Wednesday was freedom day for Pearl, the Weimaraner rescued from a North Carolina puppy mill, whose emaciated condition after her rescue, with every rib in her body showing, shocked so many of you when we first featured her on this blog.

Last week we shared the good news that the miller responsible for her condition---who had featured in our Horrible Hundred report and who was associated with the American Kennel Club---had been convicted of animal cruelty. The court also finally released Pearl and more than 30 other dogs rescued from that mill from legal limbo, freeing them up for adoption.

This week, with our staff assisting, Pearl and the other dogs were transported out of the Caldwell County Animal Shelter, where they were living for nearly nine months until the conclusion of the case. The shelter staff gave them all of the TLC they needed for a full recovery, and yesterday the animals, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, left for our amazing shelter and rescue partners who will place them for adoption into loving homes.

When the authorities first found Pearl last December, she was not just terribly emaciated. She was also carrying seven puppies, but because of her dire condition four died at birth at the puppy mill before they could even be rescued. The remaining three survived, thanks to round-the-clock care from local veterinarian Dr. Alina Soderholm, who later adopted one of the pups.

Altogether, officials seized 33 dogs and one kitten from the mill, and additional puppies were born after the rescue.

It was a long road for Pearl, who nearly didn’t survive. When HSUS staff members from our Animal Rescue Team and Stop Puppy Mills team visited Pearl at the Caldwell County shelter a month after her rescue, she was recovering, but still extremely thin. It took her months to regain her health. We assisted with the case for eight months, visiting the shelter to check on the dogs and facilitating grants to help with medical supplies, food, treats and toys for all the dogs.

There wasn’t a dry eye at the Caldwell County shelter yesterday as Pearl and the other dogs left their longtime caretakers, after receiving lots of goodbye hugs and kisses. These are lucky dogs: they are now well-rounded and healthy, destined to live out the rest of their days with people who love them. We will continue to follow their stories in days to come.

But there are so many dogs suffering in puppy mills who will never get this chance.

We have been telling you about how the AKC has been found, in so many instances, giving its stamp of approval to puppy millers who deny their dogs the most basic care. An average female Weimaraner weighs 55 to 75 pounds, according the AKC’s website, and a pregnant dog about to deliver should weigh much more. Pearl weighed just 43 pounds when she was rescued, and many of the other dogs were similarly emaciated. It’s hard to see how any group that touts itself as a “champion of dogs” could back a breeder responsible for such misery.

While the AKC has been quick to try and distance itself from Pearl’s breeder by claiming they had severed ties with her, that simply isn’t true. The AKC didn’t suspend their affiliation with Pearl’s breeder until after law enforcement stepped in and seized Pearl and the other dogs. By then it was already too late for some of them.

What the AKC has done for years is to stridently oppose laws in North Carolina and many other states that would require local authorities to check on puppy mills like the one Pearl came from. Eighteen states now have laws requiring puppy mills to be regularly licensed and inspected, and more require other conditions, such as basic care standards and regular veterinary care. Such a law in North Carolina would go a long way toward ensuring that animal cruelty is prevented, and not just addressed with a band-aid approach after animals have already suffered for years.

We are waging a fight against puppy mills on several fronts—legislative, legal, and at the grassroots. We are exposing puppy millers through our annual Horrible Hundred reports, and businesses that patronize them, like Petland, through our investigations. We are fighting for laws against puppy mills at every level of government. But we cannot win this fight on our own. Consumers have a critical role to play in this battle. If you are in the market for a dog, please look to your local shelter or to responsible breeders who will meet you in person and show you where your puppy was born and raised. Shopping for dogs online or at pet stores, which are more likely to source dogs from puppy mills, will only help keep this problem alive.

P.S. The North Carolina transport was one of two puppy mill rescues we’ve assisted with this week. We’re also assisting with the medical needs of some of the 134 puppy mill dogs rescued recently in Michigan. Delta Animal Shelter is caring for the dogs locally, many of whom are pregnant and were found matted, filthy and covered with fleas. We applaud the Michigan State Police and Delta County Sheriff’s office for their role in that rescue.