My friends and I love roadtripping through the gorgeous and peaceful countryside of Pennsylvania, in particular, Lancaster County. We've been back a couple of times over the years, each time discovering something new or different.
Tonight, I went to the premiere of Madonna of the Mills, an illuminating documentary that a friend of mine wrote and directed, and it taught me something a lot different about Amish and Mennonite country.
Little did we know that as we were sampling the wares of these gentle people, they were raising a different agriculture product that few people know about.
You know those terribly cute puppies you see in the pet shops? The ones that are anxiously running around, hoping you'll bring them home with you? Chances are, that those cute little guys got to that pet store via a Lancaster puppy mill. And if not there, then a puppy mill in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas or Oklahoma.
They're not happy places. Like, at all. Basically, these mills are composed of hundreds of dogs kept in steel cages that are regulated (by the USDA, no less) to be about 6 inches bigger than the dogs themselves. They keep the mama dogs in those miserable, dirty cages for all of their lives, breeding litter after litter, until they're too worn out to breed any more. And then they get rid of them.
Madonna of the Mills is the story of one woman's quest to save as many of those dogs as possible. She's part of a dog rescue network that goes into Amish country, take the used and abused dogs, rehabilitate them, and try to place them wherever they can.
Admittedly, I am so not a dog person. Like, at all. But, watching the dogs being liberated, and their abuse-victim behavior was truly heart-breaking. One dog refused to pull her head out of the corner, and she ran away from the Shy Dog class! So very sad!
But, the film's tone isn't bleak. There's hope. There's the rescued dog that's become the faithful companion to a young autistic child. There's the fact that this woman has helped saved more than 2,000 dogs. And, then, there's the fact that there are people out in this world risking so much, and giving so much to help out these dogs.
That, in itself, makes you believe in the goodness of mankind.
So, the lesson for the evening is not to buy a puppy mill dog from your local pet store, or online. Check the shelters, check with a vet, but check.