“Ooooh! Get this one!” squealed Penny Patel, darling of the six o’clock news. She was on a ride-along with animal rescue agents as she did a story about the plight of abused pets. She was pointing to a cage in which a small terrier cringed. It was covered in mange and it’s hair was knotted and matted. One eye had become cloudy, and as it tried to stand up in its low ceiling cage, demonstrated a limp. “We can use him as the lead in.” She was gleeful, thinking of high ratings for her that could catapult her from the small time shoelace rural television stations to the city and major market. That could translate into a significant raise, hopping from $7.86 an hour up to $10 –maybe more. She sighed as she looked down at her Jimmy Choo shoes, some the worse for wear from tramping around in the filth of the puppy mill. But she bucked herself up again by thinking about higher ratings. “Did you get that pile of corpses over by the shed?”
“I got ’em.” said Bill. He was the station camera man assigned to the story, which made sense seeing as he was the station’s only camera man. He was content with his job because he liked the work, and figured moving to a major market would put pressures on him and make him busy. A bit on the lazy side, he enjoyed the laid back pace of the rural mom and pop station. He was having a hard time filming the scene of the puppy mill. The horrific visions of the oppressed animals along with the smells of rot, feces, putrefaction and death had disturbed him as soon as he climbed out of his car, settling onto him all over. It would take more than a shower to get rid of the stench permeating his clothes. He would burn them, no washing would ever get it out.
The local police had arrived and taken the owners of the mill into custody and Penny took Bill over to interview Mrs. Tanya Bradley, the ower showing on the property deeds. After looking into the camera and introducing the piece, she pushed the mic through the open door of the police car’s back seat. “Mrs. Bradley, how many dogs are here?”
“I’m just an old woman on Social Security trying to make a few dollars so I can eat.” Bill made sure the camera took her entire 320 pound frame, sheathed in a mu-mu. She had sandals on her feet and the uncovered flesh from her hemline down revealed pock marks and sores and rosacea patches of dry skin.
“How many animals are here?” repeated Penny evenly. “How many dogs do you have to care for?”
“I do my best for these dogs. They’re my life!” she said with petulance. “I’m not hurting anybody with my dogs.”
A police officer stepped up and said he needed to transport the woman and her live in boyfriend and accomplice downtown. He pushed the door shut even as Tanya Bradley railed of her impoverished situation. The cop stood a minute by the door of te cruiser, looked at Penny and said “Her records show she makes about a hundred thousand bucks a year on these animals.”
“That’s outrageous,” said Penny. “She comes off as a welfare case. Who soes she sell to in order to make that kind of cash?”
“Most of the dogs you find in pet stores come from puppy mills.” said an animal shelter agent. “I wish people would get their dogs from legitimate adoption facilities. Most people have no idea the number of dogs bought at pet stores only to die of infections stemming back to their raising in mills like this. They aren’t animals, they’re product, and so the cheaper they can make the care, the more profit they make. So illness runs rampant and that’s why pet stores have the pet checks. They tell the customer to take the dog to a vet and have it checked out. If a disease or other issue shows up, the pet store will replace the dog or give a refund. These poor creatures are no different to the mill operators than a box of screws would be to a hardware store.”
“Why can’t you do anything about this?” Penny directed at the cop.
He shrugged. “We are doing what we can. We’re here right now because a case was made for abuse.”
“Chances are that woman will receive a fine, and we’ll take the dogs for sure. Some of them will get adopted out, but there’s no doubt some will be destroyed to end their suffering.” said the shelter agent. “But the woman won’t see any jail time.”
The officer moved to the drivers door and got into the cruiser. He started the car and gave a wave to the group standing aside and drove up the rutted dirt driveway to the road back to town. The shelter agent went off to collect up animals and Penny and Bill toured the facility. There was a hodge-podge of kennels and corrals, all made from scraps of lumber, crudely nailed together. Plastic tarps were laid over the kennels, two decks made up of wire mesh cages two feet by three feet. The waste of the dogs above fell onto the dogs below. Row after row of these cobbled shelters contained mothers and a number of puppies, lone dogs who sat still and wide eyed, sick dogs, too ill to stand, and then there were the corpses. Penny rested her hand on Bill’s camera, pointing it to the ground. A signal to cut. Wrap. Stop recording. He didn’t argue.
The following morning, Penny was still looking a bit haggard from her previous days experience. But Bill looked awful. He had dark circles around baggy eyes, and was holding a double latte in his hand –an attempt to wake up. He said only that he’d had trouble sleeping. After an informal meeting on the days projected activities, each went off to gather news tidbits from the usual sources. Police, fire, Chamber of Commerce, the school district; all of these were often the sources for the local stories their station showed, along with the content provided by their leadership conglomerate. No stations worked alone anymore.
Prime among the stories was one about an arson. Vandals had apparently spread some sort of accelerator, probably gasoline, all over the property of one Tanya Bradley, currently in jail on animal cruelty charges and awaiting bail. According to the Fire Chief, the place had been “virtually sterilized by the flames.” Internal station news for the day included the fact that Penny took Bill out to lunch, her treat.