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From Pauper to Prince: The Story of My Golden Boy

I am the proud owner of a Golden Retriever. He is two years old and his name is Bowden, the Celtic word for ‘blonde boy’. His favourite things include playing with his ball, swimming in the lake, and sleeping in my bed. The reason I tell you this is because, like most dog owners, I believe I have the best dog in the entire world. Despite all of his ‘naughty’ behaviours, Bowden brings a happiness and warmth to my life unparalleled by most other things and, to me, he is perfect. That is why I am so thankful that he is in my life. 
Bowden was born in a puppy mill in Montreal. He was roughly nine months old when he and six siblings were rescued by Golden Rescue. Bow and the other dogs had been living in cages inside a barn for likely their entire lives. Bow's foster mom said that when she first brought him home, he was terrified to walk on hard floors and she had to lay down towels to coax him into the house. This fear was likely because he had grown accustomed to wires beneath his feet and the hard ground was completely foreign to him. Once rescued from the mill, Bow was loaded onto a truck and began his journey to Ontario…and his new life.
The discussion of puppy mills is not for the faint of heart and defies most people’s perceptions of how animals should be treated. A puppy mill is a commercial breeding facility that operates to maximize its output of puppies at minimal cost, with no regard for the psychological welfare or health of a dog. The potential for profit is astounding ~ according to the Humane Society of Canada, in “six years, two dogs and their offspring can theoretically be the source of 67,000 puppies”. Since each puppy can sell for $400-1500, these operations become a multi-million dollar industry. Ontario Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that there are 400 mills operating in Ontario alone.

Depending on the size of the puppy mill, operators of these farms can own hundreds of dogs, females typically outnumbering males. The females are forced to breed every season cycle and whelp litter after litter, which takes a tragic effect on their bodies. The puppies are commonly taken from their mother prematurely, leaving them with weakened immune systems and susceptible to illnesses such as respiratory disease, canine parvovirus and distemper. These puppies are being produced by the thousands in Canada and sold to an unsuspecting public.

Puppy mills are notorious for their commercial breeding systems in addition to the deplorable conditions that the dogs are forced to endure. Dogs are confined to a cage, often for their entire lives, with nowhere to escape from the other dogs or to relieve themselves. The animals are seldom provided adequate shelter leaving them exposed to extreme heat and cold and do not receive any exercise or socialization. The dogs rarely receive medical attention, leaving many to suffer through tumours, parasites, infections, and disease caused from living in squalor. These conditions can have a severe psychological effect on the dogs, driving many to develop ‘kennel crazy’. Mill pups, understandably, can also develop a strong fear of human contact.
Mill owners want to make a quick and easy profit and puppies are a lucrative exploitation market. The fundamental reason that puppy mills are so profitable is because they have companies willing to buy puppies for retail and consumer markets willing to purchase them. It is estimated that at least 90% of puppies sold in pet stores are from puppy mills. When visiting the pet store, many people fall in love with the irresistible faces behind the glass, are hit by compulsion, and feel compelled to ‘save’ the dog from this existence. These consumers have no idea the type of trade they are supporting, for when they buy that one puppy in the window, they make room for another mill pup to take its place.

‘Backyard breeder’ is a term frequently associated with puppy mills and refers to an owner who casually breeds dogs on a smaller scale, with minimal regard for selective breeding of healthy and well-tempered dogs. Backyard breeders are most easily identified by those that advertize the sale of their puppies in newspapers and on the internet. Puppies are ‘ready to go!’ and there is typically no screening process. Anyone able to pay for a pup, can take home a pup. Backyard breeders often have good intentions, but are breeding for personal gain rather than the advancement of a breed. Backyard breeding is becoming a national problem and No Puppy Mills Canada claims it is the greatest source of pet overpopulation in the country.  

Once Bow was rescued from the mill, our fates began to align, for at that time my fiancé and I were busy planning our spring wedding, but everyday it seems I was more concerned with finding us the perfect dog. After doing vast research, I found Golden Rescue and read that we should be prepared to wait for a match after submitting an application. My fiancé and I agreed that we would put our application on file, with the expectation that we would be called after the wedding, when things settled down. You can imagine our surprise when we received that phone call one week later, notifying us that a nine-month-old puppy was being fostered 10 minutes away. We felt like we had won the lottery. We went to visit Bow and within a second of seeing his sweet face, we knew we had found our boy. Despite his difficult beginnings, Bow retained a sparkle in his eye and a contagious sunny spirit. We took Bow home and closed the chapter on his puppy mill past.  

I recently began volunteering at my local animal shelter, helping to train dogs to increase their chance of finding their forever family. The shelter is filled with hundreds of animals of almost every variety waiting to find a home. What is most surprising is that approximately 30% of the dogs in Canadian shelters are purebred. For families that suffer from allergies, or are looking for a certain breed of dog, there is an organization available to them. The need for adoptions is great. According to the Humane Society of Canada, “tens of thousands of unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized in our country each year” due to overpopulation and lack of resources.

Bowden now fills our home with life, fun, and laughter. You could not ask for a more loyal or faithful companion, who is my protector when my firefighter husband is at work. We are incredibly indebted to Golden Rescue for matching us with our boy, and to Bow’s foster mom who breathed life back into him. I tell Bowden’s story because there are thousands of animals, just like him, in rescue groups and shelters, waiting for their second chance at a forever home. Adopting an animal begins a ripple effect of hope and change. When you adopt a rescue animal, you are not only changing the life of that one animal, but creating room for these organizations to help more animals. Also, by avoiding the purchase of a puppy from a pet store or backyard breeder, you remove the demand for puppy mills, and without this need, these places will cease to exist.

John F. Kennedy once said, “One person can make a difference and every person should try” and I think this is of particular importance to animals that are unable to speak for themselves. I challenge every Canadian, who has ever loved a pet, or wished to help one, to dare to make a difference. Adopt a rescue or shelter pet or volunteer your time. Your pet will be forever grateful to you, but I do promise you this: you will be far more grateful to them in the end.