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Monday, February 13, 2012

The Red Pup (A Story of a Puppy Mill Dog)

Mia Knerly-Hess©2001


It was hot. Hot as July, the air thick with the promise of thunderstorms lingering to the southwest. The mother sighs, clicks off the Weather Channel. No pool for the kids today. Not with those thunderstorms. And the damn air conditioning is on the fritz again. Great. Joey and Tessa, her six and eight year olds are complaining already. “There s nothing to DO!” The age old summer whine. September seems so far away.

Wiping the sweat from her forehead, the mother suggests a trip to the mall. Eyes sparkle: the toy store? Maybe a movie? Well, we’ll see. She loads them into the car, resigned to shopping with two recalcitrant kids in tow. “At least we’ ll be cool,” she resolves.

An hour later, armed with bags from the toy store, The Gap (and, oh, yes, that new bottle of cologne), they pass by the pet store. Eager puppy faces peer at the children from behind their glass cases, noses rooting in the cedar shavings. There are Bostons and Bichons, Newfoundlands and Norwich Terriers, each one more beguiling than the last.

But Joey’s brown eyes settle on one pup. Red, gray and tan hairs vie with a soft red patch over the pup’s left eye. On his forehead is a distinctive white strip.

“What kind of puppy is THAT, Mom?” the boy asks. This inquiry leads the family into a small white room and soon Joey and Tessa are playing with and fawning over the Australian Cattledog pup with the patch over his left eye. “Oh, I’ll regret even LETTING the kids see this puppy…I’ll never hear the end of it. What WAS I thinking? Must be the heat.”

“Can we get him, Mom, can we, can we?”

Where did this little bundle of energy come from?

Was he born in a large box lined with newspapers and clean blankets in someone’s bedroom? Was his birth eagerly awaited? Was he born of a mother whose owners spent hour upon hour searching the just the right dog to breed to their special girl? Did they check for health, bloodlines, temperament? Was his mother cared for dearly, with no expense spared? Was she perhaps a champion, retired from the show ring? Did she garner green ribbons with her partner in obedience trials? Or did work tirelessly for her owners, bringing in the (proverbial) beef?

Was his father a splendid herding dog, bred for generations to boss around reluctant cattle? Did he, too, prove his inheritance in the show ring or did he gaily surmount obstacles on an agility course? Was this breeding carefully planned for months, if not years? Did his mother’s owners agonize over the wisdom of breeding right now? There are so many unwanted dogs, millions in fact. We don’t want to contribute to that. Are we prepared to back these pups up for the rest of their lives? Were they worried about genetic problems that the pup might have? Did they spend far more money than they could hope to recoup?

Was this pup tenderly cared for from the moment of his birth? Did his mother have a waiting list a mile long just for one of HER special pups?

The answer is no.

His mother’s name is Alice. Well, that’s her name now.

In the past, she was just a nameless red bitch whose whole life was spent in a cage. A cage barely big enough for her to turn around in. A cage that was never cleaned, leaving her to live in her own filth. She ate when someone remembered to throw a little kibble her way.

From the time Alice was old enough, her life was one continuous, never-ending cycle: being bred, pregnancy, whelping her puppies with no kindness and no help. Sometimes they forgot to feed her and she might eat her dead puppies to keep herself alive.

Eventually, she would die. Her body, old before its time from countless pregnancies would be thrown into a shallow grave. Or torched with gasoline. Or other dogs might eat her as she lay dying.

She would never know a kind hand to stroke her head, the joy of playing any game, trails to hike, cows to herd, a human’s feet to rest her head upon.

No, the red puppy’s mother was destined to live and die in a place of horrors called a Puppy Mill. A place where animals are bred to supply that same pet store where Joey and Tessa were enchanted by a red pup’s antics.

But, Alice, after six long years, was rescued with her last litter. The puppy mill was busted. For some dogs, their agony would end in a gentle death. For Alice, and others like her, the magic could begin.

For the first time in her life, Alice was examined and cared for by a strange man with a stethoscope. He, who had seen so much, groaned over her teeth, worn to the gums as she chewed trying to escape her never-ending prison. His experienced eyes filled with tears as he ran his hands over the old unattended scars and her still-swollen teats. Her last litter’s pups were well on their way to their new homes, to play and give their new owners love and joy. And to receive it as well. Gentle hands gave Alice her first bath, cleaning years of filth and debris away.

A feisty, out-spoken lady took her home to begin learning how to be a dog. She met others of her kind, but these ones were blues. So much activity! Her crate now boasted a clean, soft blanket to sleep on, good food to eat and a bone to gnaw on. Everyday, she was touched and fussed over. There were new lessons to learn. This is a leash, you go potty outside, there is love here.

But Alice’s eyes remained empty and bewildered. And the lady knew it was time for Alice to go to a new place, a foster home, to continue her education for her new life.

So Alice flew across the country. Alone, terrified, confused, Alice could not fathom the new tall lady who cooed at her and stroked her scarred head. She could not understand the lady’s two rambunctious dogs. The lady would hold her close, talk to her, kiss her wounded head. Alice couldn’t know it but the magic was beginning to take hold. Her eyes began to brighten. At night, she would sleep with the other dogs on a huge bed. In the daytime, her nails would click on hardwood floors. One day, miracle of miracles, she stole the lady’s dirty pantyhose. More magic. And always the love. From the lady and from strangers who came to admire, love and cry over her.

Soon, Alice will go to her new home. No more puppies, no more endless years in a cell. Just love, kindness and another dog to teach her how to play someday.

And what of the red pup with the patch over his left eye?

The wise mother, for she WAS a wise mother, softly said to her children, “No, we can’t take him home. We don’t know where he came from and we don’t know what to expect from this kind of dog. No begging, pleading or whining on a hot summer’s day would make her yield. For you see, she knew about the puppy mills. If she relented, and it broke her heart a little to leave him there, she knew that she would be supporting the cycle of Puppy Mills.

“Let’s go home and learn more about this kind of dog. Maybe on the Internet we can find a breeder nearby who knows all about his breed of dog. We could visit and learn even more! Or maybe there’s a dog show soon? Wouldn’t that be fun? I bet that kind of dog has a Rescue so we could adopt a Rescue after we learn more about them. Maybe next weekend we could go to our shelter and adopt a nice dog from there! There are better places to get a dog from than here!”

If only all mothers were as wise.

Mia Knerly-Hess


Addendum: Alice was a real dog, and her story is very true. She was a Puppy Mill brood bitch who was rescued in a bust of a Puppy Mill out west and found her forever home in Columbus, Ohio. I knew Alice and I know her parents. Even though she is now at the Rainbow Bridge, her story still haunts me.

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