When I met Brandy, a black-and-white Boston terrier, she leaned in close for a cuddle. Her glossy coat, smiling face and friendly nature were proof that she was in loving hands.
It wasn't always that way. Two years earlier, teams with the Humane Society of the United States helped to rescue Brandy, and nearly 100 other breeding dogs, from a Virginia puppy mill, which is a large-scale, inhumane commercial breeding facility.
Three-year-old Brandy was found sweltering in an outdoor enclosure with no water or food. She and two other dogs were in a pen littered with feces. Brandy was underweight, dehydrated and flea-infested. Jutting out from her eye was a red, inflamed growth resembling half of a peppermint candy. Except for her round, pregnant belly, she was skin and bones. After an emergency C-section, Brandy lost two pups. She then performed a rescue of her own, nursing two orphaned beagle puppies alongside her one surviving pup.
Sadly, Brandy's story of abuse and neglect isn't unique. Rescuers often find dozens — sometimes hundreds — of dogs like Brandy in puppy mills all over the country, when people put profit above animal welfare.
Now there is hope for puppy mill dogs, particularly those sold over the Internet by commercial breeders who've escaped regulation for years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a rule that would hold large-scale breeders who sell dogs over the Internet accountable to basic humane standards for shelter, care and exercise.
Commercial breeders who sell to pet stores are required to be federally licensed and inspected and meet basic humane standards. But Internet sellers who market thousands of puppies a year directly to consumers are exempt, even though they may keep and breed just as many animals as those who sell to pet stores.
Dogs across the country, including Oklahoma, have been waiting a long time for this rule. In the past five years, law enforcement officials busted 12 puppy mills in Oklahoma. Nationwide, the HSUS has helped rescue more than 8,000 dogs from puppy mills that weren't federally licensed, including operators who were selling dogs online.
So many dogs are languishing because they're hidden away in unlicensed facilities that are never inspected. In fact, the number of dog dealers licensed by the USDA has gone down in recent years, in part (many believe) because of dealers who migrated to the Web to get around federal law and avoid oversight.
While their websites show images of cute, clean puppies and describe bucolic pastures where the puppies supposedly romp, the reality is filthy wire cages stacked on top of each other and sick dogs suffering with no protection from heat or cold.
The suffering of dogs in puppy mills has grown because current regulations haven't kept pace with technology. It's time to correct that and provide some protection for Brandy and the thousands of dogs like her.
Kahn is senior director of the Humane Society of the United States' puppy mills campaign.