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Puppy Mill Video

July 27, 2006


By John Grogan
Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist

The video is grainy, jumpy and silent, taken surreptitiously by a small hidden camera.

What it shows is what people buying cute puppies from a pet store or Internet site never see - the conditions inside large, profit-driven dog-breeding operations more commonly known as puppy mills.

They are not pretty pictures: Dogs standing in their own excrement in tight pens. Dogs living in cages with wire-mesh flooring that appears to visibly hurt their paws as they walk on it. Dogs in pens exposed to wind and rain. Dogs doubled up in small kennels designed for one. Unkempt breeding stock with matted fur. Newborn puppies on plywood flooring with no bedding.

The video was shot by an undercover animal-rights investigator hired by a member of an ad hoc committee advising Gov. Rendell on the problem of puppy mills in Pennsylvania. It was shot in May at 15 large breeding kennels in Berks, Chester and Lancaster Counties. Largely run by traditional farmers as a side business, they are the type of operations that have given Pennsylvania the dubious moniker of "puppy mill capital of the East."

Rendell, a dog lover who owns two rescued golden retrievers, wants to crack down on the operations and has expressed frustration with his own Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement for not aggressively enforcing regulations already on the books.

Bob Baker, a longtime animal advocate and a member of the ad hoc committee, said he arranged the undercover video to counter Department of Agriculture arguments that the puppy-mill problem has been overstated by animal-rights activists and the media.

The conditions shown in the video are far from horrific, but they also are far from the warm image most dog buyers have of the place their puppy came from. These clearly are commercial puppy factories; the animals are treated no differently from livestock. They are a commodity, and one that spends most of its life inside a cage.

In one of the more distressing scenes, the video shows a kennel near Kutztown with a long row of pens, each with a circular wire exercise treadmill in which a small dog runs endlessly, its only access to exercise.

At the same kennel, the farmer takes the undercover visitor, posing as a customer, to a pen of puppies hidden on the property. The pen's only protection from the elements is a piece of plywood lying across the top. "I'm hiding them so my inspector doesn't know about them," the investigator quotes the farmer as saying.

The video shows a Lancaster kennel where the dogs are kept in small crates inside a dark barn.

The investigator, who asked that his name not be used because he is continuing his undercover work, said he visited 25 kennels in the three counties, and 10 - all small operations - appeared to be without violations. He said the 15 where he documented cramped and unsanitary conditions all had been inspected and licensed through the state.

Baker said the video gets to the heart of the problem - kennels that manage to obtain and hold their licenses despite what he said are obvious violations of state regulations.

"It is a problem and a serious problem," he said. "The biggest problem is just lack of enforcement of the laws we already have. There are just blatant violations at some of these kennels."

Rendell, who already has fired the entire state Dog Law Advisory Board, wants that to change. Animal advocates are urging him to order a shakeup of the Bureau of Dog Law.

Baker believes the Agriculture Department is too close to the breeders to aggressively enforce the laws.

When I asked Agriculture Department officials to comment, they referred me to the governor's office.

Spokeswoman Kate Philips said: "From the Department of Agriculture's point of view, they're doing the best with what they have, but it just isn't good enough. There are some pretty egregious cases of abuse out there."

Dogs are not people, but they also are not widgets. It's time for serious reform.

John Grogan | ONLINE EXTRA


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