For the first book of the Heartwarming Animal Stories 2012 Reading Challenge, I chose Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills by Carol Bradley.
This is a eye-opening narrative that shares how one dog, Gracie (a sickly and bedraggled Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) is transformed into a loving, healthy member of her new family after being worn out from bearing puppies at a puppy mill.
Gracie, after being rescued, "seemed too closed off to feel anything but numb. She was so tiny, so devoid of personality." Saving Gracie continued to share information about Gracie (at that time known as Dog 132): "She'd been born in a crate, reared in a crate, and forever confined to one. At last she'd been liberated...yet she seemed incapable of deriving pleasure" from being safe, getting enough food, and receiving human compassion.
Athough the book weaves in Gracie's story, it is more focused on exposing America's hidden puppy mills - commercial kennels that breed dogs in horrific living conditions and churn out emotionally-damaged and disease-ridden puppies for sale.
In particular, Saving Gracie examines the raid of a puppy mill in southeastern Pennsylvania, the aftermath of rescuing hundreds of dogs, and the subsequent court case. The book also provides a detailed account about legislative changes in that state to address dog abusers thanks to the hard work and support of Gov. Ed Rendell and his wife, Marjorie.
Based on the title of the book, I thought more of the story would be about Gracie, and her journey from the puppy mill to becoming part of a family. It wasn't, which was a bit disappointing.
That being said, learning about puppy mills; this particular rescue (which Gracie was a part of) and its aftermath; and what subsequent changes that happened in Pennsylvania following the rescue was interesting. There were parts that were a bit overly-detailed and tedious to read; and I found myself skimming through them - more eager to read bout the life of the recovering dogs after the raid.
For example, Saving Gracie describes some of the many challenges puppy mill survivors have to overcome. Even things that many dogs take for granted - solid ground or flooring - is unusual for dogs from puppy mills. "...they were so accustomed to standing on wire that when they finally got the chance to stand on cement floors...it felt so foreign that they tiptoed," the book noted.
It went on to say, "Saddest of all, these dogs had never learned to trust humans. They'd never had any reason to do so, and at the sight of strangers they practically shrank."
The rise of puppy mills happened after World War II in the Midwest. According to Saving Gracie, "Small mom-and-pop pet stores began to give way to corporate franchises...[and] marketing experts...had concocted an easy way to lure customers by putting adorable puppies in shop windows."
In addition, as Americans were becoming wealthier, there was an increased demand for purebred dogs. With pet stores in shopping malls, families didn't have to look in the want ads any more and drive to a farm to examine a litter. They could simply go to a pet store and pick out a puppy. With more prevalent credit card use, people were purchasing animals impulsively, rather than thoughtfully.
To meet this demand, brokers who supplied puppies to pet stores needed more dogs. So, "they zeroed in on Missouri and Kansas, centrally-located states that were home to hundreds of small, isolated farms. Breeding puppies was a boon to Midwestern egg farmers who'd been edged out by large corporations. Farmers could put their empty chicken coops to use by housing dogs in them instead."
The consequence of these early actions could be seen in repeated puppy mill rescues. In Saving Gracie, Bill Smith (founded of Main Line Animal Rescue) dealt with "breeders looking to get rid of older female dogs worn out from having so many litters...The dogs frequently emerged in shockingly bad shape - suffering from mange, bladder stones, multiple tumors, and broken jaws or backs."
In addition, "Smith saw dogs who had undergone more than a dozen C-sections, without anesthesia .... Frightened, malnourished, often without medical attention of any kind, [a mother dog] shivers in the cold days of winter and bakes under the August sun never knowing kindness or the slightest affection, she is a prisoner for profit."
Saving Gracie mentioned many states that have legislation in place to protect dogs. I was hoping to see Minnesota mentioned in the list of states as being proactive and protective of dogs; and against puppy mills. It isn't...at this point.
In Minnesota, there is a Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation Bill S.F. 462/H.F. 702 that, according to the Companion Animal Protection Society, "...was introduced in 2011. It is still alive and has a chance to be heard during the 2012 Minnesota legislative session."
CAPS continues, "Minnesota has no state laws, rules, licensing or regulations to address the care of cats and dogs in commercial breeding facilities. That is why this bill is so important. S.F. 462/H.F. 702 will provide basic licensing and regulation for this industry."
By clicking on the link above, there is a list of ways that one can be involved in helping this bill be heard, and hopefully passed during the 2012 legislative session. After reading Saving Gracie, they are actions that I definitely will be taking.
There's also an animal welfare group in Minnesota called Animal Folks Minnesota whose mission is to "to prevent animal neglect and cruelty by creating a modern system of animal care and protection in Minnesota." Their vision is "for the state of Minnesota to be the recongized leader in animal protection, care, and welfare." There are ways to help and actions to take on this website as well.
Anyone who cares even a little bit about dogs should read Saving Gracie. You will be enlightened, and - hopefully - moved to take action in your own state.