emaciated, badly infested with parasites, had untreated wounds and suffered from severe mange. Some were chained by the neck to dilapidated doghouses or makeshift shelters; others were forced to live in filthy, cramped trailers.
The Harney County Sheriff had investigated the property beforehand and contacted The HSUS for help. In turn, The HSUS contacted the Oregon Humane Society, which was able to handle the large volume of rescued dogs.
Beckstead, along with his wife Jackie, national animal cruelty caseworker for The HSUS, joined the Oregon Humane Society in the rescue of more than 180 dogs from the property.
The owner was charged with animal cruelty last month and agreed to voluntarily surrender all but 20 of the animals to avoid further charges.
Finding Forever Homes
Once the dogs have been medically and behaviorally evaluated—and are ready for adoption—the search for forever homes begins.
"These animals have suffered so much, and they deserve to live their lives as treasured family pets, not breeding machines," Beckstead said. “And it's time for Oregonians to ask their lawmakers to step up to the plate and prevent situations like this altogether.
“We need strong laws to make sure innocent dogs are treated humanely. The way these dogs spent their lives was just a shame.”
Puppy Protection Act
Beckstead urges Oregonians to support the Oregon Puppy Protection Act (H.B. 2470), now being considered by the House Consumer Protection Committee. The legislation would create one of the most comprehensive puppy mill laws in the U.S. It would limit the number of dogs allowed at large-scale breeding operations, and would hold breeders to humane standards of care.
Puppy mill operators—who often sell online and to pet stores as well as directly to the public through classified ads and other means—also would be required to provide buyers with information about each dog’s health and history.
“With a limit on the number of breeding animals a person can keep, situations like the one near Burns can be prevented,” Beckstead said. “And the basic care standards would ensure more humane conditions for Oregon’s dogs.”
At the Oregon Humane Society Shelter in Portland, some of the rescued dogs “cower in a corner, their faces turned to the wall, hoping to make the cold floor and the harsh barks go away,” reporter Janie Har wrote in the Oregonian newspaper.
Standing outside a cage marked with a note “Very Scared,” Oregon Humane Society volunteer Ken Wells told the Oregonian: “These dogs, they probably lived underground,. They've got dirt and mud all over them like they burrowed under, and they've never seen people.”
Not Just in Oregon
Sadly, the inhumane conditions discovered at the rural Oregon property are repeated at puppy mills all over the country, where unscrupulous breeders chase profits and treat their animals as nothing more than a cash crop, often confining them to cramped cages their whole lives.
The HSUS has long fought the abuse rampant in U.S. puppy mills and works to stop this abuse on multiple fronts through its Stop Puppy Mills campaign.
“It is my hope that, this time next year, the Puppy Protection Act will be law, and we won’t have to rescue dogs from these cruel situations in Oregon any more,” Beckstead said.
Learn more about puppy mills.