Now more than ever, you are needed to donate your old blankets, towels, and sheets to your local animal shelter. With financial cut-backs, repairs on shelters are often put off, so if it's drafty, the animals suffer. I know my shelter uses rags to stuff under doors. No kidding! Empty out those closets... this is your chance to get rid of stuff and do something useful!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Madonna of the Mills

(Photo courtesy of Nicole Pettinella
 Laura Flynn-Amato with one of the puppies she has rescued.)

More welcome news, this time from Staten Island, NY!

On Friday, February 4 at 7:00pm Madonna of the Mills, a documentary featuring Laura Flynn-Amato, a Grymes Hill woman who has rescued nearly 4,000 dogs from Pennsylvania puppy mills over the last five years, will be screened at Tottenville High School on Staten Island.

The documentary will focus on a woman who acted on what she learned after her two store-bought dogs died suddenly (one after the other). The hope is that it will educate the public that the vast majority of dogs in pet stores come from terrible breeding conditions. I know the stores owners say "it's a private breeder," "it's AKC approved," and people who buy the dogs say "but I have papers." But the truth is that today's dog breeding is much different from when I was a kid. Back then, you went to someones home whose dog had one litter a year and you picked out the dog that you most bonded with. Now it's a big money making thing. I don't mind making money; I mind dogs being bred just for profit, who receive absolutely no medical care, who are filled with antibiotics in the hope they won't come down with an illness that will kill them (i.e. Parvo -a known ailment of puppy mill dogs) and especially when I see how many dogs are put down each year - some 6 million in this country. (Good news though, it used to be 17 million a year). How many people do you know who impulsively bought a cheap designer dog they think raises their social status? Or who could buy a cheap designer dog as a gift, only to have that dog, foisted on an unsuspecting owner, end up in a shelter? Or what about how easy it is to dispose of something you barely had to work to get?

Madonna of the Mills focuses on four dogs rescued from Pennsylvania puppy mills run by Amish and Mennonites.

I wonder - actually, I know - that the public is largely unaware that the Amish and Mennonite populations in Lancaster County, PA are big puppy millers.  Now, I have nothing against the Amish and I have always applauded their living as they choose. It's embarrassing to say but it might be the only time this is relevant to anything I'm talking about: I even still have the yellow bonnet with cherries that I got when I visited "Amish Country" as a single digit!  However,  I learned about this problem (400 puppy millers in Amish country) from a rescue group I did volunteer work for some years ago. I kept the information in my head - frankly, it was the last thing I expected from mild-mannered Amish people, but it has been corroborated many times since.

Why is it so bad? Because the Amish are fulfilling a desire by this country to have the latest designer dog (a little ironic!), but their standard of care for "pets," not something they support keeping, is actually extremely sub-standard. Taken together with few laws to prosecute animal abusers and mild penalties when charges are filed, and it has created a situation where outside the public view dogs are bred in absolutely appalling conditions. What we see is the bright shiny new puppy in the store window but they came from conditions where the mothers' legs are deformed from spending her entire life in a wire cage six inches bigger than her, skin conditions are rampant, and teeth rot out of their heads. We are told the bright shiny puppies are "AKC (American Kennel Club) approved," and that they are from "a private breeder."  Yeah, they're private alright, because otherwise the conditions wouldn't fly. AKC needs to update its standards. They are complicit in all of this.

The ASPCA had a great magazine issue about 18 months ago that focused on this problem, and they highlighted a man who rescues hundreds of dogs who are being moved from one horror at puppy mills only to be sold at auction (by, you guessed it, the Amish) - another horror! Used-up dogs that can no longer breed are often sold to research facilities to test their products. Hard to believe that in the U.S. it's legal for a dog to be in a cage six inches bigger than it for all of its life (read: 24/7), and then be sold to a research facility to have experiments conducted on it and then be killed at the end.  (Don't fret; there is stuff being done about this but my point is DON'T BUY YOUR DOGS FROM PUPPY STORES).

Please read this article, where Mrs. Flynn-Amato tells it like it is. Here is a quote to underscore what I said above.
They are kept in cages -- typically six inches larger than they are -- with wire floors, and let out only to breed. By the time Mrs. Flynn-Amato gets to them, they can barely walk, their ears and teeth are infected, they have the shakes and sores on their skin.
They have no names, just numbers.

"They're not housebroken, they hide under the table and they shake," she said. "If I don't rescue them, they shoot them. It's perfectly legal."

Ninety-nine percent of puppies sold in pet stores -- often for triple or quadruple the cost the pet store paid -- are bred in puppy mills, which are largely unregulated, according to Mrs. Flynn-Amato. Almost all go home with parasites or some type of health problem.

A neighbor in my building who I pass on the street each day as she is going to work and I'm just finishing the boys' long am walk was especially chatty the other day. Because of the weather she was not able to get into Manhattan and tuned back to go home, where we bumped into one another.  My dogs always bark at her, and she wanted to tell me she adopted a puppy. She was so happy about it. I smiled and congratulated her, and silently said "oh no" as I asked her where she got him from. A puppy store.  I said "oh , then it's a puppy mill dog." She said "no, he was bred by a private breeder and has papers."

Now, in a situation like this you are faced with two choices. You can just say congratulations and move on, or you can do a bit of educating. I opted for educating while still being supportive and happy at her happiness, as presumptuous as that sounds.  While I congratulated her I also said that many people don't know dogs from puppy stores or pet stores are actually bred at puppy mills, that they come with papers, that they are bred by a "private breeder" but in really bad circumstances. I could tell she wasn't thrilled and I didn't want to burn the relationship, but I needed to say just enough to plant the seed.  I said I hoped he was healthy and she wouldn't have problems, and that no doubt she will give him a great home, which I'm sure she will. Her yenta husband already separately gloated that his dog doesn't bark nearly as much as my two maniacs boys. (No other dogs probably do).

My cousin and his wife used to be puppy store people. Their first puppy died of parvo (a slow painful death); the second - I forget what. They learned the hard way. The first dog, which got returned like spoiled milk, traumatized his wife, and by the time the second dog got sick they were done. Many puppy mill dogs are ill, or so full of antibiotics when they leave the mill, to ward off sickness from sub standard conditions, that they suffer seizures later.  The third time they went with the senior dog advertised by the local news station as "Dog of the Week." They couldn't be happier. A senior dog got to keep his life and now they are part of "the converted."

Amen. I thank God for people like Laura Flynn-Amato.

Click here to see how you can help Mrs. Flynn- Amato in her quest to adopt-out former puppy mill dogs. She founded and runs No More Tears Rescue.