Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Dog’s Life Behind Bars for Profit


You would expect a program with a name like “Puppy Mills: Exposed” to be full of gruesome sights, and it is. But perhaps the most dismaying moment in it is, at first glance, benign and trauma free: it shows a chocolate Labrador retriever walking in a circle. Only when you realize that the animal, which was rescued from a wretched breeding mill in Pennsylvania, is doing nothing but walking in a circle does the implication sink in. The dog was caged for so long that this is all it knows how to do.

Puppy Mills,” an episode of “Animal Cops: Philadelphia” having its premiere Monday on Animal Planet, spends much of its time detailing a raid last year at Limestone Kennel in Lancaster County, Pa., where the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found almost 90 dogs living in conditions that more than justify the “viewer discretion” warning at the beginning of the program.
Such operations exist to churn out puppies that can be sold to brokers, who then pass them along to pet stores and other outlets. They are a long way from a Norman Rockwell world where happy dogs romp in the yard and give birth once a lifetime; instead the mills view dogs merely as “puppy-producing machines,” as Bob Baker, an investigator for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, puts it.

“They’re just bred incessantly in horrendous conditions,” he says bluntly, “and as soon as they don’t come into heat regularly, they take them out and shoot them.”
The program acknowledges but doesn’t explore in depth the great contradiction in all this: while puppy mills are turning out dogs at an assembly-line pace, animal shelters are swamped and can’t give their dogs away. A perfunctory written comment from a Pennsylvania breeders’ association is read, but the program would have benefited from some reasoned discussion between breeders and rescuers. Instead it concentrates on shock value — necessary, probably, for calling attention to the problem, but leaving the viewer feeling as if there’s another, less horrific side to the subject.

Puppy Mills: Exposed

Animal Planet, Monday night at 10, Eastern and Pacific time; 9, Central time.

Produced by Granada Anglia. Marie Thomas, executive producer for Granada Anglia. Dawn Sinsel, executive producer for Animal Planet.

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