The Horror of a Sick Puppy

At the veterinary practice I work for, I often hear things like: “I don’t know how you do it working with all of these cute pets all day! I could never do it when they pass away!”

My response is always about the kindness and compassion I feel working among the people who I work with; death is always difficult, but feeling surrounded with love is a great combatant to that grief.

This morning I received a call from a family with a 6-week old puppy who they were worried was dying. When the puppy arrived at our practice he was still and not breathing well. We rushed him into the treatment room and doctors immediately took action.

Tragically, he did not survive.

His fate was not in anyway whatsoever due to the team not doing everything in their power to save him. Every action that could be taken was, but this tiny baby was taken from his mama-pup too soon and his tiny body wasn’t strong enough yet to handle it.

This tragedy was not the family’s fault: This sweet family wasn’t experienced with pets. They didn’t know he was too small. They didn’t know what nutrients he needed. They fell in love with the sweet little boy and hoped to give him a long, loved life.

I’m devastated for this family. They had to tell their children their beloved puppy wouldn’t be at home when they returned after school. I am sad about the guilt the family is feeling because they didn’t know what a puppy this age needed to eat to survive because the person who sold them the puppy didn’t make sure they knew. My heart is broken for my co-workers who dropped everything to do all they could to save this baby’s life. And I’m sad for me: I can’t stop feeling for everyone involved.

A dear friend once told me to try to remember every day why I am alive; each of us is here for a reason.

In the moments I was speaking to this family, I thought of this friend and her advice. I thought of the fact that my empathetic soul is giving and welcoming. In a way that only someone with such a soul can, I was able to welcome this family to our practice and hopefully relieve some of the pain they experienced. I pray that the family – though they must feel so much guilt – can remember the words I told them about not focusing on the “should haves”. I hope they remember that a hug in just the right moment can help one share the pain of grief. I hope that they felt warmth and compassion from our practice and that when they are ready, they will welcome a new furry friend into their family.

I feel angry. I have studied animal welfare practically my whole life. In graduate school I worked on a project to prevent puppies being purchased online (which I’m fairly certain is still legal…). As part of this project I researched puppy mills and my heart broke. It wasn’t until today that I have had a first hand experience with what a puppy mill can do to a community.

All the hurt, the pain, the grief felt by this family, my co-workers, me… This was caused because someone out there wanted to increase their income by sending a puppy to an inexperienced person before the puppy was ready to be parted from his mother.

I keep imagining this person. I imagine their “kennel” as a series of cages, too small for the mama dogs, crowded together. Mama dogs artificially inseminated or forced to mate again and again. Mama dogs whose bodies ache from giving birth over and over; their bodies sore from nursing puppies, but not for long enough. Puppies torn from mama dogs before they are done drinking mama’s milk, rooting and seeking for mama. Puppies put in a truck or in the mail to arrive at a loving home with someone who may never have had a dog and maybe doesn’t understand what a puppy needs to survive – a family who has never heard of a puppy mill and the devastation a puppy mill can cause.

How many of these puppies survive their births? How many of these mama dogs long for a friendly pet, or a game of fetch, or snuggles from their puppies? How many families have the happiness of welcoming a fur-baby into their home only to have it torn away from them when the puppy doesn’t thrive? How many of these puppy mills mail another puppy to the family when this happens? Does that puppy make it? Does the family give up on having pets thinking they aren’t a fit home for a furry friend? Do the children in these families begin to believe they don’t have a safe home for a puppy?

I keep thinking about Capitalism. Capitalism and the need to buy, the need to have more, to spend more… I’m thinking about how the need to make/buy/spend causes people to do such horrendous things. This person found a way to bring in continuous income without regard for who is hurt in the process. They’ve found a way to force another living creature to create more and more babies; so many babies that if a few die here and there it doesn’t matter because there are always more on the way. All in the name of another dollar gained.

But at what expense?


Witches – Set an intention to make this a less often experienced circumstance. Adopt, don’t shop. Educate your friends and neighbors. The MSPCA offers suggestions on how to prevent puppies from being exploited for profit (edited for brevity).

#1: Do not buy pet supplies from a store that sells dogs, cats, or other animals from intensive breeding facilities or other unethical suppliers.

The key to ending dogs being bred in these conditions is to decrease consumer demand. Animals in pet shops or available over the internet often come from “puppy mills.” Animals in newspaper classified ads and sold through brokers can also come from “puppy mills”. By buying an animal from one of these venues, you support the conditions at large scale breeding facilities.

#2: Spread the word.

Educate your friends, family, and co-workers about large scale breeders and how the decision to buy an animal from a pet store supports these operations. Ask your friends to take the pledge not to support puppy mills.

#3: Write a Letter to the Editor.

Write a letter to the editor of your local paper(s) to educate your entire community, and your elected officials, about the issue.

#4: Encourage legislative protections on the federal level.

Contact the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency that is charged with inspecting commercial breeding facilities, to encourage stricter enforcement and stronger laws. You may also wish to contact your U.S. Senators and Congressperson about your concerns. In Massachusetts, if you do not know who represents you, visit www.wheredoivotema.com and look for two U.S. Senators (under Statewide Office Holders) and Congressional (under District Representatives).

#5: Encourage legislative protections on the state level.

…Contact your state legislators and express your opinion and concerns regarding puppy mills and pet shops…

#6: Encourage legislative protections on the local level.

Boston, Cambridge, Stoneham, and over 320 other municipalities across the country have banned retail pet store puppy sales. Passing a local ordinance or bylaw may be less complicated and timely than trying to pass a state-wide law. While local ordinances or bylaws would only impact animals in a city or town, their reach is often far greater.

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