All across the country, people were protesting in front of Petland stores this weekend. It happens every year during the Holiday season as, The Humane Society of the United States, a private not for profit advocacy group, works to raise awareness about deplorable conditions in puppy mills. Complaints include charges that animals are kept in unsanitary cages, are unsocialized, poorly bred, have numerous health problems, and breeding bitches are kept in cages and impregnated every time they come into heat until they are not longer viable, and then are killed.
I came across one of the protest groups as I was doing my holiday shopping in Lewis Center, OH. A group of people gathered in front of the mall braving frigid temperatures for the sake of abused pups. A spokeswoman for the group, Mary O'Connor-Shaver of Columbus Top Dogs provided a press release which states:
"The goal of this event is to raise awareness of Petland and its relationship to puppy mill breeders and to solicit support from the community asking that Petland stop selling puppies while Central Ohio homeless dogs and puppies wait to be adopted."
She wants the public to understand "There is a difference between reputable breeders and commercial breeders...Pet stores should be more regulated. We are finding these [pet store] dogs are very sick."
She said "Lisa Wahoff, director of the Franklin County Animal Shelter pulled data in 2006 showing that as many as 7 out of every ten dogs coming into the shelter each day could be traced back to Petland sales."
After speaking to the protesters, I took the time to talk with the folks at the Lewis center Petland store. Danny, the manager, brought out the Petland mascot Safari Sam to greet me and pose for pictures. He said Safari Sam was on his way out to the roadside to wave at the cars, and had been out earlier that morning standing side by side with the protest group. "The protesters show up every year during the holidays, but as you can see, it does not affect businesses at all." He said with a wave of his hand, indicating the packed crowd of customers in the store. He was very good natured about the protest and adamantly stated that "all Petland puppies come from U.S.D.A. approved breeders."
A report from the website bestfriends.org provides a comprehensive .pdf report outlining the definition of a puppy mill. One point of note in the reports states:
• Puppy mills are often USDA-licensed so they can sell puppies to pet stores. A USDA license is a red flag that breeders are in the business to make money.
The Petland manager went on to say "Petland does not approve of inhumane animal conditions." "We think of Petland like a pre-school. We sanitize several times a day, and have customers use anti bacterial hand cleaner in between every pup they handle. Sanitation is a number one priority."
In addition, the Petland website provides a comprehensive and scathing retort to the HSUS charges claiming this organization falsified video footage, fools the public, and uses a large percentage of donated monies for salaries and operating costs instead of the intended purpose of saving dogs.
I looked at the puppies and the condition of the cages and could only describe the Petland environment as impeccable. The puppies were handled by many customers who would go into a designated play area and get down on the floor with the pups while a staff member supervised. The staff was very attentive and helpful as they explained various breed traits. Clearly the workers were well informed, and dedicated to matching the right breeds with the families needs. Issues of size, temperament allergies and shedding were all topics I overheard during my visit. If these puppies came from disreputable puppy mills where poor kennel conditions and lack of socialization are a problem, the pups certainly do not live under those conditions once they are in Petland's hands.
The Petland manager also talked about Petland's Adopt-A-Pet program, which connects families who have a litter of puppies or kittens to families looking to adopt. He said "When someone finds a box of abandoned kittens and brings them in to us, we take them in, get them vaccinated, feed them, and provide them with good homes." He want on to add, "Every Petland animal finds a home." Implying Petland does not ever euthanize unwanted animals.
O'Connor-Shaver scoffed at that claim saying "no rescue organization in town has ever been contacted by Petland in regard to developing a partnership for their Adopt-A-Pet program."
I asked Petland what they do when a puppy is growing and no one is buying. "We mark down the price, several times if we have to. Eventually they all find a home."
While that may be true, one anti puppy mill website has posted an interview with a former Petland manager who tells of dogs being brought to the stores by the truckload, and those that do not pass muster are returned to the breeder. What happens to those puppies is unknown.
Petland claims the animal advocacy groups tie their annual protests to year end fundraising drives and prey on the sympathies of consumers to increase donations. The flip side of that argument is the protesters say this is the third year in a row the Ohio legislature has allowed the Puppy Mill bill to die in committee. They claim the commercial pet industry has 'a strong lobby at the statehouse", and "several powerful members of the committee make sure the bill never reaches the floor."
These sites list the names of Ohio legislators involved in the committee hearings on The Puppy Mill Bill, but do not provide details on which legislators have received campaign donations from related lobby groups.
Such information would be most helpful to voters wanting a common sense solution to this issue.
For more information, the on line magazine Dog Owners Guide provides a balanced review of Puppy Mills, respectable breeders, and rescue organizations.
Since the publication of this article, I have recieved a number of e-mails from concerned citizens fighting to protect animals, including a plea for help from The Animal law Coalition. Readers interested in joining the fight to stop animal abuse are invited to visit their website, take action and get involved.
Follow Kelley Bell-Wenzlaff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@kelleybell