Breeding dogs at puppy mills rarely get to retire. Most of the mother dogs are considered spent at just 6 years old because they can no longer reliably produce litters. They’re only halfway through their lives, and if given a chance, they could live into their teens, but too often, the end of their breeding years means the end of their lives. Puppy mill dogs who can’t turn a profit are typically killed or abandoned.
Gracie was one of the lucky ones. Her last day on the breeding farm was not her last day of life. A golden retriever who spent six years whelping puppies on a farm in Pennsylvania, Gracie likely produced close to 100 puppies, making tens of thousands of dollars for her owner. Years of constant pregnancies and births took a toll on her body, aging her much faster than a typical companion dog. Gracie devoted herself to producing milk and caring for her puppies, only to have them taken away again and again. While so many other dogs, including Gracie’s purchased puppies, enjoyed toys, treats and cozy evening walks with their families, Gracie only knew the confines of a small, wire-sided hutch. She most likely never saw the inside of a home. She grew thin and weak until she was no longer useful.
Fortunately, when the puppy mill was finished breeding her, the farm owner decided to give Gracie to a rescue organization instead of killing her. Brindle Buddies and Friends and Homeward Bound CT cared for Gracie, giving her the first indoor lodging she ever had. She was fostered for a few weeks, spayed and treated for anaplasmosis, and after she recovered, Gracie was adopted by Amanda LoCoco, one of our campaigners for our Stop Puppy Mills campaign.
When Amanda first met Gracie, she could see how the dog’s past weighed on her consciousness: “She was very timid but starving for attention.” At first, Gracie was trepidatious about leaving her foster home and getting into Amanda’s car. But once Gracie arrived at her new home, she wasted no time in making herself comfortable on the couch and exploring the yard. She also took immediate interest in her young human “siblings.” Very curious about her surroundings, she confidently walked up and down the stairs to explore her new home, and even though she’s only been there for about a week, Gracie has mastered house training and already feels like a member of the family.
Gracie still displays some signs of her difficult puppy mill past. Loud noises scare her, and she also remains a little timid about accepting treats or eating in front of people. She also shows some signs of separation anxiety; if Amanda is out of sight, Gracie goes to find her: “It’s as if she’s worried we may disappear,” Amanda says. “But we remind her daily through encouraging pets and loving kisses that she’s here to stay.” These reassurances seem to be going a long way. “She goes up to everyone who visits with a tail wag,” Amanda says. “The minute she sees you, she wags her tail. Besides snuggling on the couch, her favorite pastime is rolling in the grass any chance she gets.”
It’s inspiring to see Gracie become a member of a loving family, rather than be treated as a mere object in a money-making scheme. Gracie’s happiness not only brings a smile to her family’s faces every day but also reminds us of why we’re fighting to stop puppy mills, an industry that treats individuals like Gracie as nothing more than breeding machines. We fight in many ways: for example, by advocating for local ordinances that prohibit the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores and by exposing problem breeders in our yearly Horrible Hundred reports.
We believe in fighting the big fights and seeing the broader picture as we work to stop the most widespread abuses of animals. But we also believe that every kind action is one important step to creating a better world for animals. Everyone on our Stop Puppy Mills team has adopted one or more dogs who originally spent their lives as strays or in puppy mills, or who landed in a shelter for unknown reasons.
Our adopted animals remind us that our work has tangible impacts. Adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue group not only makes a world of difference for that pup, but also helps to dry up the market for puppy mills and the pet stores that support them. We will never stop fighting to make the world more humane for mama dogs like Gracie.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.