The smell of shit hits you first.
Two barns stand side by side, the muffled barking of 400 dogs heard within. Large lights have been set up to allow access for over 100 volunteers. There are rows of cages filled with dogs. Some of them turn in circles, unable to do anything else. Their fur is matted; improper hygiene leaves them with skin ailments. They stop, cocking their heads as they look at you. They can tell you’re here to help, and despite all the cruelty they’ve been through, their tails start wagging.
A vet nurse and Animal Welfare volunteer Ryan Palmer describes puppy farms as “hell on earth”. These intense breeding facilities lock dogs in pens, forcing them to produce multiple litters until they are no longer profitable.
“Dogs are not meant to have eight litters. It’s not fair on the dog,” Ryan said. Overbreeding had caused inflamed stomachs and saggy teats in some of the dogs he had rescued.
“These poor breeding dogs have been subjected to this cruelty their entire lives, and then they die,” he said.
These large commercialised operations, also known as puppy factories or mills, are a major animal welfare issue.
The dogs live in extreme confinement with inadequate care and unhygienic living spaces. These lead to long-term behavioural and medical problems which often force rescuers to put dogs down.
Puppy farm owners have created a market out of designer puppies, with a lot of people preferring to buy mixed breed dogs due to the health benefits and status of the dog. Mixed breeds, otherwise known as “designer puppies”, are the intentionally bred offspring of two different strains of dogs.
Jodie Knox, president of the Australian Association of Pet Dog Breeders said that while people are attracted to the “cute” factor of designer puppies, many are trying to avoid the problems faced by most purebreds.
“Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have bulging eyes and heart problems but poodles have sound hearts, narrow heads and small eye sockets. A Cavoodle is intermediate and is unlikely to have eye or heart problems,” Jodie said.
“Hybrid dogs, if they are selected carefully, can be bred to suit any family, small and fluffy, large and athletic, but non-shedding.”
Puppy farmers sell their designer puppies online and to pet stores. The dogs are bred only for profit and possible genetic defects are not taken into consideration. The breeders do not provide vaccinations and proper pedigree papers.
“People play god, mostly for money,” Ryan said.
Knox said many of the dogs bear little or no resemblance to a deliberate crossed breed dog: “They are dogs bred almost randomly, usually from two cute pet shop puppies of dubious parentage. They may be lovely dogs but they are unpredictable in type and temperament.”
Wally Conran, 81, who created the labradoodle, told the Australian, “I wish I could turn the clock back.” He regrets his decision to breed the poodle cross labrador which opened the floodgates for “designer dogs”.
Mr Conran invented the cross after receiving a letter from a blind woman who needed a hypo-allergenic guide dog because her husband was allergic to dogs. He now fears that breeders have abused the concept, creating new mixed breeds for profit and not for the wellbeing of the dog.
“New breeds began to flood the market: groodles, spoodles, caboodles. Were breeders bothering to check their sires and bitches for heredity faults, or were they simply caught up in delivering to hungry customers the next status symbol?” – Alex Pedavoli
Screengrab from Animals Australia’s website.