INDONESIA

Rescuing dying dogs from Indonesian puppy mills

An intrepid group of animal defenders in Jakarta has gone on a mission to confiscate dogs from abusive dog breeders. Tipped off by neighbours, they locate hidden puppy mills, where pedigree dogs are made to breed excessively in highly unsanitary conditions. Then, they make their move. 

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Bulldogs at a puppy mill. All photos courtesy of Jakarta Animal Action Network. 

An intrepid group of animal defenders in Jakarta has gone on a mission to confiscate dogs from abusive dog breeders. Tipped off by neighbours, they locate hidden puppy mills, where pedigree dogs are made to breed excessively in highly unsanitary conditions. Then, they make their move.

“Sometimes the puppy mill owners try to harass us to get the dogs back, but they’re less interested once they realize we’ve sterilized the dogs”

Karin Franken is a co-founder of the NGO Jakarta Animal Aid Network. She has lived in Indonesia for two decades, and runs a vet clinic in Jakarta.

Dog breeders have existed for a long time, but in the last year-and-a-half, we’ve seen a huge surge of really awful puppy mills, which has coincided with a growth in demand for pedigree dogs. People see dogs like chihuahuas, bulldogs and shih tzus as status symbols, and a lot of young people have realised that there’s money to be made in breeding. They literally set up operations in their backyards.

A rescued dog.

We show up with a group of activists and volunteers, and basically negotiate with the people who run the puppy mill until they give in. We take photos, we invoke animal cruelty laws, we threaten to come back with a lawyer, to hold protests… Sometimes these negotiations take hours, but it works. We don’t call in the police, since they are not at all used to dealing with this type of situation, and it’s not a priority for them anyway - though we hope to find ways to work with them in the future.

All four operations we’ve carried out so far have been successful; we’ve saved a total of more than 40 dogs so far. Sometimes the puppy mill owners try to harass us to get the dogs back, but they’re less interested once they realise we’ve sterilized the dogs and that they can no longer be bred.

 

“They fed the bulldogs only a bit of salted rice”

The conditions we find dogs living in at these mills is horrendous. They’re usually kept in cages outside or tied to trees, with little shelter from the elements. They get very little food. The last place we went to, which bred bulldogs, fed them only a bit of salted rice. This leads to them losing their teeth and developing all sorts of diseases, which their owners of course never treat. They often have skin conditions, severe anaemia, blood parasites, ticks, sometimes scabies… Some of their conditions, like demodex, are then passed on to their babies.

Rescued dogs.

The females are pumped full of hormones so that they are as fertile as possible, which often leads to them developing cysts. When we operate on them, it looks like bunches of grapes inside them. Other problems are long-term – shih tzus, for example, have very sensitive eyes; in puppy mills, they often lose sight in one or both eyes. If they aren't rescued, and don't die, puppy mill owners dump them out on the street once they're no longer fertile. 

This bulldog was being operated due to burst abcesses. 

Since they are pedigree dogs, we are usually able to find people who want to adopt them. But we have to screen the potential owners very carefully, since we don’t want anyone who is just looking for a status symbol and ends up neglecting them.

 

“Surprisingly, these dogs are incredibly sweet, after having been starved for food but also company”

You might think that these dogs, after living in such harsh conditions, would be difficult. But with neglect, it’s different than with dogs who have lived on the streets or have been beaten. They’ve been alone, starved for food but also for company. We find them to be incredibly sweet and excited by the world. Some of them have never run around a yard before!

A JAAN volunteer with rescued dogs that are up for adoption. 

In the clinic that I run, we see lots of puppies that were clearly born in puppy mills. The people who buy them, usually through the intermediary of a pet store, don’t realise they’re sick right away.

Puppy mills, of course, don’t just exist in Indonesia; they exist all around the world. But it’s a new phenomenon here, and it’s very hard to stop it in countries where there is a high level of poverty and where there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of animals rights. But I think we’re moving in the right direction. More and more Indonesians are interested in animal welfare; for example, Jakarta banned dancing monkeys last year. We need to be patient.

Indeed, puppy mills exist everywhere from Indonesia to the United States. However, many less developed countries, like Indonesia, lack specific laws regulating dog breeding.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure (@gjfaure).