“How much is that doggie in the window? The one with the waggly tail? How much is that doggie in the window? I do hope that doggie’s for sale.”

As a little kid, I sang along with the lyrics from this Patti Page hit of the early 1950s. Now, when I hear the lyrics or even the title of the song, I get a bit of a sick feeling because it brings up images of cute puppies for sale in pet stores. But there’s more to the story. Many, most, or all of these pet shop cuties have probably come from puppy mills.

What’s a puppy mill? According to the ASPCA, puppy mills are large-scale commercial dog breeding operations where profit is placed above the well-being of animals. Bred without consideration of genetic quality, this produces generations of dogs with unchecked hereditary defects.

“Some puppy mill puppies are sold to pet shops and marketed as young as eight weeks of age. The lineage records of puppy mill dogs are often falsified, and puppy mill dogs are often plagued with health problems.”

The subject of these mills is in the news now because of revised restrictions in California. As of last week, California is officially the first state to ban puppy mills with a new law that will take effect Jan. 1, 2019.

It will require pet store owners to sell dogs, cats, and rabbits from animal shelters, rescue groups, or adoption centers. Stores could receive fines of 500 dollars for the sale of an animal that is not a rescue.

According to the president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, “This is a significant milestone in easing the overcrowding of homeless animals in California shelters, relieving county budgets and stopping the abusive puppy mill industry.”

According to the ASPCA, supporters of these pet store laws say they help break the supply chain and put the mills out of business. The organization’s website states that the life of a puppy mill dog is not good. To maximize profits, female dogs are bred at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. The parents of the pet store puppy are unlikely to make it out of the mill alive – and neither will the many puppies born with physical problems.

Puppy mill dogs are prone to congenital and hereditary conditions that include epilepsy, heart disease, kidney disease, blood disorders, eye problems, mange, pneumonia, heartworm, upper respiratory infections, and parvovirus – just to name a few.

These poor animals not only lack proper veterinary care but they are neglected in other ways too. Mill dogs do not get exercise, grooming, treats, or toys. Some never have an opportunity to walk on grass and spend their lives standing on wire flooring.

In some cases, they live outdoors and are exposed to the elements or stacked in columns in filthy structures. They don’t have the luxury of sunshine or fresh air.

We know this is the case because staff members at the Beatrice Animal Shelter have cared for dogs that have been abused and neglected in puppy mills. Their feet are deformed from the wire cages, their eyes are soupy, and their fur is matted and flea infested.

Just a week ago, a puppy mill purebred dog was relinquished to the Beatrice Animal Shelter by her new owners. The dog was listless, lethargic, and spent all day just lying around. After years of being used for breeding, she just doesn’t know how to be a dog.

Her new parents felt helpless and made the difficult decision to take her to the shelter. Now, with some tender loving care and lots of patience, this canine is in foster care and making progress. But it all happens slowly.

I do not want to imply that all dog breeders are operating puppy mills. There are many reputable dog breeders who are conscientious and take good care of their animals. But as is the case with many things, the laws need to be in place to protect us from the bad operators.

Soon, in California at least, the cute puppy you see in the pet store will be coming from a rescue group or animal shelter instead of a breeder. The dog will be healthier and more socialized. Owner and animal will both have a better outcome.

This has been the case with cats and kittens that are up for adoption at the two Lincoln PetSmart locations. As you may know, PetSmart partners with the Beatrice Animal Shelter to promote feline adoptions. Cats and kittens from our local shelter meet and greet customers in the two stores with the hope of finding forever homes. And it works!

The Beatrice shelter evaluates the applications and receives all adoption fees. Dogs and even bunnies from the shelter have attended adoption fairs that are held periodically at the Lincoln PetSmart stores. This program has greatly increased our adoptions and helped deserving animals find forever homes.

Let’s hope other states will follow California’s lead and put deplorable puppy mills out of business. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

This column was written by Bette Anne Thaut, board member of the Beatrice Humane Society.

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