My Turn: Latte’s story – the toll of puppy mills
When the tall man with large hands reached out and took me from Miss Debbie’s arms to carry me onto the long, black trailer, I could feel my heart pounding fast. He walked quickly up the plank and gave my name to the woman waiting at the top of the ramp behind a small desk.
“Latte,” he announced as he watched the woman behind the desk search the list in front of her. Then he handed me off to another man who held me tight against his chest. This man must have known I was afraid – or maybe he felt me shaking in his arms because he kept repeating, “You okay, you okay” as he carried me down the narrow passageway that was lined with rows of cages, one on top of another.
When we arrived at the cage that was to be mine, he stroked me gently one last time before placing me inside. Then he leaned down and whispered through the cage door, “no te preocupes, not te preocupes, perrito,” and rushed away.
All around me were the jumbled voices of men shouting above the fearsome barks of big dogs and the high-pitched yelping of smaller ones. I was afraid they were bringing me back to the puppy mill, and I wanted to howl for help, but I waited quietly for Miss Debbie to return – to take me back to all the new friends I had made on the farm. Soon the lights in the trailer flickered and then went out, just as the steel doors of the truck closed with a sharp bang.
When the engine started up, I huddled in the dark in the corner of my cage, afraid that I would never see Miss Debbie again, but the little wool sweater she put on me that night was keeping me warm, and my heart felt glad for all her kindness.
As the trailer moved away from Bulls Gap, the loud sound of shifting gears soon gave way to the steady hum of the highway. In time the big black dog with only three legs, who was crying out so loud and long in the cage next to mine, finally settled down, and his soft whimper made me feel that I was not alone, or the only frightened dog on that truck in Tennessee that dark November night. We were all on our way – but to where, I wondered. Then I remembered Miss Debbie’s promise, that this truck would bring me to my forever home where I would be safe and loved, so I curled up, closed my eyes and went to sleep.
The puppy mill
Latte was bred for profit for eight years in a puppy mill in Missouri, where she gave birth to litter after litter until she was no longer of use to this breeding operation. She was kept in a small cage with other breeding dogs, denied of human love or kindness and given little care. When the rescue crew arrived, they found her coast so matted that she could not lift her head, and the open sores under her eyes were proof of how she had suffered in this place.
The woman volunteer who drives dogs from puppy mills and other abusive situations to rescue centers said she and her partner cannot stop for rest or food when transporting these animals because so many of them are seriously ill or near death.
Latte was given medical treatment when she arrived at Bright Hope Animal Rescue on a farm owned by Debbie Ramey in Greeneville, Tenn. There she had to have all but four of her teeth extracted because they were so severely decayed. Only the four front teeth on her lower jaw could be saved, but they were so protruding from having been used to gnaw and pull on the metal bars of the cage that confined her for all those years at the puppy mill that her top lip could not conceal them. Her snaggletoothed grin might have been cute had it not been such a painful reminder of her unsuccessful attempt to escape.
Because she was forced to walk only in the limited space of her cage at the puppy mill, Latte continued to walk only in circles for many months after she came to live with me. But in time she learned to walk up and down stairs, to run freely on grass, and to know the comfort of a warm bed and plenty of attention. She was a sweet, timid little girl when she arrived, who learned to trust the love she was given.
She finally blossomed and drew day by day into her true, spirited poodle personality. And she was a model patient, so forgiving and cooperative, during her long recovery from an operation involving removal of several mammary tumors that first year we were together.
Recently the cancer caught up with her again, and her health and spirit quickly took a downward turn. X-rays showed that the cancer had spread to several of her organs – the result of all those year of breeding. She died May 22.
‘Saving one dog’
I hope that all who read this story will pray for the dogs who still languish in places where they are bred solely for profit and without regard for their well-being by learning more about puppy mills and “backyard” breeders, and by urging the passage of laws in this state and other states that will put an end to these practices.
The Human Society of the United States estimates that there are more than 10,000 puppy mills and backyard breeders operating in the United States today, despite their ongoing efforts to rescue these dogs and to introduce more stringent laws to protect them. You can learn more about puppy mills and ways you can help to ensure that the purchase of a puppy does not support one of these places by visiting their website.
In addition, please advise your friends and family members who want to purchase a pet to first consider adopting a rescue animal from a shelter.
If adoption is not their choice, please encourage them to not purchase a puppy from a pet store that sells puppies. These stores must often rely on puppy mills for their supply. Some chain pet stores, such as Petco and PetSmart, do not sell puppies for this reason. Instead, they help support local shelters by showcasing rescued dogs and cats that are candidates for adoption.
There are guidelines to finding responsible and well-informed breeders. Most important is meeting and interviewing the breeder and witnessing firsthand the condition of their breeding dogs to be certain that they are not bred more often than is recommended and are not confined for long periods of time.
The best breeders treat their dogs as members of their family and give them proper medical attention, training and plenty of attention and love – all conditions necessary to raising healthy, well-socialized companion animals.
Your effort in this regard will be rewarded if it saves but one dog.
The quotation on my refrigerator magnet says, “Saving one dog will not change the world, but for that one dog, the world will be forever changed.”
I will be forever grateful for Latte’s presence in my life and for the people who helped her on her journey to her final home – to the volunteer for rescuing her, to Debbie Ramey for sheltering her, to my son and other family members for embracing her, and finally to Dr. Katherine Evans and her staff at the Holistic Veterinary Center in Concord for their gentle care and to Dr. Allen J. Tucker at Daniel Webster Animal Hospital in Bedford for his wisdom, kindness and compassion.
(Leslie Skimmings lives in Hopkinton.)