I Breathe Easy: A Film About Puppy Mills

I recently came across a movie called I Breathe about puppy mills. The clips I saw of the film both moved me (listening to what the dogs have been through) and made me cringe (listening to the denials by breeders of how bad SOME in the industry truly are). I have been baffled by the fact that breeders don’t stand beside rescuers in the fight against puppy mills. Perhaps this movie could make me understand? Here’s what producer Jene Nelson had to say:

“I have been an animal lover my entire life and have always had dogs.  The images of substandard kennels and neglected dogs that were rescued stirred compassion and anger in me, but also made me very curious about the commercial dog breeding industry.  As a journalist, I realize there are always at least two sides to every story.  I truly wanted to see kennels that were well run and profile large scale dog breeders that were proud of their profession.  That seemed to be the untold story and I was eager to explore whether the notion of “puppy mills” was reality or media hype.  There are so many heartwarming and heart wrenching stories are about rescued dogs that it went without saying that rescue would play a huge role in this project.  I read an article about a Colorado-based group, National Mill Dog Rescue, and contacted the director.  Theresa Strader got back to me immediately and invited to tour the facility any time.  It took one visit for me to decide I had part of the story.  I was welcome to visit and shoot video at any time, without notice or restrictions.  I did not fare as well with the dog breeders.  It took several road trips and many hours on the telephone to try to get the other side.  The reluctance of breeders to talk about the profession they so righteously defend was unlike any other experience in my 27 years as a journalist.  My efforts were not met with open arms.  I was suspected of working for HSUS and was thought to be up to no good prior to ever meeting the people behind the allegations.  Keep in mind that I was never contacted by any of those folks and actually asked what I was doing.  I called Barb York, president of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, after an email was circulating that was presumably about me found its way into my inbox.  Next, I contacted Frank Losey, MPBA’s attorney and lobbyist, to ask for assistance in finding a kennel owner to be profiled for the documentary.  Frank talked to many breeders and one kennel owner was considering allowing me to film his operation, but the requirements were so stringent they were ridiculous.  For example, I could not videotape any barking dogs and the owner would get final say on what I was allowed to show.  I was repeatedly grilled and asked to defend my reasons for doing the documentary.  One of the breeders I approached told me if I came on his property, he would shoot me.  Ultimately, we could not come to an agreement with Missouri breeders.  The only kennel owner to allow me access was in Eastern Colorado.

I was unaware of dog auctions and found the practice disturbing. Companion animals being auctioned off to the highest bidder does not make much sense to me.  Can you imagine caring for a dog for a few years then hauling it off to the auction block without a second thought as to what happens to it?  I had hoped for more of an insight into the business by Bob Hughes, who operates Southwest Kennel Auction in Wheaton, Missouri.  It has a very good reputation and of the auctions I attended, it was far above what I had witnessed prior to visiting an auction in Wheaton.  The morning of the auction, I had breakfast with Bob Hughes.  He said he would consider doing an interview then would not return my calls or emails.  Dr. Jerome Schmidt (a veterinarian) operates Top of the Ozarks Auction in Hartville, Missouri.  He also declined an interview.

The lasting impact during my time producing I Breathe is the tireless work of rescue volunteers.  No dog is too sick or too dirty to get cuddles, kisses, and diligent care.  They are volunteers, for the most part, and not compensated in the traditional way for their hard work.  The rewards are beyond what money can offer a person.  Equal in impact is the sheer number of dogs that are involved in commercial breeding.  I visited some kennels without a camera and the sights and sounds were just like the numerous videos that are on the internet.  The empty look in the dogs’ eyes left a lasting impression.  There are no words to describe how it feels to watch that look disappear and be replaced with love.

I have now experienced that special bond firsthand. After the unexpected and devastating loss of my precious Tallie, I adopted one of these little rescue dogs.  My little rescued girl had an inguinal hernia, an umbilical hernia, permanently luxated kneecaps, chronic ear infections, horrible teeth and was infested with numerous parasites.  She is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and her puppies probably sold for plenty of money while she was neglected and sent on her way when her little body was used up.  It has truly been an honor to teach her what it means to be somebody’s baby.  When she looks at me with grateful eyes full of love, I melt!  I adopted her months after the documentary was complete and it has made this issue very, very personal.  Even though the production of I Breathe is complete, in many ways the journey continues…”

You can purchase a copy of I Breathe here.