A heart-breaking letter from a dog rescue founder has surfaced online. In the letter, longtime dog-rescuer Theresa Strader details the gut-wrenching story of her beloved Lily, an Italian greyhound used for breeding in a puppy mill with a 40 year legacy of cruelty. On the day the mill closed, 561 dogs went to auction.
In her letter, Strader eloquently calls out the puppy mill breeder, referred to as “Martha,” for rampant mistreatment of dogs—imprisoning them in wire cages, neglecting them, and exhibiting zero compassion for their well-being.
Lily was technically one of the lucky dogs who was purchased at auction that day, but the seven years she spent in a wire cage being bred repeatedly left her body ravaged. Lily’s uterus—described by Strader as a “papery black, pus filled organ”—had to be removed, and she had to have multiple surgeries, one of which removed her extensive mammary tumors.
The ending of Lily’s story is bittersweet indeed—she lived one good year before passing away in the loving arms of her incredibly caring human companions who have dedicated their lives to loving dogs just like Lily.
Without a doubt, this letter needed to be written for many reasons, perhaps most importantly to help Strader through her grieving process. And, while this letter is beautifully emotive, honest, and sickeningly revealing of the terrors inside the walls of puppy mills, I question one, seemingly insignificant moment.
Part way through, Strader criticizes the puppy mill breeder for treating the dogs like “livestock,” noting to Martha that “Dogs are not livestock.” At another point, Strader says in all caps that she is not an animal rights activist, and that instead she is someone who “believes in the right to humane treatment for all living beings.”
It is true. This despicable puppy mill breeder did treat her dogs like livestock. We all know livestock are treated deplorably.
But there’s the rub. Strader then implies that dogs are above livestock, and she defends this rationale by noting that dogs have been bred by humans for centuries primarily as companion animals. Strader does say that she believes in humane treatment for all living beings, but that doesn’t quite cut it.
According to Strader’s understanding, livestock seems more or less deserving of exploitation so long as it is “humane,” whereas dogs, because they are not livestock, are inherently deserving of a superior kind of humane treatment.
This just in, there is no humane way to kill someone who does not want to die. There is no humane way to imprison someone and then kill her, either. So whether that someone is a cow imprisoned, forcibly impregnated repeatedly, and then slaughtered—or a dog—makes no difference.
We know that Strader did not necessarily mean to throw those 56 billion sentient, farmed beings under the bus. But, she kind of did. And it begs the question:
Is animal exploitation OK so long as it is “humane,” or is all animal exploitation morally unacceptable?
This is the exact (rhetorical) question held up by animal rights activist, lawyer, professor, and founder of the Abolitionist Approach, Gary Francione.
That we believe our companion animals deserve different or “more humane” treatment than other living beings such as cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys is totally bogus, claims Francione—because morally, there is no difference between all of those animals.
In other words, a dog is a boy is a rat is a cow is a girl.
But, there’s a larger, societal evil at work here, something that author and activist Will Tuttle compares to the schisms found in deeply dysfunctional and abusive families.
Tuttle writes, “The biggest secret our dysfunctional cultural family has is our horrific brutality against animals for meals […]” (World Peace Diet, p. 52). If we were to admit to ourselves the devastating cruelty we inflict on the innocent and helpless creatures of this world—our very lives would be called into question.
And most days, admitting that such vast, entrenched, and overwhelming degrees of cruelty exist—and that we knowingly contribute to it at every meal we choose to eat—is too much for most people to bear.
Inside that space where it is so painful to consider all the agony and suffering we force upon our animal friends is exactly where humans must learn to live every day. Living with this grief and speaking against it by simply going vegan is one of the bravest things we will ever do.
In time, we humans will learn to use this peaceful social justice movement as both a sponge to soak up that grief and remorse for the animals, as well as a non-violent weapon to wield against the extreme evil currently derailing our society.
Until then, we will see more letters like this written to puppy mill breeders distinguishing dogs as superior to the farmed beings who live their lives in terror and pain so we can eat meals made of their flesh. Our hearts go out to the memory of Lily, Lily’s family, all the dogs currently suffering in puppy mills, and all animals experiencing the horrors of life spent enslaved by humans.