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The Mothers

My hands on experience with backyard breeders started when I decided to go on Craigslist one day and see if there really were puppies posted there for sale, as I had heard. I expected to maybe find one or two and was shocked when I found 40-50 puppies all posted at various prices, some even for free. Some were older, but many were under eight weeks old. I was shocked, and without thinking I clicked on the photo of one puppy who looked sick. He was four weeks old, looked thin, and was for sale for $350. Before I knew what I was doing, I had texted the poster of the ad, stopped by the atm, picked up a friend and driven over an hour to get this puppy. He was lethargic, dehydrated, and we were so relieved to have him, because chances are good that should he have been sold to the people who didn’t realize the state he was in, he could have passed away.

Simon, the first puppy I ever helped to save on Craigslist.

You’re probably wondering who could possibly have put this tiny puppy, that we named Simon, on Craigslist for sale like he was a used and unwanted couch. The answer is a child. When we pulled up to the address we found a 16-18 year old kid. We asked him how he got the puppy, and he said his friend bred their pit bull and German shepherd together and they made a deal where he would help sell the puppies to make some money.

Other puppies, of all shapes and sizes, I've helped to save from Craigslist.

Simon was the first, but I’ve since helped to save over 45 puppies from similar fates. These puppies are either sold for low prices or given away for free entirely and all have had medical special needs, behavioral special needs, or both. We’ve taken puppies that have five legs, that are deaf, and that have genetic behavioral concerns. They could have ended up as the famous Puppy Doe, horribly abused. They could have ended up in the world of dog fighting. Also, as all are sold unspayed and unneutered, they call all become the next dogs used for backyard breeding to continue the cycle.

While saving these puppies, one thought crossed my mind over and over: what happens to their mothers? I always ask where the mother is. Most bought the puppy from someone else and were now selling it because it was too much work. The first time I came into contact with one of the mothers was when myself and my friend were working at another rescue and decided to save a puppy we named Freddie.

When we came to get Freddie the man met us with the puppy in the hallway, he was filthy and skinny but really just excited to see new, kind people. For the first time, when I asked where the mother was he said right inside and asked if we wanted to see her. I said yes, and he led us into his apartment. It was tiny and smelled terrible. As soon as we walked in the door, I saw a tiny grey pit bull with a white blaze down her face chained to the wall of the kitchen. He told me her name was Precious. The chain was short but so thick and heavy it pulled her head down. She had maybe three feet to move in a half circle around the wall she was tethered to. There were feces all around and she was clearly still lactating. She was so excited to see us and she began to bark, and the man picked up this thick, studded letter belt that was sitting on the kitchen counter and began to beat her right in front of us. We were stunned but quickly tried to convince him to sell her to us. He said she was his brother’s dog, so we begged him to call his brother, who said for “sentimental reasons” he couldn’t sell her for less than $1,000. We didn’t have that kind of money, and we were forced to leave her there. I still remember walking down the hallway and just hearing her scream.

We went to the car and before we even had a chance to cry about what we had just seen, we called the police. I had grown up watching Animal Cops on Animal Planet and I truly believed that they would come and save her, but they didn’t. A few days later, when they finally came to investigate, they sent me an email with one sentence:

At that moment I realized how naive we had been when thinking about the laws that are meant to protect animals. They don’t make it a requirement to give a dog a happy, or even acceptable life. They just require the bare necessities of survival, like access to food, water, and shelter. The scene we saw in that apartment should not be legal, the way Precious had to live her life should not be legal….but it was; it is. This is a huge problem when rescuers try to save these mama dogs from backyard breeding or puppy mill situations.

When we founded Wayward Ranch, we started out continuing to save puppies from these situations. They were easy to find fosters and adopters for, and we felt confident as a newly formed organization that we were starting with what we knew. When we received a call to take in an adult stray dog found in a public park in New York City, honestly, my first thought was to say “no,” that we weren’t yet ready to take on an adult dog. A dog with an unknown past and unknown medical status. At first I suggested the finder bring the dog to the city shelter. Then, she sent us a video and everything else changed. This dog was a thrown away mama, she had been dumped in a public park during a sporting event and her owner had driven away. She was full of milk, skinny, and filthy, and I knew we would find a way to give her the care she needed.

Rhea they day she came into our care.

Rhea was panicked when she arrived, and had mange. She searched for her babies for days. When she finally calmed down and began to adjust to life without them, we saw what a beautiful dog she was, and helped her recover physically and emotionally, until a wonderful family saw her and brought her home.

Her first owners saw her only as a way to make money. They fed and gave her water enough to keep her alive, but no more than that. She had clearly never seen a vet, been allowed on a soft dog bed, or even hugged. She had been kept outdoors and only for the purpose of breeding. Once her puppies were sold, her owners no longer had use for her and threw her away like trash. They most likely charged $200-$500 per puppy when they sold them, meaning if she had an average litter of 5 puppies, they made $1,000-$2,500 (if not more) from her one litter. Each of those puppies likely were removed from their mom too young, and sold without vaccines, dewormings, or being spayed and neutered. Sadly, we don’t know where they ended up, but we know Rhea is now loved and safe, inside, and valued as a family pet, not as a way to make money. She also prepared us to better save adult dogs, so when we came across another mama dog in need we didn’t hesitate.


That dog was Mhysa. Mhysa is my personal dog now, but when I first met her, she was a dog at the end of a chain guarding a drug house. Her three week old puppy had been posted for sale online and we went to save her. She was nearly dead and her back leg was injured. The people who had her were feeding her dehydrated milk and were only treating her leg wound with vaseline. They were clearly high when we arrived, and told us they had picked the puppy up when their friend’s trap house down the street had been raided by the cops. The owner of the house had gone to jail and the mother of the puppies had been seized as evidence, but the puppies had been left behind. We bought Panda for $100 and rushed her to the vet and into a loving foster home. As we left the house of her owner, she called down the stairs to us to stay in touch so that when we bred Panda she could have pick of the litter from us.

Mhysa's puppy Panda the day she was rescued.

A few weeks later we got a text from her that her friend who owned the mama dog had been released from jail and he now had another puppy from the same litter he wanted to sell for $100. We got back in the car to go save her, a puppy we named Amanda, and when we got there we found her laying on the floor, too malnourished to walk.

Amanda, a few days after she was rescued, in a loving foster home.

With the owner there now, I finally had a chance to ask about the mama dog. He told me that she had been returned to him when he was released from jail, and she was outside if I wanted to take a look. When I looked through the back door and I saw this tiny little brown and white dog looking up at me. She rushed the door barking and showing her teeth, but her chain wouldn’t let her get close. I asked him what his plan was with her, and he told me he planned to get rid of her. He said he was selling his home to start his life over and he wasn’t planning to bring her. I pressed him a bit and asked if he meant he would sell her, and he said he would either turn her loose or shoot her. I made it clear to him that I wanted her, and he said he had a few weeks to decide what he was going to do, and he promised to stay in touch. As we walked out of the door I thought back to the mama dog chained in the kitchen named Precious. I felt like I was letting this dog down the same way I let her down, but surely this time the cops would get involved, I mean the guy was openly admitting he would shoot his dog. But, when I called the police I found out that where he lived, as long as the killing was done in a “humane manner” he was within his rights to shoot his dog.

Amanda and Panda, adopted and off to their new forever home!

I spent the next five weeks texting the owner every other day, begging him to give her to me. He kept saying with how aggressive she was on the chain he couldn’t sell her to me. I told him I was a dog trainer, I wouldn’t be asking to buy her if I couldn’t handle her. It took five weeks for him to finally text me his price: “$1,000.” I didn’t think, I didn’t negotiate, I just said yes. He gave me a few days to get her, and I immediately went to my personal Facebook page. I didn’t know if anyone would care about this dog enough to donate to save her. Many people commented I should let the police handle it (not realizing they already were aware and couldn’t or wouldn’t help her), but a small group of my friends, family, and just random people on facebook understood why I had to save her this way, and donated and for that I am forever grateful. The day before we had to go and get her, both of her puppies were adopted to a beautiful family, who not only gave adoption donations for the pups, but gave an additional donation and told us to go get the mom!

In the middle of the night, the next day, that is exactly what we did. The owner didn’t want his neighbors to see his guard dog leave and try to rob his house, so he made us come after dark and back into his driveway. Then he took her and put her in a crate in the back of our car, we paid him his money, and we left. Mhysa’s rehabilitation story is a long one and I don’t want to take up too much time with it here, but I felt so much relief when we finally had her, and she was safe. She was already in heat again, filthy, and terrified of the world. The most shocking thing about this tiny little guard dog was how quickly she chose to trust us. She spent almost two years in foster before I decided she was supposed to be a part of my family. She is so loved here with us, and lives on the farm now. Mhysa fit into my pack like she had always been there. She is the most loyal dog I’ve ever met and would literally jump through fire for me.

Every day that I wake up to her snoring on my feet, having tucked herself in under the covers, I am glad that we saved her. Not everyone may agree with how or why we did, but I know it was the right thing to do. She was another thrown away byproduct of backyard breeding. To her owner she was to make some extra cash, and instead of getting a job, he thought it would be easier to just breed her to his neighbor’s dog and they could split the profits of selling the puppies. To me she is family.

Nina and her litter of five were some of the lucky ones.

We’ve saved other animals who also were byproducts of backyard breeding. Nina came to us pregnant, but still just a puppy herself. She is one of the lucky ones, because when her owner was evicted and he left her behind, a kind man took her in to give her a safe home. As soon as he realized she was pregnant he asked us to take her. Not once did he think of her as a way to make money, he just wanted to be sure she and her puppies would be safe. Thanks to his kindness Nina and her puppies Beaver, Possum, Skunk, Squirrel, and Fox all are living beautiful lives with their adopters instead of ending up back in the breeding system.

Lola are her litter of eleven were also victims of backyard breeding.

Dogs aren’t the only victims of backyard breeding. Pot belly pig breeding is becoming a huge problem in our country. Getting a tiny, micro, mini pig is a fad, but then reality strikes when owners realize there is no such thing. Healthy pot bellies do not stay tiny and micro, they grow up to 100-300 lbs. The tiny pigs being sold are usually piglets that are just a few days old and way too young to be away from mom. And again what happens to their mothers? Most live neglected lives, being forced to breed again and again. Luckily Lola, who came to us last spring, only had to endure being bred once before she was seized from her home and then eventually brought into our care to deliver 11 precious babies.

The video that introduced us to our most recent mama, #WaywardWinnie.

This topic has been on my mind lately because of our most recent rescue. Her name was Stratus (now it's Winnie) when I first was introduced to her through a video emailed to me by the Manhattan ACC. She was a thrown away mama, full of milk and desperately searching for her puppies, just like Rhea, just like Mhysa. She was a little grey pit bull with a white stripe down her face, just like Precious.

Winnie wanted to be a good mom so badly, she even tried nursing stuffed animals.

She had been tied to the fence of a church, likely immediately after giving birth to a litter of puppies that she never even had the chance to raise. They will all likely be sold on Craigslist at way too young an age in the weeks to come for the owner to make a profit. Luckily she came to our rescue where she is safe, cared for, loved, and evaluated as we prepare her to find an adoptive home. I encourage you today or in the next few days, go on to Craigslist, and search for puppies, pit bulls, or bullies for sale, look at all of the puppies that come up who need help, and ask yourself where their mothers are.

Take a moment to scroll through and see just a few recent posts of Craigslist puppies.

You can help these pups and their moms by choosing to adopt and never shop. Spay and neuter your pets. Go on these online sale sites like Craigslist and flag all of the posts you see for underage puppies being sold. Research your local pet laws and see if there are flaws you want to work to change. If you see a potentially dangerous situations contact your local animal rescue for help. Ask US for help! Comment below and let’s start a discussion about ways to end backyard breeding for good!

Written by:

Eleni Calomiris

Executive Director

Wayward Ranch Animal Sanctuary, Inc.

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