The truth about puppy farming
June 20, 2020
In this sad but heartwarming story, puppy farming campaigner Janetta Harvey shares her experience of life with her wonderful dogs who were rescued from the cruel puppy trade.
When five month old Albert Claude breezed into our world in February 2019, he brought with him a vibrancy and innocence that had faded in my mind in recent times. This, despite having lived for the past 25 years with dogs. But my experience of the happiness which dogs bring into our lives has been tempered by the fact that for nine years my life has been shared with several dogs who have been badly damaged by the breeding industry.
My husband and I adopted our first rescue dog in 2011. Susie-Belle was an ex-breeding miniature schnauzer who had survived eight long and dismal years in a puppy farm. She had many problems, both physical and emotional. In the four years we shared together before she died, Susie-Belle blossomed into the wonderful, happy dog she was denied being by her years spent breeding for the lucrative trade in puppies. I had never lived with a traumatised dog and our journey together became the subject of my first book, ‘Saving Susie-Belle’. I hoped that by writing about our life together, it would help others learn about the complete betrayal of dogs which puppy farming is. I’ve since written other books and many articles and blogs. I hope it makes a difference for the dogs.
Introducing our dogs
When our first dog Jasmine died, I wanted to adopt. But, I was heartbroken by the death of Jasmine, and in the midst of my grief, I immersed myself in looking for a puppy. I don’t regret it at all, Renae was bought from a good home breeder and she has been a perfect sister to the five adopted dogs who have subsequently joined our family.
Eighteen months after adopting Susie-Belle, Twinkle came along. She came out of the puppy farm with relatively few physical problems, but major psychological ones. She was intensely touch averse, scared of everything, almost feral in her responses to everyday things. It was many months before we could get a harness and lead on without it taking half an hour of her panicking, fleeing and hiding from us.
Like most dogs from a puppy farm background, Twinkle took comfort from other dogs, not us. She learned most of what she needed to from Renae and Susie-Belle about living in her new, alien world. She was always most at ease when we were on walks, where she was able to use her senses and allowed to be a dog, to be her naturally curious self. I believe strongly that being out and about walking has been the most effective method for helping my traumatised dogs to overcome their difficult backgrounds. Letting dogs be dogs is one of the biggest gifts we can give them.
“But love is not enough to heal Cerise, the damage inflicted by the puppy farmer is deep and her problems are complex.”
When Susie-Belle died, we adopted Cerise, another whose emotional wellbeing was more greatly affected by her years in a puppy farm than her physical health. Like Twinkle, anxiety around humans is pronounced with Cerise. She is reactive and will bite if she feels threatened. In the main, we’ve learnt to spot Cerise’s triggers and intervene to prevent an escalation into her darker ways, which are panic driven and highly suspicious – this after being unconditionally loved in the safest environment a dog can have. But love is not enough to heal Cerise, the damage inflicted by the puppy farmer is deep and her problems are complex.
Twinkle was around 14 years old when Albert Claude arrived and sadly five months later we said our final farewell to her. Angel is named in honour of Twinkle. She is best described as an extrovert. A character trait which undoubtedly helps her to overcome the problems being a breeding dog in a puppy farm cause her. Six months on from adoption and Angel is flourishing.
All my dogs are miniature schnauzers but they are all very different from one another. What they have taught me is that each dog is unique and deserves to be respected and treated as such. Puppy farming harms dogs but the degree and nature of that harm is as individual as the dogs.
What is puppy farming?
Puppy farming is the commercial breeding of puppies with little to no regard for the physical and psychological health of dogs. A puppy farm can be described as anywhere that breeds puppies on an intensive basis in conditions many would regard at best as inadequate, at worst, inhumane. Breeding dogs are given the bare minimum to keep them alive and productive. A fortunate few are given to rescuers and usually have multiple health problems that need treatment before adoption should happen.
Tumours, cataracts, infections, rotten mouths, neurological issues are all common in ex-breeding dogs, as well as deep-seated psychological issues such as aversion to, or fear of humans, major anxieties and reactivity.
In some cases rescue comes too late and their days of freedom are few. For others rescue never comes and they die, or are killed in the puppy farms.
Puppy farms are located all over the UK. Wales has a disproportionately high number due to the rural locations that large-scale operations favour. Disused agricultural buildings – cattle sheds, pig pens and the like – provide the space to contain large numbers of dogs, where the noise and smell can be hidden from scrutiny. However, terrible breeding practices and conditions are also found in suburban locations and residential homes with stacked cages in rooms and breeding sheds in gardens.
Isn’t puppy farming now illegal?
No! From April 2020 in England (not UK-wide) the law requires buyers to deal with breeders directly. In effect this bans pet shops and other third party dealers from selling puppies. However, this does not provide any guarantee that the puppies bought from breeders have not been bred in sheds, barns, puppy farms or that the parent dogs do not live terrible lives of neglect. Much vigilance and education on what to look for is widely needed.
It’s well known that high volume, commercial breeders are selling from residential homes. Or that puppy farmers have public-friendly sales areas. There are sellers that pretend to have bred the puppies themselves, with a female dog being present to give an impression of legality. In other cases, the female dog may well be the mother to the puppies, but once the litter is sold, she’s back in the shed, neglected and unloved.
There are dog dealers getting around the law by claiming to be rescues. It remains a minefield for puppy buyers, especially novices with little experience of dogs or puppies.
Much vigilance and education is widely needed.
When rescued from puppy farms, breeding dogs bring with them years of trauma and history which can take them a long time to get over, and many never fully do. The practical and emotional adjustments we made for Susie-Belle to help her navigate her world continued with the others. Learning to move quietly around the house to avoid creating fear; not making sudden movements near Twinkle who would scuttle off in terror if we did; putting food on the floor for Cerise as a dish was terrifying, all became our normal world.
“As he leaps through his walks and seeks fun at every chance, I marvel at the sheer love of everything in his life that he shows.”
Before Albert Claude came to us, I’d almost forgotten how naturally joyous dogs are. How completely happy a dog can be every single day and most minutes of every day. He has brought back to me, how happy a normal young dog should be. And how very far from that breeding dogs are.
To see him wake up every morning not only without a care in the world, but without awareness of any cares even existing in the world, is invigorating. As he leaps through his walks and seeks fun at every chance, I marvel at the sheer love of everything in his life that he shows.
However, there’s a shadow that hovers around Albert’s origins. For the first two months of his life he lived in one of the UKs largest puppy farms. It’s in Northern Ireland and is so large it confines hundreds of dogs. In 2016 it featured in the BAFTA award winning documentary Puppy Dealers Exposed. It is a legal operation.
This is where Albert Claude was bred, where he spent his formative weeks. It’s where he left behind his mum and dad. So, while I love seeing Albert happy, keen to learn, eager to make the most of every second of his days, I never forget how lucky he is not to have been kept as a breeding dog. His life could have been very different if fate had dealt him different cards. He was sold in a petshop for £650 in England. After one night in his new home, he was given up on and handed to a local rescue. It beggars belief. This is today’s puppy trade. Dogs are disposable. Albert Claude encapsulates so much that is wrong. And so much that is special. He’s ours. He is safe and lives a great life.
Albert Claude and Cerise
Cerise struggles to put her past behind her and the contrast between her and Albert was particularly stark when he first arrived. Where his lightheartedness brightens everyone’s day, some days Cerise would seem to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. She easily becomes suspicious, she can go from a state of apparent relaxation to major panic in a split second. Where Albert was being taught a few basics with liberal use of tasty treats, Cerise had first to conquer a suspicion that we may be luring, not loving her.
However, with Albert’s presence, and the ongoing help which confident Renae has always given her traumatised siblings, Cerise’s problems have definitely lessened. There’s little hint nowadays of the persistent unease which plagued her, she does let herself be happy more days than she does not.
Hastened by Albert’s jubilance, she joins in playing, accepting his regular invitations to run and chase and wrestle her way along familiar trails and forest footpaths. She has within her the cheerfulness which Albert exudes but it is constrained by her history. And probably always will be.
“They have lives worth living, as all dogs deserve, but not all dogs get.”
I want so much for my adopted dogs to forget where they’ve come from and I want their lives to be as rich as we can make them, which means walks, freedom, choices and love. I have no doubt that they all, even worried Cerise, know what it is to be truly loved as this means having choices and being respected for who you are. They have lives worth living, as all dogs deserve, but not all dogs get.
Janetta Harvey is the founder of Schnauzerfest, a charity she set up to provide financial support to rescue organisations that take in puppy farmed dogs. Follow Schnauzerfest on Instagram to keep up to date with news about the dogs it helps. You can read more on Janetta’s blog about her tireless work as a puppy farming campaigner.