puppy mill bitch abandoned by backyard breeder

If you have ever wondered what is so bad about backyard puppy mill breeding, aside from poorly socialized puppies with higher risks of heritable health problems, then read Hazel's story to learn about the heartless lack of basic care given to the parent dogs.


Hazel, rescued senior bitch

photo of Hazel, backyard breeding bitch abandoned by owner, rescued by BCNC.


If your ideas of what is wrong about large scale puppy mills and small scale backyard "breeding-for-bucks" breeders is that the puppies are likely to be damaged goods , ie poorly socialized, have received sub-standard pre-natal and post-natal health care, and are at higher risk of inherited health problems, you are of course perfectly right. But of equal or greater importance is the miserable life led by the parent dogs, denied basic social interactions with humans and denied basic health care, living a life of reproductive slavery, and killed or discarded when their profitability declines.

Hazel's story is typical of the backyard puppy mill breeding bitch.

Hazel was almost certainly born to a respectable and responsible breeder, and it is likely that the person who bought her as a puppy was also a fairly normal well-intentioned puppy adopter. But at some point before her fourth birthday she had the dreadful fate of falling into the hands of a backyard puppy mill breeder, one known to us as one of the three worst in Northern California in terms of the number of his produce who eventually land into rescue.

Please notice that no backyard puppy mill would have wanted her if she had already been spayed. If her breeder had spayed her pediatrically before selling her as a puppy, she would have been safe (and also protected against mammary cancer, pyometria, and other reproductive tract illnesses). If her puppy buyer had spayed her before passing her on, she would have been safe. A reproductively intact bitch offered for sale is always at risk of being snatched up by an unscrupulous backyard puppy mill.

While we will never know for sure exactly what Hazel's life as a reproductive slave in a backyard puppy mill was like in its details, the broad outlines are easily inferred. Hazel's life deteriorated into the loneliness and boredom of kennel life, with pregnancies occurring as often as possible. She seldom heard a friendly voice or felt a loving hand except when potential puppy buyers arrived to see her puppies. Her health care almost certainly did not include heartworm prevention and it almost certainly did not include treatment for treatable illness. At some point she developed a mammary tumor, which should have been surgically removed of course, but which was ignored. At some point she became infected with heartworm, which progressed to cause a tell-tale cough which was either not notied or ignored.

One day during her ninth year, her owner marched her into his local Animal Services shelter and said "she's too old to breed : put her to sleep." At first he claimed that she was unable to walk very well ; but she instantly disproved this by bounding out of the vehicle and moving around the shelter reception room with ease and grace. He also mentioned the mammary tumor, thus proving that he had been well aware of it; it was now about the size of a chicken's egg and ulcerated. He did not mention the cough. The shelter knows this man well as he has been a problem to them for some time, including unlicensed dogs getting out. Without the county having to mention his name to me, I knew who it had to be as he is the only backyard Bouv breeder in that vicinity of that shelter and quite a few of his dogs have ended up in rescue. We have since been able to confirm the identity of Hazel's abandoner through various means. He advertises from time to time in the Sacramento Bee and advertises on < pets4you.com >. I will gladly disclose his name (and that of two other Northern California breeders as bad or worse) to anyone who cares to ask me after providing proof of their own identity.

UPDATE : I added the name of Hazel's oppressor to her Petfinder listing some time ago. I now add it here : Gerry Edwards, kennel name "King Edwards Bouviers", in Granite Bay , California. He still holds prisoner one of her daughters, another bitch , and a male. (Yes, we are trying to liberate these dogs.) He also breeds West Highland White Terriers.

The shelter refused to kill this gentle and affectionate dog, but accepted her surrender and immediately phoned our BCNC Rescue Chairman, Carol, who grabbed her care keys and was on the way. As soon as she knew about the tumor, she phoned me and we e-mailed my favorite oncologist at the UC Davis VMTH, Dr Michael Kent, and he got her an appointment next morning.

Hazel's belly, showing her mammary tumors
photo of Hazel's belly, showing her mammary tumors.


Dr Kent reminded me that even though this tumor looked ugly, there was still a reasonable chance that it would prove to be benign . (Half of canine mammary tumors are benign ; the half that are malignant vary in aggressiveness.) He got chest X-rays to "stage" her lungs and abdominal ultrasound to look for metastases in abdominal nodes and organs. The chest X-ray did not show any obvious metastases but did show heart and blood vessel signs that are typcial of heartworm, so we booked an appointment with Cardiology a week later. The ultrasound showed liver enlargement and inflamation in her intestines. Dr Kent also found some addtitional mammary lumps and two more lumps elsewhere.

Hazel went home from the VMTH with me rather than with Carol, as I live close to VMTH and so could fulfill her appointments more easily and without having to take time off from paid work. In the next week I found some additional lumps that would need to be dealt with.

At our Cardiology appointment, she was evaluated with cardiac ultrasound and several different heartworm tests. No question that she has a moderately advanced case of heartworm with some moderate permanent damage to her heart and lungs. But the cardiologist thought that the potential cancer issues were more threatening than the heartworm and that Hazel would probably do OK in surgery (estimated 8% risk of dying in surgery or in recovery, which is less than the risks of just ignoring the tumors and other issues) and that the risk would not be any less after heartworm treatment. They put her on Heartguard, which is mildly toxic to adult heartworms and which is slow kill for the microfilaria ; this drug is safe to use in an infested dog and protects against mosquito transmission to other dogs. We made her surgery appointment with Oncology-Surgery.

Her primary surgeon went over the risks and the surgical plan very carefully with me. In cases like this there is no risk free course of action. We are "between a rock and a hard place", or maybe "between a rock and a rattlesnake". The surgery will be a team effort, two surgeons and the anesthesia team. They will open her abdomen and get biopsies of liver and GI tract and what looks like a possible mass in the bladder (re-doing the bladder ultrasound prior to surgery showed that this was not a mass) and they will spay her , then they will close the abdomen and take off the big mammary tumor and other tumors and suspect lumps. They plan to work quickly and if her heart gets unstable , they will stop at whatever point they are at and get her closed and woken up.

The surgery took all day. The intestinal and liver biopsies oozed blood throughout the surgery, something not expected. They gave her plasma transfusions and put her in the Intensive Care Unit for constant care and monitoring and oxygen. That evening she seemed stable. During the night her measures of red blood cells kept going down , showing tht the internal oozing was continuing. They phoned for permision to do whole blood transfusions. (The VMTH has a blood bank.) Without the transfusions, the internal bleeding was going to continue and kill her. Fortunately the transfusions stabilized her blood measures over the day and by the next day her blood picture had improved. The bleeding had stopped and her body was starting to hike up its production of red blood cells.

Hazel in her oxygen cage in the ICU
(the door, open in this photo, would be closed during oxygen delivery)
photo of Hazel in the Intensive Care Unit oxygen cage.  The door would be closed when oxygen is running.


After two more days in the ICU , she was considered stable enough to transfer to a less intensive ward, and a day after that she was released to me to go home and be kept on low activity and considerable surveillance with my car keys not far from my hand.

Today is her 4th day at home, and so far she is looking good. Her incisions are healing, and there is no sign of any internal infections. She is willing to keep low activity, so I haven't had to cage her, though I restrict her to one room if I have to be out of the house.

All of this was totally preventable. The heartworm could have been prevented by giving her a monthly pill that costs $6 to $8 a month. The mammary tumors could have been prevented with near certainty if she had been spayed before first heat (which is an overwhelming reason why all bitches not intended for breeding should be spayed before first heat.) Or if a genuinely responsible breeder had had her for breeding , they would have done monthly belly exams and when that mammary tumor first appeared , it could have been cured with a minor surgery (even malignant tumors can often be cured if you get them into surgery right away, ie before they have chance to metastasize). The intra-surgical bleeding may turn out to be due to an inheritable bleeding disorder, probably Von Willebrands Disease (an autosomal recessive). If that turns out to be the case, then all of her offspring are carriers of VWD. We will of course be testing her for this. Her owner may or may not have known she had a bleeding disorder; it should have been detectable when her ears were cropped. Of course responsible breeders never breed from dogs with heritable bleeding disorders.

Hazel's biopsy and tumor pathology results are not yet in. They should be done really soon now, and Dr Kent will let me know right away. Her cardiologist wants to do the heartworm adulticide treatment after she has fully recovered from surgery, perhaps a month from now. That is assuming that she is considered clear of cancer. If she has a metastasized cancer then that is going to be killing her faster than the heartworms would, and the heartworm damage to her heart probably rules out using one of the most potent of anti-cancer drugs (doxorubicin , also called Adriamycin or "Adria").

But her luck has held out so far and maybe it will continue to hold out.

By the way if you are wondering how much all of this costs, well it's like the joke about "if you have to ask, you can't afford it." I don't actually know yet, because she was released to me on the weekend and the cashier was not open. I will be going in today or tomorrow to ante up. May need to rob a gas station first. (I used to make jokes about robbing liquor stores, but these days gas stations probably take in more money.)

Please remember to protect your own dogs from heartworm with monthly pills. This is an extra-bad year for mosquitos in my part of the country (because of heavy rains) and so an extra-dangerous year for heartworm.

Please investigate carefully any breeder who may be selling puppies in your area, especially if their main means of advertising is in the newspapers or on the internet. Now many very respectable breeders do have a web presence, often with excellently informative sites, but they will not sell to anyone without in depth and usually in person interviews. It takes more than "paper or plastic" to buy from a responsible breeder.

Hazel, belly up, showing her staples.

UPDATE 5/10/06 :

Hazel had her re-check and staple removal appointment with Dr Kent. The tissue reports contain some bad news : the big mammary tumor and the two small nodules next to it in the mammary chain are carcinoma, ie a malignant cancer, and the surgical margins on the big one are very very close. The surgeons were not able to get bigger margins and not able to remove the nearest lymph node because by that point in the surgery Hazel's heart was throwing arrythmias bad enough that the surgeons needed to close and start bringing her up out of anesthesia before she went into heart failure and died. There may or may not be the option of doing a second surgery to get better margins and to get the nearest lymph node out, but we cannot consider that until we find out why she had so much bleeding. A full clotting panel and a von Willebrand's assay have been submitted, and the results should be back in a week.

Her uterus and ovaries showed a lot of problems : hardly any wonder that she was no longer able to make puppies, and Dr Kent thought she was probably right around the corner from coming down with pyometria.

The liver biopsies showed that her enlarged liver has a lot of scar tissur in it. That is almost certainly caused by the heartworm disease. Her blood chemistry panels show adequate liver functionality, but the amount of scar tissue indicates that she may not have a lot of reserve to deal with any added burdens such as processing drugs (most drugs and most toxins have to be processed by the liver). So that really greatly increases the risks of trying to do chemotherapy for the cancer. The heartworm damage to her heart already rules out the use of one of the most effective chemo agents, "Adria" (doxorubicin) because it has cumulative cardiotoxicity.

Dr Kent and I talked quite a while about all the alternatives and the risks of each. Just a few days earlier he had discussed her case with Dr Cheryl London (previously of UC Davis and now at Ohio State U) when she was here to speak on Mast Cell Tumors at the UCD Canine Medicine Symposium. So this is two of the best and brightest veterinary oncology minds in the country trying to help this sweet dog, and they couldn't think of anything magical to do.

It comes down to how much are we willing to risk the quality of life that she has right now, which is pretty good (probably best she has known in many years) and to risk whatever time she may have left (which could be years if the cancer was removed cleanly). It's a moral issue as well as a medical one.

So what we are doing about the mammary cancer is what I would call "hope therapy" : we are hoping that there were "no cells left behind", ie hoping that none of the primary tumor cells got left inside her and hoping that no metastatic cells got away to set up housekeeping and recruit blood supply elsewhere. As far as I can see the only real reason to hope this is that the tumor was probably in place for quite a long time or at least got real big without giving us any clear evidence of metastasis in lungs or liver. So maybe it is not totally unreasonable to hope that this is not a very aggressive tumor. Some mammary tumors are highly aggressive and some are much less so. The adjacent lymph node does not feel enlarged to Dr Kent's expert fingers , and he will be doing another feel again in about a month.

If that node starts to enlarge and / or if the bleeding risk tests come back good, then maybe we will get a second surgery done (oncology surgeons call this a "resection" ; there was once a joke about "how many oncologists does it take to change a light bulb ?" and the response from a prominent oncology surgeon was supposed to be "you don't need to change the lightbulb, just resection it.").

We are also going to hold off on doing the adulticide treatment for heartworms. From the test results it looks like she probably only has a few adults and they have already done about as much damage as they can do. The treatment is not without risks and includes painful deep muscle injections and severe limitations on activity while the dead worms are gradually reabsorbed. Instead she will stay on Heartguard, which kills the microfilaria, and the adults will eventually die slowly and with less risk of causing a lethal lung embolism than the adulticide treatment would risk.

Her heart seems to be working with normal rhythm again according to the EKC. So that is good news. Cardiology will see her again in June and we will reassess whether to do the adulticide treatment.


Right now she is happy and well loved. Her physical health is relieved of some of its burdens, and she seems very comfortable. no way to guess whether this will continue for several months or several years. All we can do is all we can do and we're gonna go on doing it.


UPDATE (4/15/06) :

Hazel's blood clotting tests came back as normal and so did her von Willebrand's test. So we still do not know why she had bleeding problems during surgery, nor whether she would have the problem again if we were to attempt to "resect" the margins of her mammary carcinoma. But at least I was able to pass the information on to those people who I know are loving guardians to her decendants, so they don't have to worry about having inherited a bleeding disorder from her.

I've also learned that some of her decendants wound up as breeding stock in a notorious mid-west puppy mill that sells many dogs of many breeds by auction, on the internet , through pet stores, and through newspaper ads. Many of the pet store sales and newspaper ads are in cities far distant from the puppy mill. I've cited one of the newspaper ads in my How to Read an Ad article, which also cites a newspaper ad and a web ad from the backyard breeder who so cruely exploited and abandoned her.

This weekend was the Whole Earth Festival at U C Davis, so Saturday I took Hazel along. She was very very good about all the noise and crowds and very strange activities, and she attracted a lot of attention and petting from strangers, which she accepted graciously. All of that is a great tribute to her underlying stability of temperament. She also was finding the hot weather a bit difficult. I wonder if the heartworm damage makes her less heat tolorant.

UPDATE 6/03/06 : the breast tumor came back as a malignant carcinoma, and the surgical margins were very close. Because of the liver damage caused by the heartworm, we do not dare put her on any kind of chemo. Because she nearly died in the original surgery, we are afraid to do a resection surgery to get better margins on the tumor. But we may have been lucky enough to get everything out.

Meanwhile Hazel is enjoying a very good quality of life and she is very pleasant to live with.

UPDATE 7/25/06 : Hazel is continuing to enjoy excellent quality of life. At her last re-check two weeks ago there was still no sign of the cancer coming back at the original site or as metastises in her lungs. Her heartworm continues to be controlled by the conservative treatment of Heartguard plus Doxycycline. The Doxycycline is to control a symbiont within the heartworms that promotes survival of the heartworms. By killing off the symbiont, we are shortening the life of the heartworms. In any case, there is clinical evidence that heartworm infested dogs do better with the Doxycycline than without it.

UPDATE 9/25/06 : Three weeks ago things were looking grim for this precious girl. She had begun coughing badly and her breathing showed a lot more effort. Her chest x-rays on 9/01 indicated it was likely that she had cancer metastasized into her lungs and an ultrasound guided needle biopsy seemed to tentatively confirm that. But we put her back on an anti-inflamatory dose of prednisone and make a re-check appontment with Oncology.

Good news : at the re-check 12 days later her coughing had diminished and she was breathing easier and the x-rays looked a lot better. Her oncologist thinks it is not very likely that she has cancer in her lungs, just some inflamation from the heartworm. She will have another recheck in mid Oct, which will probably tell us one way or another. But her coughing is back to being only occasional and her breathing is nearly normal. So I am really hoping she has several good years left to enjoy her life.

Although I realize that there are very few adopters brave enough to adopt a dog with Hazel's medical issues, and few who have access to the quality of care she gets at the UC Davis VMTH, I am keeping her posting on Petfinder because she is really the "Poster Child" for everything that is wrong about casual money-orinted backyard breeding.

UPDATE 5/21/07 : It's been over a year since Hazel's rescue and surgery. She is still leading a very good quality of life, despite medical issues. Unfortunately it has recently appeared that her cancer, so long apparently gone, has re-appeared in her lungs. It has not yet affected her quality of life and I am hoping that she might be spared for a relatively long time.

Update 8/11/07 : the cancer in her lungs is growing but fairly slowly. Her quality of life is still very good. She is happy and comfortable and still greets each day with enthusiasm. She cannot take long walks anymore, but then most Bouvs her age like their walks slow and short too. I'm hopeful that she will still have some months of good quality life left, and of course I am prepared to give her that Final Gift whenever she shows me that she needs it.


UPDATE : 9/03/07 (Labor Day) : dear friends, especially those of you who have been following Hazel's story and checking her page from time to time, those of you who have been hoping and praying for her continued welfare, I have to tell you that I think she is approaching the end of her journey. She is still fairly comfortable, or at least peaceful, but I see signs of beginnings of serious trouble. She has no energy, poor appetite, and there is significantly more effort in her breathing.

Today is just a few days short of one year and a half since the day her callous owner/exploiter presented her at the pound with a demand that they "KILL her because she is too old to have puppies." During almost every day of that time, except the day or two after her big surgery, she has been comfortable and happy. I don't think I need to tell you that she has also been loved.

I don't know how much longer I can keep her comfortable and able to get some enjoyment. Her eyes still show hopefulness and tell me she is not yet ready to quit. The UC Davis Vet Med Teaching Hospital is available for emergency intake 24/7/365, so if she has a crash , we are only 15 minutes from help and relief.

Today I've been exchanging e-mails with her attending oncologist , Dr Michael Kent, who is as fine a human being as has ever lived and a wonderful veterinarian and has been a very good friend to me and my dogs. He said that if I was concerned bring her in Tuesday morning and he would work her in. That means working her in among an already very busy schedule. the first day of the week is always busy at the VMTH, and first day after a three day holiday weekend is usually a real madhouse. If I thought she was still OK on Tuesday, then bring her in Wednesday (a bit less crowded a schedule). That night I though I noticed that her tongue seemed a bit pale, which can indicate poor blood circulation. Couldn't tell by her gums because they are darkly pigmented.


SAD NEWS 9/04/07 : I knew when I looked at her this morning that I really did need to take advantage of Dr Kent's generosity. She still has some ability to eat, still can rise to her feet and walk short distances, but she is very weak and tired. She still has some life in her eyes. She was not showing pain or distress. So I did eat breakfast before loading her into the car. But I knew in my heart that whe was probably making her last journey. Still hoping that maybe it was just fluid in her abdomen, which is something that can be relieved.

Just walking from the nearest parking space into the CCAH building (where the Oncology service lives) was too much for her. We had to get a gurney and it was immediately apparent that she needed oxygen. Dr Kent examined her and thought there was fluid around her lungs and in her belly, and proved same by draining some off. Took a blood sample and found that her hematocrit (measures red blood cells ) was deathly low. Had I waited until tomorrow , she would have been dead, probably before tonight. Since too few red cells means not enough oxygen to all parts of body, it would have been like slowly suffocating. Not pretty. This kind of loss of red cells is something that can happen in cancer or she may have been bleeding internally somewhere, also due to cancer.

We talked and thought carefully what could be done to give her relief. Could have done a draining of the chest fluid, which would have made her lungs work better for a while, and a draining of the belly fluid which would also have made breathing easier, and a blood transfusion. BUT these treatments would have given her at best a week or so of comfort and then the same sequence of damage and difficulty would have progressed again. We agreed that just because we could do it did not mean we should do it. These extreme measures were not really in Hazel's best interest. Meanwhile the oxygen had made her a lot more comfortable, so she was resting easily. I held the oxygen mask with one hand and caressed her with the other and begged her forgiveness ("forgive me if it's a bit too soon, forgive me even more if it's later than it should have been") , while Dr Kent gave her the Sacrament of Euthanasia.

Hazel portrait


I will be keeping Hazel's story on Petfinder for a while, because it's a lesson everyone should hear.

Remember Hazel and her years of neglect if you are ever tempted to buy a puppy from a pet store, an Internet puppy mill, or a backyard puppy mill.

Ask ev'ry person if they've heard her story,
and tell it loud and clear if they have not !



AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION : In this article I have repeatedly referred to "backyard puppy mills". That refers to someone who keeps dogs in the backyard and breeds for profit, without any serious regard to the welfare of the parent dogs or the puppies. I sometimes call these people "paper or plastic" breeders because the only question the prospective buyer is likely to be asked is whether they want to pay with paper (cash or check) or plastic (credit card). These backyard puppy mills are simply small scale versions of the large scale puppy mills that supply so many pet-selling stores with sickly puppies, though generally the conditions at the large scale puppy factories are even worse for parent dogs and puppies than at the smaller scale backyard opperations.

Please do understand that NOT every small scale breeder is a puppy mill. The very best and most responsible breeders are generally small scale , but their parent dogs live in the house as companions, their parent dogs are carefully tested for heritable health problems, their parent dogs receive top quality health care, and the puppies receive tons of socializaton and pre-kindergarten education as well as loads of love and excellent health care. These breeders know enough about their dogs and should know enough about rearing and training to be able to be of enormous help to you as a "mentor" (teacher and advisor) as your pup grows up and should remain happy to help and advise you throughout the dog's life.

Another type of small scale breeder is what could be termed the "casual breeder" or the "my dog is so wonderful" breeder. These are ordinary pet owners who generally adore their dog, who is generally a very well behaved and pleasant personalitied dog, despite fairly haphazard socializaton and training history. They breed this dog to some friend or neighbor's dog who is likewise a very pleasant dog. The puppies are usually very well socialized because the family friends come in droves to see and cuddle them. So from this kind of situation you are likely to get a pup who will be behaviorally very pleasant. The parents generally will not have had any screenings for genetic health problems, so you are likely at higher risk than for pups from the best breeders. The breeder probably won't be able to advise you on rearing and training as well as the best breeders could.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 5/2/06 revised 9/15/07
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