Lily is just about one of the cutest dogs you can image, both in looks and personality.
Yet, hidden behind her cuteness, are the extreme mental and physical scars she still carries from her past. Lily began her life in a puppy mill – where dogs are intensively ‘farmed’ so puppies can be sold online or to pet shops.
In 2009, I was working for an animal welfare organisation when police were called to a property in regional NSW. Our organisation was quickly called to also attend the property after the officers raised serious concerns about the conditions of the animals being kept there.
Inside, this ‘breeder’, had hundreds of dogs living in putrid conditions. The stench was so vile and some of the animals were in such poor condition, their breed was not initially known.
Petrol had been splashed around the property, including on the animals. Some puppies had been tied together with wire, causing a number of them to choke and die.
In the coming days, almost 200 dogs were seized from the property and taken to shelters for rehabilitation.
Lily was one of them. I also learnt she was one of the dogs whose puppies were so poorly treated.
It became apparent that a man at the property was intensively breeding the dogs in order to sell the puppies to pet shops.
To him, the animals were nothing but breeding machines. They were confined to concrete walls and floors, which were covered in faeces and rotting meat.
Bitches, mainly shihtzus, were forced to endure multiple pregnancies with no veterinary care. Many of the animals were extremely ill.
While the conditions and veterinary care may vary at different puppy mills, the reason for them is the same. This is how pet shops and online vendors get their puppies. The welfare of the animal is put last – a long way behind litter numbers and potential profits.
These animals are fed and given water. Apart from that, they are denied even the most basic animal-welfare right.
Meanwhile, puppies bred in these conditions are the ones that end up being surrendered at shelters later in life. They also end up costing exorbitant amounts of money, because they are bred with multiple veterinary and behavioural issues.
In the months following the dogs’ seizure, Lily fell into the ‘not quite ready’ category. While she had recovered, physically, from her pregnancies, mentally was a different story. She was an extremely cute and friendly girl, but also obviously timid and petrified of everything.
I bonded with Lily immediately and offered to foster her; to work with her and support her as she adapted to a life away from abuse and neglect.
Needless to say, I ended up adopting her.
Today, even 10 years later, Lily is still scarred from her experience.
It took her a long time to be ok with walking on grass. All she’d ever known was a concrete slab, so her feet were overly sensitive. She still won’t allow anyone to touch her feet; she flinches every time and it breaks my heart.
Because of the in-breeding, Lily has some physical abnormalities. She was born with a cleft pallet and has had numerous mouth and dental issues since. She recently had to undergo surgery to remove all her teeth, leaving her tongue now permanently drooping from her mouth.
Lily is one of the lucky ones. Despite the horror she experienced in her first years, she has been given a new life. Most of the ‘mothers’ in puppy farms don’t ever see the outside. They are killed once they are deemed unsuitable for further breeding.
Until then, their lives are a misery.
Sadly, puppy mills continue to thrive in Australia and globally. They are so hidden that many people aren’t even aware of their existence.
For every cute puppy for sale in a pet-shop window, there is a Lily. There are hundreds like her, suffering horrifically in order for consumers to purchase an ‘adorable’ cross-breed puppy.
The truth is, the only humane place from which to purchase a puppy is a shelter or registered breeder.
Not only are you avoiding cruelty, but also all the physical and behavioural problems that go hand-in-hand with intensively-bred dogs.
While we are increasingly becoming more aware of puppy farms and intensive farming in Australia, we still have a long way to go. Many people still don’t realise the atrocities behind the cute puppy on Gumtree, to the litter playing together in the pet shop window.
Please, think about dogs like Lily the next time you, or someone you know, wants to purchase a puppy online or in a pet shop.
It’s simple: if there is no demand, there will be no puppy farms. We need to educate people to realise where these dogs are coming from. It is so important.
As more and more people become aware and choose to buy only from registered breeders and shelters then, slowly, the puppy mills will go out of business.
Dogs are beautiful, intelligent creatures, but the choices we make are allowing hundreds of thousands to suffer.