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Beware of puppy mill purchases

The third Saturday in September is Puppy Mill Awareness Day. This year it will fall on Sept. 15.

According to animalrescuecorps.org, an estimated 15,000 puppy mills in the U.S. force dogs to produce multiple litters to supply most dogs sold in pet stores, online, and through newspaper ads. Dogs can live in overcrowded, unsanitary cages often lacking ample food, water, socialization and care.

Many moons ago, when Ed, and I had been married a little over a year, we decided to add a dog to our family.

Financially, a dog from a breeder was not in the cards. We knew to avoid puppy mills, so we decided to go the rescue route.

On a Friday night after dinner, we stopped at a pet store to pick up a few essentials for the dog we would be adopting at a local animal shelter.

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As we walked to the back of the store where the dog beds were located, we heard barking. Behind a glass window was a room with about six dogs of various breeds in wire cages.

Ed and I were immediately drawn to a female miniature schnauzer. We had both grown up with the breed. Maxie was my family’s schnauzer and Fritz’s was Ed’s.

A sales clerk saw us looking at her and before we knew it, he had the small puppy in his arms and was headed our way.

We looked at each other.

“Ah …,” Ed hesitated.

Before I uttered a word, the pup was in my lap.

She was a little hyper, probably from being cooped up in a cage. But the clerk was having none of it and impatiently tapped the pup’s backside.

The puppy buried herself into my lap. Protectively, I put my arms around her.

Without skipping a beat, Ed asked how much she cost.

“ She’s half off — $250,” the clerk responded.

Half off or not, that was a lot of money when only one of us was working and the other was still in graduate school.

We looked at the pup still curled up in my lap. One of her cropped ears was slightly larger than the other. Her docked tail was longer than Schnauzers’ tails should be. When she sat up she leaned to her left side.

Ed whispered in my ear, “Puppy mill?”

“Probably.”

We knew that befuddled mess could have socialization as well as health issues. And we fell in love with her on the spot.

For the next several months, we lived on hot dogs and boxed mac and cheese. Mocha, as we named her, was worth every undercooked noodle and burnt hot dog we ate.

That dog was wicked smart. Mocha figured out that she could walk under my wheelchair’s crossbars. Not once did I run over a paw.

She loved to cuddle and slept next to Ed from the first night we brought her home.

We were lucky. Our puppy mill dog had few health issues and adjusted well to other animals and humans. In her later years, she welcomed into her home a stray cat, Bailey, as well as a human sister, Jordan.

Mocha lived almost 14 years and was a wonderful family member. But we made a promise to stay out of pet stores that sold dogs from questionable breeders. Two dogs later the promise is intact.

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