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Opinion: Closing down puppy mills isn’t a “radical animal rights” move — it’s all about decency

On Saturday, Sept. 21, I woke up to a news release titled “On Puppy Mill Awareness Day, Rep. Duran & First Gentleman Reis Draw Attention to the Need to Protect Our Canine Friends.” 

They focused on the utterly reprehensible inhumane conditions at puppy mills in Colorado and across the United States.

The timing for the release of Rep. Monica Duran and First Gentleman Marlon Reis’ intentions couldn’t have been better, because the third Saturday in September is Puppy Mill Awareness Day.

Marc Bekoff

This is a perfect time, as is every day, for everyone to pay close attention to the horrific conditions at puppy mills and to pay homage to their innocent and non-consenting residents.

No dog in their right mind would choose to live in one of these inhumane hellholes, where they’re housed in tiny, crowded cages 24/7, go without veterinary care, are poorly fed, and often live in their own and others’ waste.

I hope that no human would ever choose to relinquish their dog to a puppy mill. Making money is first and foremost, at the expense of the health and well-being of their residents who are forced to live there. Of course, kitten factories that are just as bad as puppy mills also need to be closed down as well. 

Dogs are sentient, feeling beings, and there is no doubt that they don’t like being held captive in a puppy mill. It surely isn’t anything close to a good life, and we’re surely not doing all we can to give them the best lives possible.

Someone once told me that when they talked to some people who ran a puppy mill, the breeders said they really loved their dogs. I’m glad they don’t love me. 

When someone says something like, “We really don’t know what dogs feel,” I point them to a huge database on the emotional lives of these amazing nonhumans. There’s more than enough science that clearly shows that dogs and other animals are emotional beings. I also tell myself I’m glad I’m not their dog. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

What also baffles me is how anyone who even marginally cares about animal well-being can ignore or deny the pain and suffering that these dogs inarguably endure, along with the egregious abuse and violence to which dogs who are treated as breeding machines are subjected.

The Puppy Mill Project reports, “Mothers are bred every heat cycle and are usually killed when they can no longer produce.” It’s estimated that more than two million puppies are sold annually. 

Caring for other species is caring for our own. By closing down puppy mills, humans might also benefit. For example, dogs from puppy mills can carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. While more research is needed in this area, there’s no reason to assume that we will not learn much more about how human health is tied to dogs’ health.

Legislation is sorely needed to protect dogs and humans in all sorts of different situations. In Colorado, a pet store sold sick dogs who eventually died.

One man, Christopher Paup, who bought a pug puppy for his 5-year-old niece, told Fox31 News that the pup was diagnosed with distemper shortly after he bought the dog from this pet shop.

He is quoted as saying, “Lawmakers need to do something about this. Otherwise, innocent families like my own are going to continue to deal with such problems.”

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Paup. If any issue is clear, it’s that humans and dogs need to be protected. Focusing on puppy mills, it’s obvious they’re horrific welfare nightmares for their residents and also can be for humans who buy dogs who come from these breeding facilities.

Closing down puppy mills isn’t some sort of “radical animal rights” move as some claim it to be. In fact, it’s all about decency. It’s about showing respect and compassion and honoring who dogs really are, namely, deeply feeling sentient beings.

How can anyone oppose removing dogs from these conditions? I bet opponents wouldn’t put their dog into a puppy mill. Let’s move to close them down once and for all. 

We need a Golden Rule for how we treat other animals based on decency, including of course, companion dogs and other nonhumans we welcome into our homes and, I hope, into our hearts.

Not speaking out against puppy mills and other forms of abuse is inconsistent with caring about each and every individual and wanting to give them the best life possible. Calling dogs “our best friends” is a fabrication and a myth that isn’t based on reality.   

Thanks to Rep. Duran and First Gentleman Reis for focusing their efforts on puppy mills. If someone supports puppy mills, they need to be openly clear why they do so at the expense of the pain, suffering, and death that our so-called best friends experience and from which they can’t possibly escape.

Dogs really aren’t humans’ best friends, and they matter because they’re alive, have intrinsic value, and are deeply feeling beings. Their forever homes should be with humans who really care about them, not with people who treat them as breeding and money machines, and who don’t give a hoot about their well-being.

If someone chooses not to speak out against puppy mills (and kitten farms), they’re complicit in the violence that occurs in these places. Silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly. 

Nonhumans, including dogs, need all the help they can get, and humans also will benefit from such efforts. It’s a win-win for all. 

Marc Bekoff is Professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado (Boulder). He is a member of the governor-appointed People for Animal Welfare (PAW) committee, members of which play an advisory role on issues related to animal welfare and animal protection in Colorado. Marc speaks here as an individual. 


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