Commercial dog breeders (also frequently described as ‘puppy mills’) have been in the news a lot lately.  Recent changes in Pennsylvania law has made it difficult for breeders to operate, thus forcing many to begin to get out of the business.  Opponents, most visibly in the form of activists such as Bill Smith of Main Line Animal Rescue, have made headlines with their sometimes dramatic efforts to shut down dog breeding operations.

Activists maintain that conditions in the typical breeding operation are often inhumane.  Media coverage of breeders caught running substandard operations has lent strength to the cause, and in recent months and years, opponents have stepped up pressure.

Plain breeders, and in particular Amish and Mennonites in the Lancaster County area, have been high on the list of those targeted.  Though Smith, for example, says in a recent news article that “he’s not out to ruin the lives of kennel owners. He just wants to improve the lives of their dogs,” some feel he and others seek to bring an effective end to the industry.

I asked a friend and Lancaster local (who is not a dog breeder or farmer himself, but with close ties in the community) to share some thoughts on the recent developments and the controversy surrounding dog breeding.  Here are his comments:

The idea that Amish and Mennonites are at the forefront of this business is absurd and fallacious, for 3 reasons.

First of all, puppy mills were in operation at least 50 years before Amish and Mennonite  farmers began raising dogs, and those were in more wretched and deplorable conditions than any dog operations today.

Secondly, there are at least 4 times as many non-Amish/Mennonite dog operations in the US as there are Amish- or Mennonite-operated ones.

Finally, the enormous amount of slaughter animals or byproducts thereof required to produce the dog food needed to feed these carnivores for the most part comes from factory farms.  Operations methods for these farms were mostly developed in institutions of agricultural higher learning.  They were not developed on family farms by simple farmers.

Another point is this:  In capitalist America, if there is a demand for something, including puppies, the product will come from somewhere.  In this case it will be the Midwest, Mexico and Canada, as in fact is already the case.

With all this being said, I also agree that conditions in kennels should be improved. However, chasing Lancaster County breeders out of business will not increase the welfare of dogs one iota.  Still, all things considered, it will be best if Lancaster County farmers find other livelihoods, as in fact most of the breeders in Lancaster are doing.

It’s disheartening to see, again and again, the typical American way of getting an agenda filled. You promote your cause, press your viewpoints, and exploit any exposure and media attention you can garner, painting halos and wings on yourself as you go. Then you trash and demonize your opponents, turning them into villains and monsters without regard for truth or commonsense. Paste horns, forked tails, and hooves, along with evil hisses anywhere you possibly can.  Cram a straw hat on them horns and you got the caricature of a puppy miller.

I remember how it felt so twisted to watch the spectacle of a member of the rock group Poison, along with other celebrities, many of whom made millions glorifying sex, drugs, and violence, come to Lancaster and shout slogans at simple hardworking families who in their own minds were doing nothing more than trying to pay off the family farms. Admittedly, watching bearded and simple farmers raise puppies in a commercial context is distasteful and offensive to urban sensitivities. But those Hollywood celebrities sure looked funny with their wings and halos. Something is not quite right here and I doubted if it helped the cause of the dogs, at least not in a lot of Lancaster minds, both plain and mainstream.  

Further this is typical thought and opinion, both plain and mainstream, in rural areas such as Lancaster.   The consensus is that some kennels at least could stand improvement and that the activists are mostly urban extremists who do not understand the realities of rural life.  The fact remains that livelihoods are being given up because of disturbed urban sensitivities.

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