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I know about a dangerous dog breeding business, and I'm not sure what to do, in this week's We're Prudence. – Slate

Each week in the Tuesday column, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays.
Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer; thanks to Crys H., Animal Mama, Animal Advocate, Elfi and Farm Boy for their ideas!
Dear Prudence,
Maybe the answer here is that I should mind my business, but I have what feels like a real moral dilemma: One of my relatives is hoarding animals and illegally breeding dogs. Without even touching whether breeding in itself is wrong, this specific person is not a good caretaker of animals. There are now seven adult dogs, 14 puppies, and several cats living in her small backyard, and she can’t seem to go more than three or four months without getting a new animal. She also had rabbits and chickens at some point, but the dogs killed them.
She has confirmed that none of the animals has ever been to the vet, and she feeds them cheap food just dumped into a pile in the backyard. She doesn’t walk them or provide enrichment activities, they all just live in the backyard and never leave. Two of her dogs are a breed that are supposed to be groomed regularly but they haven’t been groomed in over five years. I’m sick to think that she’s continuously bringing more animals into this situation.
A neighbor called animal control to come investigate the situation, and my relative claimed that animal control said they don’t have too many animals and that they all seem well taken care of. (Our city has a limit on no more than four dogs per household, so I’m not sure what happened there.) She was issued a citation for having unregistered pets and was warned not to breed them. Well, now she has two litters, with another on the way that she’s selling on Facebook.
I’ve wondered if I should give animal control a call to report the breeding. She has a Facebook page for her new breeding business, so there’s no question about whether it was a mistake or not. I know I can’t control the outcome of what happens when the authorities get involved, but it’s not that I want to see her getting punished—I just want her to stop getting and creating new animals that she can barely care for. Her family doesn’t make a lot of money, but she does have a wealthy dad who bails her out of true emergencies, so if she does lose her “investment” dogs they’re going to be ok. She has a pattern of lying and shutting people out when they try to confront her about basically anything, so I’ve held my tongue for now. We do live in an area where a lot of people think of animals as property, so feeding them and not chaining them up all day is the bare minimum of care as far as the rest of our family thinks. What do you think?
Dear Concerned,
Okay, I’ll admit it: This letter was not actually as tough as I thought it was when I first read it. The answer was clear to just about everyone who responded: You have to report her. Now.
Why wasn’t this immediately obvious to me? Well, I think this response explains it.
On some level, I guess I must have struggled with the idea of getting your family member in trouble, and maybe I naively believed what she told you about animal control’s lack of concern about the situation:
Crys H: Ask yourself this question: if this were a complete stranger doing this, would you report them? You absolutely would, as would I (and I am not someone who particularly likes dogs). She is neglecting these animals by not grooming them and raising them in what sounds like filthy, unsanitary conditions. They are probably miserable. Additionally, she is selling them to unsuspecting people while knowing they haven’t received basic medical care and required vaccinations, which puts people (especially children) at risk of harm (rabies anyone?). If your issue is that you somehow feel a familial obligation to not report them (e.g., blood is thicker than water) please know this is the same mechanism that allows child abuse and neglect to flourish. Your relative is no more important than anyone else and does not deserve special treatment. Her behavior is gross, abusive, and narcissistic. If you don’t report this, you are complicit. Please do the right thing.
Crys H is right! The animals are innocent. Make an anonymous report, with all the evidence you have, and feel free to deny that you were the one who did it.
Animal Mama: Run, do not walk to the local humane society and the local animal authorities. Tell your veterinarian and ask for their advice on who can get things done. Look for a rescue group for whatever breed of dog she is abusing. Are the dogs registered? If so, report the situation to the American Kennel Club—they crack down on dodgy breeders and revoke their dog’s papers, making them only worth pet money or nothing at all. The animals need your help. She does not deserve your protection.
Animal Advocate: This isn’t tough at all. Those are sentient beings who rely on humans for their well-being. This woman needs to be reported and barred from ever owning an animal ever again. Note: I’ve been in rescue for the past 17+ years and have seen too many ways animals are mistreated, neglected, and downright abused. Not to mention, we have a serious dog (and cat) overpopulation with 920,000 shelter animals (dogs/cats) being euthanized every year. People who adopt from backyard breeders often continue the cycle themselves. We, in rescue, are EXHAUSTED from trying to save as many as possible. Municipal shelters are overcrowded with unclaimed strays often dumped by their “owner.” If anything is to change, it has to start with speaking up and advocating for the animals. Animals are NOT ATM machines. Thank you!
Elfi: This is pretty clear, here. You make the call anonymously. You are doing what’s right for the animals, the human, the neighbors, the property values, etc. Call animal control, tell them you need this to be anonymous. Ask for a time to meet with an officer. Give them printouts of the Facebook listings, let them take it from there. Then deny all involvement, “mercy ME! They what? And then they said you were selling the dogs on Facebook? Wow what a pickle! How ‘bout them Mets?”
Not to be dramatic, but the animals are depending on you. You have the ability to make a big difference for them here.
Now, on the off chance it’s true that the authorities aren’t interested in taking any action, perhaps due to the local culture that you mention, this reader suggested a softer and more gradual approach to improve the dogs’ lives, by gently influencing your relative and serving as an example of how to be a responsible pet owner. In a situation like this, all options are worth considering.
Farm Boy: I also come from such an area of the country. I doubt getting animal welfare involved will make as much difference as it might in other places. I don’t think any grand gesture will erase the problem here. Instead, I think you should shoot for incremental improvement. Here’s what I would do instead: Go visit her from time to time and get to know her dogs. Play with them, talk about their health, and so forth. Eventually, take one for a day out, give it a break from that environment by going for a walk in the woods—maybe even have it groomed. Imagine her surprise when she sees the difference a little attention makes. Once you’ve established that you’re well-meaning and not a threat, locate someone who knows about animal welfare to pose as your friend who loves dogs. Warn them about what they’ll see, then bring them along to make one or two low-key suggestions that could improve the situation for the dogs. Your relative will either take the suggestion or not. But you might plant a seed. Continue moving in this direction until she gives up on dog-breeding. I guarantee she will because no one will want to buy dogs from her. If puppies have not had their shots. not to mention the lack of a pedigree, the best she’ll manage to do is give them away. The other way this could turn out is that your relative realizes this is a real passion and she could start taking the whole project seriously. Your grace might be what turns her into a responsible pet breeder.
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