Philadelphia resident and noted animal lover Tara Loller works as the policy implementation manager for the Humane Society of the United States’s Puppy Mills Campaign; more to the point, she’s dedicated her life to improving those of less fortunate beasts that have been abused, hoarded or cruelly neglected. Loller sat down with PW this week to discuss the Puppy Mill Campaign, her time spent working for the PSPCA and the best places to go to adopt a new animal friend.
For those who may not know, can you explain what a puppy mill is and why it’s bad?
A puppy mill is a mass production of puppies. It’s basically the breeding dogs that suffer the most, because they’re kept for a certain amount of years until they’re no longer worthy for breeding purposes, and then they’re destroyed or passed on to the next person that’s going to try and breed them again. Pennsylvania has an enormous amount of puppy mills. It used to be called the puppy mill capital of the East—Lancaster County, the areas around there.
We’ve seen everything from dogs that get shot at the end of their breeding life, drowning tanks on properties, being tossed in piles, things like that—they live really terrible lives. They don’t get the social interaction that dogs crave. They don’t get out of their cages often. They might be in a pen where they can barely turn around and then they’re squished in there with maybe five or six other dogs. So everything from unsanitary conditions where the ammonia level is sky high, feces everywhere, matting, lack of veterinary care, everything that you could think of that could be going on. It’s not a place for man’s best friend.
Every year, there are millions of animals put down in the shelters because of puppy mills. People will go out and they’ll buy a dog on the Internet, or they’ll drive out to Lancaster County and they’ll buy a dog, and they’re not realizing this is directly correlated to what’s happening for all the other animals that are in shelters. Because if they were to go to their local shelter and adopt, that saves the life of the dog they adopted, and it also opens a spot [at the shelter] for another dog to get a chance, too. You know, every year there are millions that are put down that are healthy. They’re not behaviorally challenged, they’re not sick, it’s just a numbers game—and the shelters do the best they can, but it’s really, it’s the consumers that need to educate themselves and understand that when you buy from a pet store or you buy online you’re supporting the puppy mill industry.
You used to be a PSPCA humane officer working in Philadelphia and Lancaster counties. What did that entail?
I [responded to] everything from dog fighting, cock fighting, hoarding situations, backyard breeder cases, abandonment cases—every type of cruelty and neglect.
So what are some things you’ve seen?
Oh my god—houses that have 200 cats in them and the floor’s covered with feces. I’ve seen abandonment cases where the animal was—where somebody literally shut the door on them and knew that they were going to starve to death. And when I got there, you could see every single bone. And them trying to eat every single thing that’s around, like plastic just to fill their bellies. I saw backyard breeders, basically people stacking and breeding animals in the basement where the animals lived in complete darkness and their puppies were sold, you know, constantly. And the turnover was just about profit. Dog-fighting cases, you know, where the animals are fought to the end and sometimes you’re there too late and the animal is done. You know, things like that. I saw very very severe cruelty even in instances in which juveniles are doing torturous things to animals. Everything you could not want to think of, I saw. I’ve had cases where a horse was being kept in a back alley. I had a case where there was a hybrid wolf on a chain and the chain was cut into its leg.
How do you get pet stores to stop buying and selling puppies from mills?
We’ve had over 2,200 pet stores nationally sign the Puppy Friendly Pet Store Pledge, where they convert to the adoption methods, so they’re pulling from local shelters and rescues and adopting out animals instead of buying from a broker or a puppy mill. We have the puppy mill tip line, which basically encourages people to report puppy mills, and there’s a $5,000 reward if the case goes through to conviction. We have the Breeders Surrender Fund for puppy mills that are shutting down—they can choose not to kill their breeding stock and we’ll work with a local rescue to get them vetted and help the rescues place them. These are just a couple of things we do. Right now our big focus is on flea markets—because again, the conditions are terrible and they’re coming from puppy mills.