Since its enactment in 1966, the Animal Welfare Act has been amended over the years. In 1970, loose licensing requirements were added for breeders selling their pups in pet stores which also opened the door for puppy mills to operate. Irresponsible breeders don’t breed for the health of their dogs. If you purchased your puppy from a pet store, online, or from a backyard breeder, you most likely bought a puppy mill dog. Buying from a puppy mill can come with a human emotional cost.
Four months ago, I watched a You Tube video of a disabled Border Collie running an agility course in her wheelchair. The dog’s name is Zip and her owner is Sue Cohen. It was a touching video and it made me think about how resilient animals are when it comes to a disability. I contacted Sue via email and while we emailed back and forth about Zip, she told me the story of one of her other dogs, Boomer, a Golden Retriever, who came from a suspected puppy mill. Sue learned first hand what the emotional costs are. She wanted to share her story to help other pet owners learn why it’s important to make sure you know where your pet is coming from.
Boomer was Sue and her husband’s first family dog. He was born August 6, 1998. At the time Sue purchased him, she didn’t realize the breeder was likely a puppy mill owner. “I didn’t understand the horrors of puppy mills or the importance of rescue organizations or appropriate breeding kennels. We found Boomer’s breeder through an ad in the newspaper. This kennel was as close to a puppy mill as any kennel I’ve seen. I later found out that many of the dogs from this kennel were in the local Golden Retriever rescue groups because the breeder did not interview potential buyers or do follow up on her puppy placements. She also breed for beauty, not health. As I became more familiar with the dog world, I found that many of the dogs from her kennel had cancer; some as young as six years old.”
Not only was Boomer a much loved family pet, he was also an accomplished agility dog. It takes time, patience, and energy to train a dog to compete in agility. “We were at an AKC agility trial in Kansas for a 3-day show. Boomer qualified in all his runs that weekend, earning three coveted double qualifiers. In the evenings we would go for long walks in the woods and Boomer chased rabbits. He developed a catch in his breathing after his rabbit chases.”
The catch in his breathing was caused by an eight pound tumor that had been growing in his abdomen. Boomer was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, cancer, at the age of seven. The tumor was surgically removed, but his prognoses wasn’t good. “I was told Boomer had three months to live without chemotherapy, six months if he received chemotherapy.”
The emotional cost of a life threatening illness skyrockets when you are bonded so closely with your pet, and the bond is even closer when your dog must focus on you for his cues when running agility. “I had a long discussion with my husband. We concluded Boomer didn’t get the memo he had a deadly disease. We decided not to stop his normal lifestyle and allow him to tell us how he was capable of living. So Boomer continued to play, run, hike, practice, and show in agility.”
Boomer’s cancer was constantly monitored every two months with an abdominal ultrasound, chest x-rays, and blood work. He was on strong cancer medications, some with serious side effects. Boomer had been eating and drinking normally, but while at an agility trial, he threw up five times over six days. Sue immediately got Boomer in to see an oncologist. One of his cancer medications, Piroxicam, had caused him to go into renal failure, which is a life threatening side effect of the medicine. “Boomer was in the hospital for six days on IV fluids. He wasn’t expected to live. I crawled into the large kennel where he was and decided I would not leave his side. I felt I’d let him down by not seeking out the information that might have cautioned me about the potential for renal failure. No one had told me.”
It had been a year since Boomer and Sue’s ordeal began. After his first surgery, he had been cancer free and was a happy and active dog. In June of 2007, an ultrasound showed a growing mass along the incision site of his first surgery. He went through two more surgeries and more chemotherapy, but his body couldn’t tolerate it this time. The cancer was drug resistant.
Sue knew the time with her beloved pet was coming to an end. They decided to keep Boomer as comfortable as they could and allow him to die on his own terms. He would let them know when he was ready to move on. “I stayed at Boomer’s side continuously. The October nights were beautiful and starry. Boomer wanted to sleep on the patio. He always slept in the bedroom with me, but now, he’d linger on the porch and sleep there at night. I’ve read that some animals leave the pack to die. Is this what he was doing? I bought a blow up mattress and slept on the porch with him. That was a special bonding time for us as we enjoyed the breeze and the sky. After being out of town for almost a week, my husband arrived home at 10pm on November 5. A few hours after he returned home, Boomer’s status deteriorated. It was as though he was waiting for my husband to come home before leaving my side. I’m sure Boomer was waiting for him to return home because he knew I needed someone else by my side.”
Boomer died November 6, 2007 after a 17 month battle with the cancer that claimed his life.
Buying a puppy mill dog or cat can have an overwhelming financial cost when it comes to medical care and the emotional toll is devastating when you watch a treasured pet die from an illness or disease that could have been lessened or prevented in a responsible breeding program. Puppy mill owners, online puppy and kitten sellers and irresponsible backyard breeders are subject to the same laws of commerce as any business. If consumers refuse to buy their “products”, these opportunistic businesses will be forced to shut down. It’s as simple as that.
“Boomer was our Special Heart of Gold. His eyes were an insight into his kind soul. The difference between being a person with a dog and a dog person is the bond that a human will experience if that person will only allow it to happen. I was a person with a dog when Boomer first joined our family. He taught me how to become a dog person.”
Legal Animal Cruelty: Puppy Mill Lobbyists and Animal Rights Groups
Legal Animal Cruelty: Animal Welfare Act of 1966
Born in a Puppy Mill-Tony’s Story