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Amish Country: It's not just buggies and furniture

The dirty, little secret of the Midwest Amish

By: Janelle Kowal

The nauseating stench of a rendering plant wafting through the air, hundreds of filthy cages stacked high in an unventilated pole barn, filled with whimpering, barking, traumatized dogs of every breed, and more on the way in horse trailers, dilapidated vehicles and horse-drawn buggies. Dogs cowering in the corner of their cages, many with open sores, engorged teats and pregnant. Having no name and no concept of a caring human or loving home, they await their fate of being transferred to another puppy mill, sold to research or disposed of and killed. Welcome to the Buckeye Dog Auction!

It is no secret that the majority of puppies sold in pet stores begin their lives in what has come to be known as a "puppy mill"; a place where puppies are mass produced by the irresponsible over breeding of dogs for profit. Typically, the care and living conditions of these dogs is sub-standard at best, and those who profit from this lucrative, yet shameful business, yield high profit margins by supplying minimal care or concern for the physical and mental wellbeing of their dogs. These breeding dogs are nothing more than factory equipment or robots, breeding machines if you will, and the puppies, merely products for sale. There is no regard for the life that exists, begins, is sold or remains inside the mill. However, there remains one secret in this industry; a very dirty, little secret that most find extremely hard to comprehend. The secret being: many of these puppy mills are owned, operated and flourish within the Amish communities of the Midwestern United States. That's right; it is not just buggies, baskets and furniture for sale in Amish Country, U.S.A. In fact, one of the most prominent and lucrative businesses for the Amish is the puppy mill, and they are as private about this appalling contradiction of their culture as they are their lifestyle and existence in general.

There has always been a mystique surrounding the Amish culture, their beliefs and their communities. While they welcome the public onto their land, into their shops and offer a brief glimpse into their daily lives, they are typically a very private people, with staunch traditions and an apparent disdain for material things, technology and capitalism. Seemingly peaceful and mild, they cloister themselves within their own communities. Remarkably pious and loyal, they appear to thrive in agriculture and carpentry and crafts. The Amish communities are unmistakable: horse-drawn buggies, traditional, humble garb and a complete forfeiture of greed, technology and the advancements of modern society. One would be average in believing that they are friendly in inviting outsiders into their communities, yet shun most of what they may recognize in us as typical, American culture. It is also very easy to perceive the Amish as having a profound connection to the land, treading lightly ecologically and economically. And with such devout religious beliefs, it is even easier to infer that the Amish are collectively and diametrically opposed to cruelty or violence of any kind toward humans or animals. Sadly, this is a myth that was quickly dispelled the day I entered one Amish community in Ohio, not as a wide-eyed tourist, but as an animal rights activist.

On Saturday, April 21, 2007, I joined colleagues in protest of a dog auction which was heavily publicized and advertised in Ohio. The Buckeye Dog Auction takes place frequently in various locations throughout Ohio, but this day, it was held in Holmes County at the auction barn of A. Raber. The purpose of the auction is to trade, sell and basically dispose of breeding dogs that are no longer making the desired profits of the puppy millers, Amish and otherwise. Those who attend the auctions are seeking to relinquish their own dogs, purchase others to breed in their mills or to sell their dogs to research or anyone for any reason for the right price. One might question the motivation in doing so, particularly within the Amish culture, as the concept, conflict and the profitability are so contradictory to what we understand of them. But, it is the Amish that were the greatest offenders and greatest profiteers at this auction. Some in horse-drawn carriages, others in vehicles and even motorcycles, all with the intention to make money by perpetuating the suffering of a living being.

My knowledge of puppy mills and the fact that I have two of my own dogs who were rescued from a life in the misery that is the mill, still did not prepare me for what I witnessed at this auction. The sheriffs were accommodating, and the media were engaging and interested, but the atrocity of this auction was something I won't soon forget. Pregnant and nursing female dogs were stacked in filthy cages and crates, some 3 deep in dogs. A Chihuahua with a gaping wound, puppies covered in feces, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with severe diarrhea were just a few examples of what was inside the auction barn. The majority of the 300+ dogs cowered in the corners of their cages, or tried to maneuver around their own feces. Puppies and smaller dogs could barely find a place to comfortably stand, as their paws slipped through the wire mesh bottoms of the cages. Unsocialized, sick and afraid of human hands, the dogs only had numbers to correspond with their identity in the auction catalog. Many attendees came seeking a family pet, lacking the knowledge or concern for the industry and cruelty they were promoting by obtaining a dog in this manner. Unfortunately for them, many of these dogs will not prove to be the family pet they were anticipating, as most are plagued with a multitude of physical and psychological problems which require a lot of dedication, patience and money to correct.

I will never be able to get the images of these dogs and these people who profit from their suffering out of my mind. The smell of the rendering plant nearby, as well as the auction barn itself permeated my nostrils and my memory. The scene at the Buckeye Dog Auction could not have been any worse if an author was writing an evil character plot for a movie. And the puppy millers, particularly the younger Amish, spew their ignorance and propaganda to the protesters, the media and their attendees who know not what they are contributing to by purchasing dogs from puppy mills. The anti-animal rights sentiments and lies are bred into these fledgling puppy millers as efficiently and dangerously as the dogs they breed themselves. Many believe that operating a puppy mill, disposing of dogs and treating animal life with no compassion is considered "agriculture". One would be hard pressed to explain what a 5 pound, barbarically debarked Pomeranian or toothless English Bull dog has to do with agriculture. Many have also been taught that animals need nothing more than food and water, a basic requirement that is often barely met just to remain in business and under the radar of inspectors. I was even advised that PETA and other groups have been involved in the blatant abuse and murder of dogs. Quick to paint the picture of me as an unbalanced, extremist who contributes nothing to society as they claim they do, many puppy millers were confrontational and defensive about what they believe to be a legitimate business.

The business of operating a puppy mill, Amish or otherwise, appears to be multi-generational, caters to a variety of people and is an equal opportunity disgrace with very high profit margins and minimal regulation. To contribute to the suffering and maltreatment of an animal for profit is unacceptable. To do so while representing a community steeped in religious conviction, and seemingly opposed to greed and monetary success, is mind-boggling, insulting and an abomination. One should not only reconsider purchasing a puppy from a pet store or a puppy mill, but his stance on those who perpetuate this business, including the Amish. It is immoral, cruel and a direct contradiction of the image that the Amish portray to the majority of the country. This is not to say that all Amish are involved in this hideous business, just as there are many exceptions to every stereotype and demographic. Many non-Amish also participate in the puppy mill industry, as well as the auctions. I simply find it curious that there are those in the Amish community who profit from the suffering of animals.

Please do not contribute to this vicious cycle of abuse, suffering and greed. If you are seeking a specific breed, there are many reputable breeders available, it only requires a bit of research. Puppy mills provide the puppies you see in pet stores, as well as those advertised in the newspapers. Exercising a little compassion and common sense would prove beneficial to you and your family, as well as the dogs. Rescue and shelters are also abundant, affordable and have a surplus of dogs that need families. The next time you stroll through the Amish community in your area, take a look around. With a trained eye, you may see stacks of caged dogs on the backside of a home, or a suspicious old building or trailer on the property. Chances are, this is an Amish puppy mill. And if you are ever compelled to go to an auction, please be aware of the horror you will likely see and commit yourself and your wallet to a lot of Veterinary care and heartbreak in your future if you purchase one of those dogs. It is no place for a child, a decent, compassionate human being and certainly not a dog.

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