Personal experience drives woman to work against puppy mills
"I had always heard the word puppy mill, and I knew it was a bad place, but I never knew, never knew, what I know now," Hunter said.
She learned quickly. Sofie, the 5-year-old beagle Hunter bought from Thyme and Sage Ranch, was underweight and unsociable. The dog dove under pillows on a futon when Hunter and her husband brought it home in June 2008 and rarely came out.
"She didn't know how to do anything," Hunter of Janesville said. "She didn't know how to play. She didn't know how to be a dog. She just was so scared."
Today, Sofie no longer hides under the pillows when people enter a room, and she has two friends—another beagle and a Yorkshire terrier, both rescued from puppy mills.
And Hunter has a new passion—bringing to an end the cruel treatment many say dogs suffer at so-called "puppy mills"—large, commercial breeding facilities where dogs spend their lives in cages with little, if any, socialization and inadequate care.
Hunter is one of many residents, local and statewide, speaking out about the practice and urging the state Legislature to regulate dog sales.
Wisconsin is one of the worst states in the country for puppy mills and one of few states that don't regulate dog breeding, according to an expose in the January issue of Milwaukee Magazine. Many of the mills are found in Clark and Chippewa counties. They're often run by the Amish and Mennonite, who don't view animals as pets, the article says.
Hunter's beagles, Sofie and Maggie, suffered from many physical and psychological problems from their time in puppy mills, she said. They had ear infections, rotten teeth and bad odor. Their paws were splayed from years spent in wire cages stacked on top of each other. They were afraid of young men because that's who usually handled them at the mills.
Thyme and Sage Ranch, the Richland County shelter where Hunter bought the beagles, was closed in May after authorities found more than 300 dogs allegedly living in poor conditions. Hunter believes the owner, Jennifer Petkus, was trying to help abused and abandoned dogs but got in over her head, she said.
As Hunter learned more about puppy mills, she got active. She joined rescue groups and researched puppy mills online.
In March, she went to a dog auction in Thorp, 30 miles east of Chippewa Falls, where breeders sell dogs they no longer want.
She meant to just watch, but she wound up buying Kaylee, a tiny Yorkshire terrier with big problems, to keep it from going to a breeder Hunter thought would treat her cruelly.
Kaylee had borne five litters of puppies in her four years of life. She was so sick she needed emergency veterinary care. Hunter caught one of Kaylee's diseases and ended up in the emergency room.
The dog had "cage craze," spinning and spinning because that's all she could do in the kennel in which she was raised, Hunter said. She didn't know how to walk on grass.
Hunter said she won't go back to an auction because she doesn't want to give money to the breeders. Instead, she wants to educate people. She would love to talk to young people to encourage them to get dogs from shelters or small, breed-specific dog breeders' homes where buyers can see the dogs' conditions, she said. She has handed out information at farmers markets, dog parks and Mounds Dog Fest in Madison.
"If we could stick to the breed-specific breeders, who love their dogs and love their breed and care about where their dogs go, I think we'd still be fine," she said. "We'd still have plenty of animals."
Meanwhile, Hunter's dogs have improved by leaps and bounds—literally—since she brought them home. The beagles sleep next to each other on an easy chair, and Kaylee cuddles in Hunter's lap. The Yorkie's ears perk up when Hunter talks to her.
Hunter gave Kaylee the middle name of Renee, meaning rebirth.
"If you could only see these guys when I got them," she said, her eyes filling with tears. "It's just how they've grown. They've turned into real dogs."