Stocktaking is a normal, regular activity for any business. When the phrase 'stocktake and clear out" is referring to living, sentient companion animals, it's a sinister notion. But that's the phrase used to describe what happens in the puppy trade when discarded breeding dogs and puppies not deemed 'cute' enough to sell are dealt with. As we're well into the new year, in the post-Christmas puppy market, across the nation this bleak activity is now being enacted in the puppy farms and rescues are doing their best for the dogs by taking in the cleared out 'stock'.
The dogs range from the ex-brood bitches no longer financially viable, producing smaller and smaller litters or none at all; to worn out stud dogs no longer 'fit for purpose' and maybe a handful of unsold puppies from the Christmas market. Into the rescues they flood this rag-tag assortment of bedraggled and filthy discarded dogs. Are they the lucky ones? In one respect they are: they're now safe, their breeding lives are over; no more deprivation, no more neglect. Their lives will start from the moment their paws touch the startling comfort of a clean kennel floor. Pity those who will be forced to take their place.
Now for the veterinary and rescue teams the work starts in earnest as the painstaking process of healing and rehabilitation gets underway. These humans don't view these sentient creatures as discards from a stocktake. They see them as innocents needing help and kindness. Firstly the dogs are given their names, the first act in the restoration of dignity. Now they belong, they have a place in a world that has so far chosen to ignore them, the first sign that someone cares.
Next, in come the dog groomers - some professional groomers donate their time and expertise to help perform the unenviable task of washing off the worst of the grime and filth, deeply ingrained into the skin and coats of these dogs who have existed in squalor for a lifetime. No elaborate trimming or styling is required, only the need to strip off matted and soiled coats. Donated jumpers are then worn to keep frail, abused bodies warm and dry.
For large influxes of ex-puppy farm dogs in the 'stocktake clear outs', a trip to the vet for a well overdue health check can be challenging. Most have never traveled apart from the terrifying journey from puppy farm to rescue. They have no concept of lead walking or wearing collars, necessitating being carried for everything, which is frightening to most who have known no kind handling their whole lives. It's easier for vets to visit the rescue kennels to health check the dogs, prioritise and formulate treatment plans.
The list of medical problems the dogs suffer is a depressing indictment of the state of welfare and care the dogs experience during their breeding lives. Rotten teeth and infected mouths top the list, closely followed by chronically diseased ears, sore and infected skin, tumours, cataracts, glaucoma and hernias. Lice, ear mites and mange are also regularly found at these health checks.
Restraint for and responses to a veterinary examination are unbelievably shocking the first time they're witnessed: most dogs won't move nor react and will give nothing away. Some of the smaller breed dogs when picked up will wrap their front feet tightly around the strange human arms holding them. To the untrained eye this offers the false appearance of friendly engagement, a sign of a desire for interaction and affection. Sadly this is not the case: it arises purely from fear, they hold on tightly because they don't know what else to do; they're too scared to struggle or try to escape; they hold on and freeze hoping against hope that nothing bad will happen.
The lack of normal responses can be problematical to any vet: conditions that are clearly painful provoke no reaction at all. Some of these dogs have suffered from constant pain for weeks, months or even years but show nothing at all, what would have been the point? No-one helped, no-one cared.
Their eyes similarly give nothing away - dead, empty eyes devoid of brightness and life. Empty souls. The one thing they rarely show at this stage is aggression. Remarkable when we consider they really could be forgiven for snapping seeing as how they've suffered at the hands of mankind. Why not growl or nip in an attempt to be free of human interactions? No-one's ever shown these dogs a scrap of kindness, and yet they don't. Maybe buried deep in traumatised minds is a tiny glimmer of hope that was never quite extinguished, assuring them they're safe and being helped.
During these early days in the rescue centre slowly but surely, tiny miracles start to happen: walking into a kennel and not having the dogs flee to a far corner cowering in fear.
Noses tentatively sniffing an outstretched hand.
A tiny spark of interest and curiosity that starts to flicker in sad eyes.
Those first free exploratory steps onto grass.
Maybe the best thing of all is watching the individual characters start to blossom - each one with a unique personality that's been suppressed for a lifetime now allowed to take flight.
For now they are truly free.
My sincere thanks for information and help with the writing of this from a veterinary professional who wishes to remain unnamed in order to protect future rescue work.
Thanks also to Puppy Love Campaigns for the use of their images. Please support the work of Puppy Love Campaigns if you wish to see an end to puppy farming.