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More often than not, the dogs you find at fun functions like Marco's recent annual Mutts 'n Martinis are "rescue" animals.

That's a broad term for dogs that may have been saved from euthanasia (a.k.a. killed by lethal injection) after being found as strays; or saved from an abusive or neglectful home by an organization such as the ASPCA, or a dog that is simply no longer wanted, or can no longer be cared for by its owner.

On a more sinister level, take the case of Carlo, a Cavalier King Charles belonging to Jan and her husband Tom Martin, of Marco Island.

"We rescued him from an Amish (PA) puppy mill six years ago when he was just six months old," said Tom Martin. He was actually featured on Dateline. They (certain sections of the Amish) raise these dogs in such outlandish conditions. They were going to put Carlo down."

The dog, he said, was simply in a "horrible" condition at the time they acquired him.

"They put them in buildings with one door and a couple of windows in steel cages stacked on top of each other, and usually sell them to pet shops. These people … I don't have many good words for them," Martin said.

In the meantime, Carlo is now completely rehabilitated, and according to the Martins, a delightful pet with a gentle nature.

"If I ever got another dog, it would be this breed," Martin said.

Illness and disease are common in dogs from puppy mills, according to ASPCA information. This is largely because operators often fail to apply proper husbandry practices that would remove sick dogs from their breeding pools. Unlike responsible breeders, who place the utmost importance on producing the healthiest puppies possible, breeding at puppy mills is performed without consideration of genetic quality. This results in generations of dogs with unchecked hereditary defects, says the USPCA.

The big problem is that this "foolproof cash crop," instituted after WWII in response to widespread crop failures in the Midwest by the Department of Agriculture, is governed by loose laws.

"Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, it is completely legal to keep a dog in a cage only six inches longer than the dog in each direction, with a wire floor, stacked on top of another cage, for the dog's entire life. Conditions that most people would consider inhumane, or even cruel, are often totally legal," says the ASPCA.

One way of combating this inhumane practice is by Goodling "rescue dog" and visiting any number of websites dedicated to at least reducing the outrage.

See a photo spread of the dogs on display at Mutts 'n Martinis, which benefits the local Y's migrant outreach program, on pages B6-7 of the Thursday, March 26, edition of the Marco Island Sun Times.

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