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Rescued from Captivity -- Neglect of Medical Care

Monday, Apr 11
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Since March 2021, the Erie Humane Society has rescued 48 puppy mill survivors

The Erie Humane Society is passionate about protecting the welfare of animals and educating the community about the hard work we do to help all pets find loving families and truly live life to the fullest. Pennsylvania is tied as the second worst puppy mill state in our nation according to the HSUS “Horrible Hundred” Puppy Mills. Our shelter took in our very first puppy mill survivor in March of 2021. Since then, we have worked closely with our rescue partners in southeast Pennsylvania, to take in 48 discarded puppy mill dogs and provide them with the physical and emotional rehabilitation they desperately needed to live the lives they never had.

Imagine a sterile, empty cage, a dirty shed or barn, no medical care, isolation, lack of life experiences and human interaction – this is the daily reality for animals living in puppy mills.

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This is how dogs are treated in large-scale commercial dog-breeding operations where profits are prioritized over the health and wellbeing of the dogs. They accomplish this by producing large numbers of puppies as quickly as possible without regard given to the health and well-being of the mother or puppies.

Neglect of Veterinary Care

Various tactics are employed to manipulate the dogs into becoming submissive and fearful. These overbreeding practices are not only cruel and detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of the dogs, but puppy mill farmers also neglect to provide them basic medical care. Their practices do not include genetic screening of the dogs they are breeding, often resulting in puppies with underlying medical conditions that can put the pet in a harmful situation and leave the purchaser with expensive vet bills and the decision of whether they are prepared to provide the lifelong care their new pet needs to survive.

For some pets, if the Erie Humane Society can intervene early enough and diagnose their condition, we work with our veterinarians to create detailed care plans to address their medical needs, and ensure they live a quality life. Unfortunately for others, their medical conditions are too progressed and there is nothing more that can be done. In these instances, the Erie Humane Society places them in hospice care to live out the remainder of their lives in a home filled with love and warmth.

In this article, we introduce you to the journeys of three dogs whose lives have been affected by the inhumane breeding processes that are happening in Pennsylvania puppy mills. Meet Jack, Courtney, and Elle.

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These dogs all have extenuating medical circumstances due to improper breeding habits. The failure to recognize the importance of providing diagnostics and medical care should be deemed unlawful, as these pets are denied the opportunity to live a full life.


Jack’s innocent little life almost ended before it even had a chance to begin. Jack was living in an unheated shed when he was removed from his mother and litter mates at 4 months old. Unlike his litter mates, Jack was not going to be sold. Rather, he was going to be discarded as he was born with medical defects and was thought to be blind—ultimately, deeming him “unprofitable” by the puppy mill. Jack often displays a blank stare and appears mentally dull. Birth defects such as these are the result of poor over-breeding that often happens in puppy mills. The Erie Humane Society stepped in to assist in Jack's rescue and provide him the medical care necessary for him to have a full life.

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Upon arriving to the Erie Humane Society and after receiving lots of snuggles, a tiny, malnourished Jack began to perk up. We began to witness changes in Jack’s behavior throughout the course of that first day. Being showered with endless amounts of love allowed Jack to feel secure and when he began to feel more comfortable, we suspected that Jack was not blind.

While he would become alert, Jack would often slip into a lifeless state. After consulting with our veterinarian, it was determined that Jack likely has liver shunt, a condition in which his body does not purge toxins from his system.

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As we awaited results from his bloodwork, Jack entered foster care with our Executive Director so his condition could be closely monitored. Our director began preparing fresh meals for him, allowing his body to absorb essential nutrients and easily process his food. Within days, we noticed a huge shift in Jack’s overall behavior and responsiveness. His labs did show signs of possible liver shunt, and we were referred to a specialist for consultation. Our director was advised to continue what she was doing with Jack’s nutrition because it was working.

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Fast-forward three months later, Jack continues to thrive. While his updated lab work is not perfect, it has improved so much that the specialist consultation is not needed at this time. Thankfully for Jack, he was saved from a condition, that if left untreated, would have been fatal.

Over the past three months, he has been showered with love, and is enjoying life as any dog should. He has stolen the hearts of his foster family. There is no doubt that Jack has landed exactly where he needs to be and will eventually become a permanent member of the household.

Courtney & Elle

While Jack was the product of poor over-breeding, most adult dogs suffer on puppy mills as their basic need for medical care is neglected. Sometimes these conditions are quite visible and ignored, while other times, they are underlying and unknown. Regardless, receiving a terminal diagnosis on a dog that was just beginning to live a life of freedom is devastating.

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Courtney is an 8-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog that was released from a puppy mill because she was “too old” to continue breeding. When Courtney arrived at the Erie Humane Society, she was not only filthy from living in unsanitary conditions, but she had a rusty chain collar that was so tight around her neck it had to be removed with bolt cutters. As you can imagine, this new environment was overwhelming for Courtney. She was quickly placed in a foster home so she could decompress in a quiet, low-stress environment until she was ready to be spayed.

When Courtney underwent surgery for her spay, our veterinarian found three mammary tumors, two internal masses, and an overwhelming number of cysts on her ovaries. He determined that Courtney’s tumors were likely malignant, and because of her age, he was not comfortable removing them.

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On the other hand, Elle, a 7-year-old Shiba Inu, also spent her entire life breeding on a farm. However, Elle’s medical condition was obvious. She had a mammary mass the size of a grapefruit on her belly and a cloudy, slightly enlarged eye. What was appalling to her rescuer and our staff was the fact that the farmers continued to breed Elle despite the physical evidence of her condition.

Elle was examined and received two medical opinions from veterinarians that closely work with the Erie Humane Society. Much to our dismay, x-rays revealed that the mass was an inoperable abdominal carcinoma. Because two of her main arteries were attached to this mass, the risk of Elle not surviving surgery is too high.

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The x-rays and exam also revealed that Elle had glaucoma in her eye and possible fluid build up and/or cancer behind the eye. She was additionally diagnosed with an enlarged heart/murmur.

While the prognoses for both Courtney and Elle were far from the outcome we had hoped for, both dogs are still living quite comfortably. With the guidance of our veterinarians, we determined that with palliative care plans, Courtney and Elle were both ideal candidates for hospice homes. The Erie Humane Society remained committed to providing these beautiful souls with lives filled with love and compassion for what time they have left. Both dogs continue to do well in their forever homes while their quality of life is closely monitored.

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What Can We Do?

The Erie Humane Society is committed to helping end the cruel treatment of pets in mass-breeding operations. Purchasing dogs online or through retail stores continues to validate the inhumane treatment of puppy mill dogs, continuing the cycle of producing puppies that will inevitably suffer from a variety of health and behavior issues. These conditions create heartbreaking challenges for families expecting to enjoy the delights of owning a dog.

Puppy mill victims don’t have the ability to speak for themselves. They need us to be their voice. These circumstances won’t change if we don’t speak up. Because of the leniency in PA humane laws, most puppy mills, while inhumane, are not illegal. We need your help to put an end to the consumer demand for these mass-produced puppies. The next time you are looking to add to your family, please consider adopting a pet from your local animal shelter, rescue group, or a humane and responsible breeder that you have carefully screened first-hand. We need to come together and end the cycle of abuse for the betterment of the animal lives at stake.