The Amish and Animal Cruelty: An Unexpected Mix
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The Unfortunate Truth
Born of conservative Anabaptist roots, The Amish are known for simplicity, pacifism and integrity in the face of persecution. Their Christlike forgiveness, extended even to those who murder their children (1), are widely publicized and lauded. Embodying a nostalgic type of serenity, how can one not be inspired by a life so antithetical to our increasingly vapid preoccupations and existential crises? It’s like a vacation for our collective neuroses, if only for a few moments while we immerse ourselves in a daydream. But daydreams are not reality, and utopias are a fantasy–especially for the animals.
Imagine a life without sunlight behind the bars that confine you. Your eyes are so thickened with pus from untreated infection that you can only strain to see out from them. You have wounds, pain, and unquenched needs that have never been met. Maybe your teeth have rotted and your fur has thinned from self-injury and starvation. Your compatriots are surrounded by parasitic insects, and the unquenchable itching says maybe you are, too. The moody bipedal creatures run, wrestle, and somersault through the soft grasses for which you can only yearn in mourning. Maybe you’re lucky because there’s a hamster-like wheel you can walk on for exercise, though you have to compete with hundreds of others trapped in their own filth just like you to get to it. It is so unbelievably miserable that you start pacing, or contorting yourself around and over again in lieu of enough room to do much else. Your yelps of unquenched thirst and desperation are met with nothing, but you keep trying anyway. Or maybe you are not even heard at all, because you voice was silenced by painful instruments in a surgical procedure you cannot comprehend (2). This is your life for what seems like eons, interspersed with painful pregnancies and babies for whom you cannot mother, yielding more painful infections, like mastitis in your breasts. But, honestly? The worst part is the enduring loneliness you’ve never not suffered.
And finally, one of those strange-yet-alluring bipeds come to take you somewhere. You have never been anywhere but here! You are overtaken by a mixture of fear and unprecedented excitement! You bark soundlessly in celebration! After your arduous trip you arrive in a dingy, foreboding building of unfamiliar sounds and overlapping voices, thunderous and unbearable. You shake, almost numb, overtaken by terror. One of the bipeds puts his hand in your cage, whisks you out, and holds you up high in the air. More noise erupts at a deafening force. Before you know it, you are back in the cage. Someone picks it up, you are moving, but where will you go?
This brief narrative provides an outline of practices in puppy mills throughout the country. In particular we examine the standards found in those run by our Amish neighbors, many right here in
South Central Pennsylvania. Puppy mills house dogs and puppies in extremely unnatural conditions, depriving them of exercise, sunlight, necessary nutrition, and even basic grooming. Their paws are injured on wire cages. Females are forced into continuous pregnancy until their bodies can no longer support it, at which point they are typically killed. Inbreeding precipitates a plethora of health calamities and newborn puppies are separated from their mothers prematurely to be sold (3). Debarking is sometimes done to prevent detection in unlicensed Amish breeding mills, which are thought to make up much of the estimated six-hundred in Lancaster County alone. One Amish puppy breeder who was interviewed anonymously by a local rescue compared the lives of puppy mill dogs to those of livestock, stating: “I would encourage people adopt… Eight million dogs are euthanized; 8 million pets are euthanized every year in this country and yet they breed 8 million dogs” (3). Puppy mill dogs often wind up in auctions, where they are tossed around like inanimate objects, frequently injured and always terrified (4). Pet stores are their usual destination, either during auctions or directly from the breeder, where they are bought by usually well-meaning but naive families who do not know the genetic defects and behavioral problems likely to emerge from their abusive origins.
What Can I do?
With that glum picture fresh in our mind, you probably want to know what you can do to stop puppy mills, or at least not contribute. Remember the most important thing you can do as an individual is to follow a basic principle of economics: by diminishing the demand you are not reinforcing the supply. Since most of these puppies wind up in pet stores, do not purchase your new furry friend from one. There are numerous warning signs to watch out for with breeders, such as an unvaccinated puppy, multiple litters at one time, and an out-of-state facility. More indicators can be found here (5). Additionally, the ASPCA has a website (6) with a search engine containing pictures and information on pet breeding operations across the country dedicated to this cause. We do encourage you to consider adopting instead, which will give you peace of mind knowing you did not subsidize an unethical operation. Please consider fostering, donating towards, and adopting from a local animal shelter or rescue instead. By doing so you are saving both the life of your dog and the next one who gets his spot. The shelter will also medically and behaviorally clear the dog before adoption at a price dwarfed by a reputable breeder. If you have your heart set on a particular breed, remember that 25% of rescue dogs are purebred (7) and there are many rescue organizations centered on specific breeds. Petfinder.com is an excellent resource to begin and refine your search.
If you do find suspicious activity in a breeding facility and want to take action here are a few ways you can help:
1. Write to your state and federal legislators, “tell them you are disturbed by the unethical breeding practices and inhumane treatment of dogs kept in puppy mills. Use your position as a voter to insist on legislation that ensures that dogs – and all animals – be born and raised in healthy environments” (8).
Support legislation that demands accountability of dog breeding operations.
2. Support and contact organizations that seek to protect the lives of dogs and other animals such as (8):
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) – http://www.aspca.org/
Animal Welfare Institute – http://www.awionline.org/
Animal Defense Fund – http://www.aldf.org/
3. Be a positive influence. Tell your friends and family to adopt their pets instead of buying, and if they do buy from a breeder to be vigilant in their selection process.