Friday, August 4, 2017

A Dog's Life

ALMOST anything that turns a profit is industrialized. Like pet dogs. Beginning in the 1950s, struggling pig and poultry farmers began breeding puppies for extra income. "It was a cheap and easy fix: You just converted your coops into indoor-outdoor kennels," says Bob Baker, the executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation in a Rolling Stone article. "Pups cost nothing to raise, you'd sell them for $50 a head in town, and every five months you had a whole new litter – then dozens, as the puppies began breeding," Bob adds. What followed was a 40-year explosion of puppy mills or commercial kennels where profit counts more than the dogs' well-being.

          I read three investigative articles plus data from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) that zoomed in on puppy mills and dog kennels all over the country that breed dogs for sale. Horrible! If some people treat dogs like this, we might as well set them free to fend for themselves because they will. Those dogs are treated worse than convicts in jails. In fact, worse than prisoners of war in concetration camps. We love dogs so much, extremes, to the point that it is so ridiculous--yet after what I read, and maybe I am naive, we need a thorough reexamination of ourselves when it comes to our relationship with animals. Being a vegan, animal rescuer, or PETA activist aren't enough.
         The number of pet dogs in America boomed between 1970 and today, tripling to almost 80 million. Pet-shop commerce boomed in tandem, from practically nothing in the Fifties to nearly $65 billion in 2015. Where once you adopted your pup from the neighbors, now there is a Furry Paws down the block with dozens of designer puppies in the window. When profit come in, it is so easy to let our humanity go out the door.

SINCE dogs first crossed the Siberian land bridge and set foot in human encampments in America, they have been much more than pets and companions to us. They made life tenable in this primal place. They chased off wolves and bears while first inhabitants of this land slept, caught and retrieved the game they ate, and dined on the garbage left behind. Over the course of 10 millennia, a bond was forged between species that hunkered together for survival. And then business evolved. Then boom! A small bag of ZiwiPeak Venison air-dried babedawg food is $108.11 or about $1.25 per ounce.
          Trivia. A UK woman named Katy Harris made headlines recently for spending £27,000 a year (that’s over $39,000) on her three pampered Boston terriers. In addition to custom leashes, clothing, and furniture, she provides her pampered pups with “the finest organic food” served in porcelain bowls emblazoned with their names. We don’t know exactly what goes in those fancy bowls, but perhaps it’s one of the dog foods on this list.

PET business is a multi-billion industry. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) publishes a chart that breaks down average annual expenses for different types and sizes of pet. According to the ASPCA, a small dog will cost you $1,314 in the first year, a medium dog $1,580. Want a large dog? Be prepared to spend $1,843 in your first year as a dog owner.
         Meantime, by just walking down the pet aisle at a big supermarket you may have gotten a sense of the industry's profit. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), total pet industry expenditures reached $60.59 billion in 2015. That’s up from $58.04 billion in 2014. Americans spent a total of $23.04 billion on pet food, $14.39 billion on supplies/OTC medicine, $15.73 billion on vet care, $2.19 billion on live animal purchases and $5.24 billion on pet services like grooming and boarding.

IT is kind of unbelievable how puppies survive the gantlet to pet stores. Birthed by sick and stressed-out moms; snatched from their litters at eight weeks of age and loaded onto trucks for the hours-long drive to the next stop in the supply chain, puppy brokers; kept in a warehouse with hundreds of other pups, many of them sick with respiratory problems or infections of the eyes and ears; then again trucked with dozens of those dogs for the one- or two-day drive to distant states. Puppy brokers are wholesalers who buy from breeders, keep a running stock of dozens of breeds, then sell and ship the pups for a hefty markup.
          The biggest of those brokers, the now-defunct Hunte Corporation, professionalized the trade in the Nineties. They bought up other brokers, made large investments in equipment, trucks and drivers, and moved thousands of dogs a month from their facility in Goodman, Missouri. Says an animal protection detective: "Of the 2,000 pups they'd have on-site, hundreds were in their 'hospital' getting antibiotics. A day or two later, they'd load 'em on 18-wheelers and send them, still sick, to the stores."

THE USDA oversees thousands of dog breeder licensees nationwide with a yearly budget of about $28 million. Roughly 10,000 unannounced inspections are conducted annually to enforce the law. And what has that enforcement produced by way of penalties? Less than $4 million in fines over the past two years, a dozen or so breeders forced to turn in their licenses – and exactly none handed over for prosecution. In fact, just a handful of breeders on the Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) Horrible Hundred list – compiled every year from public records of chronic offenders – have been put out of business. And none of them have been made to answer in court for their proven mistreatment of dogs.

[Individual dogs in photos are Georgia and Chloe, our dogs. The two by the window are c/o The Internet.]

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