Special Report: Paws for Change
BATH, N.Y. (WENY) -- Nearly two year ago, 104 pet store-bound puppies were rescued after the van they were in overturned on the icey roads in Avoca. Chance was one of those puppies and one of four seriously hurt.
"He happened to be a puppy that was in the front passenger foot section of the van," says Connie Terry, who adopted Chance once he was fully-healed. "His kennel crate was crushed and it broke his jaw."
While his jaw eventually healed, it wasn't long before Terry knew something wasn't right.
"I noticed he wasn't growing the way a normal German Shepherd puppy would grow," says Terry. I started Goggling and all of a sudden Google spit out 'German Shepherd Pituitary Dwarfism."
German Shepherd Dog, or GSD, Pituitary Dwarfism is a genetic disorder that can be screened for through genetic testing.
But Chance came from a puppy mill--a high-volume breeding facility where genetic screening seldom happens.
Also on board that van was Big Papi.
"He suffered from dehydration, he was infested with worms [and] he had an upper respiratory infection," says Papi's owner, Bea Ross-Mulford. "He was healing from all of his illnesses that were potentially contagious. At that point I knew I needed to keep him. I didn't want him to ever have to be in another cage again."
In addition, Papi is abnormally large, with knee issues and higher-than-normal energy levels--all traits suspected to be a result of irresponsible breeding.
This is the sad reality for thousands of dogs and puppies across the country, even in our area. As of this year, there are an estimated 52 puppy mills in New York State and 130 in Pennsylvania.
"I lose sleep over it," says Terry. "It's hard to read about their conditions and the poor conditions the mothers live in and potentially how their lives can go."
Last month Ross-Mulford adopted Tessa--also a Boston Perrier. Unlike Papi, she was already an adult by the time she was rescued from a Midwest puppy mill.
"The first time I took her to go to the bathroom, I noticed she was on her front legs and her hind end was actually in the air," says Ross-Mulford. "I reached out to some people who have rescued older dogs [from puppy mills] and [they told me the dogs] will lift themselves to poop so that the feces goes to the top of the cage so they don't have to stand in it."
Now the women have been working to urge residents and lawmakers to get behind laws similar to those recently passed in states such as California and Ohio.
Last year, California became the first state to pass a law requiring pet store owners to only sell animals from shelters and rescue organizations.
In New York, a bill known as the "Gianaris" bill is calling for similar regulations. Meanwhile, the "Avella" bill aims to restrict the breeding and improve care of dogs and their puppies. Both are currently stuck in Committee until lawmakers return to Albany next year.
"New York is behind. We're behind the eight ball here and we are wide open for millers to come in and establish their businesses here," says Terry. "It's already started and zoning boards need to be aware of that."
Since their research began, both Terry and Ross-Mulford have begun educating communities on the dangers of these mills--attending local zoning board meetings and speaking with local leaders.
To help them do so, the group has worked alongside local medical experts, including Dr. Karen Doucette -- who says she's often the bearer of bad news for pet owners who don't realize the horrific conditions their pet-store bought puppies have come from. Doucette says [dog owners] are shocked to learn their new dog is very sick.
"Usually people are coming in because their puppy is having diarrhea or vomiting, maybe not eating [or are] thin," says Doucette. "We often find these dogs are riddled with intestinal parasites."
Dr. Doucette says these parasites can be contagious. If left untreated, they can also be fatal--but for pups like Chance, their daily lives are a constant reminder of the mill they came from.
"[Chance's] life expectancy is between two and five years," says Terry. "His organs aren't in the right place. I often wonder 'what else could go wrong?'"
The group is hoping our state legislators will call for action on these bills to combat puppy mills when they return to Albany in 2019. WENY News will continue to track the bill's progress, and provide updates as they make their way through the legislature.