If you’re looking for a canine companion this Christmas, some Quad City animal advocates are asking people to consider bringing home a shelter pet or rescue dog.
Rescued dogs can become beloved family members.
Jean Regenwether loves her Yogi. “He’s happy. He’s friendly. He did not know how to go up and down the stairs. He did not know how to go through a doorway,” she says.
Yogi found a new life after he survived a puppy mill. “Yogi is about 10 years old,” Regenwether said. “He is supposedly a Cockapoo mix. He’s different because he was never raised as a pet. He was used for one thing and one thing only, and that is for breeding.”
Puppy mills are breeding facilities where dogs exist only to breed over and over, in filthy conditions, with no regard to the dogs’ health.
Local 4 News talked with three advocates associated with the nonprofit group called Bailing Out Benji. The organization is dedicated to ending puppy-mill cruelty through research, education and advocacy.
Quad City dog advocates say dogs that have survived puppy mills are different from other dogs.
“The main thing is they do not trust people. You just have to have a lot of patience,”said Sandi Doering, whose dog Bella is a puppy-mill survivor.
Bella trusts only Doering. That’s the difference between former puppy mill dogs and dogs that have been socialized. Bella stays safely on Doering’s lap when strangers are around or she is in an unfamiliar setting.
The Humane Society of the United States wants the public to know about that problem. In its Horrible Hundred list, the organization publicizes the worst puppy-mill facilities in the United States. Iowa had 17 of them in 2022.
Tracey Kuehl, a spokesperson for Bailing Out Benji, says the Quad Cities is in the puppy-mill belt of the United States, and that Iowa is an exporter of puppies.
“Any kind of regulation dealing with their care was the same kind of requirements you would need to give a hog or a cow or a sheep. They were all lumped together,” Kuehl said.
Kuehl says until 2010, Ioa regulations treated dogs the same as livestock. Other advocates and she have approached lawmakers about the issue of puppy mills.
Breeding facilities are governed by federal regulations.
“The unfortunate thing is there are thousands of federally licensed commercial dog breeders in the country. And they are governed by the federal Animal Welfare Act. Those facilities have to adhere to that,” Kuehl said.
Kuehl says lawmakers are glad to talk to community members about the problem of how dogs in puppy mills are treated. She says we need officials to hold breeders accountable.
“We need to have the fortitude to say you are not adhering to what your license says you need to do. We’re going to take it away and confiscate your animals until we can get it sorted out,” Kuehl said.
kuehl says oversight of breeding facilities is lacking and irregular. Iowa has about 275 state licensed and another 240 federally licensed dog breeders.
According to Kuehl, many Iowa politicians and animal lovers are shocked to hear there is a problem with puppy mills.
“I’ve been surprised over the last 11 years, even in the state of Iowa, how many times we run into somebody, and we say ‘I want to talk to you about companion animal welfare and the puppy mill situation in Iowa’ and they’ll say ‘I didn’t know we had one,'” Kuehl said.
And so, because the problem continues, volunteers keep trying to educate the public every chance they get.
“Do not go to a pet store,” Doering pleads. “They are known to have puppy dogs from mills there. Go to a rescue. There are so many breed-specific rescues that have puppies, they have older dogs – you can get whatever breed you want.”
Doering says people do not really ‘adopt’ from a breeding facility.
“People think they are doing a good thing by adopting that puppy,” Doeing said. “They’re not. They’re just perpetuating the lives that the parents have to go through, year after year, in those horrific conditions.”
Meanwhile, Quad City shelters and rescues say they are brimming with dogs.
“It’s larger dogs, the older dogs, that sit in shelters and languish,” Kuehl said. “We spend way more time worrying about CARFAX and the car we’re going to buy and test driving a million cars until we’re happy with it. And in five or six years we’re getting rid of the car. Nobody thinks twice about the animal they’re bringing into the house, and that animal can stay with you for 15 years or more.”
The reward is well worth it for both the dog and its new family. Regenwether also wants to draw attention to the dogs who suffer in those mills. she has been an animal advocate for decades. her home is filled with a lot of love from and for her four dogs – including Yogi.
Now, when he greets guests with kisses and plays with the other dogs in the house, it’s easy to see Yogi is thriving.
Because Yogi is not completely house trained, Regenwether has outfitted him with a disposable “singlet.”
“He loves to cuddle,” she said. “He can be a bed pillow at nighttime.”
Regenwether wants to help other dogs like Yogi, who would have suffered all his life in a puppy mill.
“They’re not selling cell phones,” she said. “They are selling a life .… to me, it’s legalized animal abuse.”
Regenwether says some places in the Quad Cities keep the cycle going. The businesses buy from puppy mills and offer the puppies for sale. Unless people take action and continue to spread awareness, the cycle will continue while dogs suffer and die without ever knowing the touch of a gentle hand.
Want to donate? Volunteer? Give a rescued animal a second chance in a loving home? Visit these nonprofit organizations that will appreciate anything you can do to help: