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Biden in the Doghouse

Posted: 12/15/08 10:15 AM ET

A boy and his dog. It's the great American story of loyalty, friendship, adventure and a life shared together, happily ever after. While the news of Vice President elect Joe Biden and his new wiggly, cute-as-all-get-out purebred German Shepherd puppy is generating lots of positive reports, many of us in the animal community are afraid of what Mr. Biden's decision means for the millions of homeless animals that are euthanized every year and for the dogs in puppy mills that are treated like commodities and not the sentient, social creatures that they are.

But before we call for the head of our newly elected V.P., let's not throw out the puppy with the bathwater. Biden happens to have an excellent record on animal welfare and rights issues across the board. This temporary lapse in judgment could be due to a number of factors, one of which is the fact that his wife is the one who picked out the dog for her husband. For those of us in the animal welfare/rights movement, every decision we make is most likely based on whether or not it negatively affects an animal somewhere, somehow. We go to sleep thinking about animals, we dream about them, and we spend many of our waking hours working to save and protect them. It's just possible that Joe Biden has a few other things on his mind these days that include issues like our tanking economy, global warming, the war on terror and healthcare reform. Now this is not to excuse his choice to purchase a puppy from a breeder, it's just an attempt to explain a decision that has broken the heart of animal rescuers, welfarists and shelter workers the world over.

Some may wonder what the big deal is. This is just one family and one dog. But what high profile people do in this country matters to the rest of us. By purchasing a puppy instead of adopting, Mr. Biden is setting a poor example and is unwittingly promoting breeders and puppy mills. There are millions of dogs, puppies, cats and kittens who, through no fault of their own, end up in shelters and abandoned by owners who weren't prepared to take on the responsibility of a pet. Because not enough people are adopting homeless animals, over 65% of healthy, adoptable, loving and lovable pets are being killed every day for lack of homes. It's appalling and tragic and cruel to keep popping out pups on the one hand while killing so many on the other.

The Bidens found their puppy in Pennsylvania, a state notorious for hundreds of puppy mills where thousands of animals live in hellish and deplorable conditions. If you are one of the few people who didn't see or hear about the show Oprah did on puppy mills, here is a brief glimpse for you into that sordid world. There are rows upon rows of small dirty cages, stacked on top of each other, in which mother dogs will spend their entire lives, never once leaving the cage, never seeing a vet and never experiencing the loving touch of a human hand.

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These dogs are housed in fetid, dark sheds and barns or left outside in cages exposed to the cold, the heat, the rain and the snow. They must try and balance on the wire floors of their cages where many an injury takes place and broken limbs are the norm. But this doesn't matter to the breeder because he's just looking for the most efficient way to keep the cages clean. Funnily enough, the cages don't actually stay clean because the feces don't always fall through the wire so mama dog and her puppies must live in their own excrement for much of the time. And woe to the dogs who live in the bottommost cages stacked under the others. If it wasn't bad enough to live on wire, it's even worse because these dogs never get taken out of their cages for exercise. They are doomed to a space just big enough to take a step or two forward and back. When these mommy and daddy dogs are rescued from puppy mills that have been raided due to neglect and substandard conditions, they often must learn how to walk on a hard surface, their steps shaky and unsure due to a life on wire.

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The dogs are never seen by a vet, because that cuts into the breeders profit, and often they contract horrible cases of mange, their teeth fall out from infected gums and they endure painful sores and injuries although none of this really compares to the loneliness and isolation these pups experience day in and tedious day out that must be hell on earth for such a social creature. The list of offenses by puppy mill breeders unfortunately goes on and on. Some breeders cut the vocal cords without anesthesia so they don't have to hear the constant barking from their forlorn dogs who are literally going out of their minds from boredom. And when the mama dog has finally outlived her usefulness, the puppy mill breeder drags her out of her cage and for the first and last time, she feels the earth under her feet until she is shot or drowned or killed in some other manner, then thrown in the trash heap, finally dead to the pain but hopefully at peace. All of the conditions described above are within the law, believe it or not, so imagine what it takes to get a puppy mill shut down.

Every time a person buys a dog, whether from a breeder, a pet store or the internet, they are indirectly inflicting tremendous pain and suffering on a multitude of animals who live wretched lives in puppy mills. They are also perpetuating the pet overpopulation problem with their purchase and condemning far too many animals to an unjust and untimely death. Even though I respect our new Vice President and wish him all the luck in the world in his new job, I deeply lament this latest Biden gaffe.