Eight years ago this week, Gracie, a beautiful white and brindle American Bulldog with a stoic expression, had a litter of puppies. She’d been rescued from a backyard breeder here in Los Angeles and, unbeknownst to the rescuers, she would come bearing gifts. Six gifts. Of the six, there was a little girl my sister found via Petfinder and fell instantly in love with. She named her Georgia.
At seven weeks, Georgia could be adopted, and I went with my sister to the rescue. Walking through the gated white picket fence, I first saw Gracie. The stoic expression wasn’t really stoic at all – it was blank, expressionless. She’d spent most of her short life chained to a fence, doing nothing more than having puppies. She wasn’t particularly attached to the little white fur ball at her feet. Didn’t care when my sister scooped up her puppy – Georgia seemed far more interested in her mother than her mother in her.
Gracie must’ve been confused with the chains were gone from her neck, that she could cuddle and play when she wanted. Only she didn’t know how to cuddle or play. The rescue would take their time finding the best home for Gracie – because didn’t know how to be a dog. She was nothing more than a money maker to the home based equivalent of a puppy mill.
Later that day I watched Georgia play with my English bulldog, Maggie, but kept thinking of Gracie. Of her chained to a fence. I know I anthropomorphize dogs – I grew up in a house where they were family – always with one or two at the foot of one’s bed. All rescues, even if purebred, adopted through organizations looking to find homes for animals in need. At seven weeks, Georgia was the smallest puppy I’d ever known.
Eight years later, that little fur ball is now 100 pounds of solid muscle, though she still thinks she can fit in your lap. She’s had a life full of health issues that are a result of bad breeding that have in no way diminished her spirit, but on more than one occasion left us uncertain if she’d survive.
We call Georgia the co-op, as she was found by my sister but filled a place in my parents’ hearts after our last childhood dog passed away. When Maggie died, Georgia came to be with me and would lay with Mags’ toys, as though she was watching them for her. When I rescued Tru, I brought him to meet Georgy the first time and they were a perfect pair. It was what I’d wished for – having dogs we could always bring together whenever family was together.
Tru is 1/3 her size but they play a mean game of tug o’ war. If Georgia is having a bad day and can’t play, he’ll sit by her and it’s hard to get him to leave her side. Fortunately, with medication and special diet she doesn’t have too many sick days. I’m so glad her story didn’t end another way. Like my friends’ dog, Cowboy.
My friends Monica and Michael bought a Golden Retriever puppy for their son, Wills. They had been unsuccessful in finding a breeder in time for the holidays and found a Beverly Hills pet store with an A-list clientèle; a place that seemed entirely trustworthy. A place that prided itself on only having locally bred pups. Sadly, most were shipped from puppy mills far from Los Angeles.
Many dogs that came from that shop had lives cut short or filled with medical problems. It was in part due to an investigation by the Humane Society that evidence was found that helped shut them down. Some took the former shop owner to court and won but that couldn’t bring back all the animals that had died because of puppy mills and greed.
Monica tells the beautiful story of how Cowboy changed their family in her book,Cowboy & Wills. The book can be found under keyword searches for autism or puppy mills, but really, as Monica wrote, it’s a story of first love and first loss.
Both Mags and Tru were rescues and while I have some papers, I don’t know much about where they came from. I don’t know if they were bred by good people. I got Maggie at one and she died at ten – she was in perfect health until the last years of her life. I adopted Tru at seven months old. His issues are part of the Frenchie je ne sais quoi (I don’t put him in t-shirts because it is cute – it’s to keep him from hurting himself when his skin allergies flare up.)
These dogs, all of them, have their stories. Dogs rescued by us and us by them.
May 6th through May 12th is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Puppy Mill Action Week. In the US, thousands of mother dogs are kept in locked cages under horrific conditions. They receive just enough food and water to keep them alive and breeding. Like Gracie, they do not know how to be dogs. They do not know love. And sadly, their puppies make for big profits and often bigger tragedies – like Cowboy’s story.
People ooh and ahh at the doggy in the window, and as long as there is money to be made, this practice will continue. But we can make our voices heard. We can speak up about and against animal abuse and puppy mills by signing this pledge with the HSUS.
And, if you’d love to buy a puppy, please check out these tips from the HSUS to help avoid puppy mills.