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It’s a city in the middle of America named for a crusading king, born out of a settlement that predates the U.S. itself, and which bounced back and forth between France and Spain for a long time until, just under two hundred years ago, Missouri became a state and St. Louis became the Gateway to the West.

Andre and I traveled east to visit this city for “Cesar Millan’s Dog Nation,” and the place was a revelation to both of us. Andre told me, “St. Louis is an amazing city because not only was it my first time, but I got to experience the history of America, I got to experience what it took to create the pioneer essence.”

That essence is alive today, and I felt that pioneer spirit no more strongly than in the people determined to create a wonderful new world for our closest animal companions.

Probably because of its history as a gateway city, and its location in the middle of the country on the Mississippi River, St. Louis does have an unfortunate blot on its history. Andre puts it succinctly: “The people there are super-friendly and really, really focus on the epidemics of dogs, one of them being that St. Louis is the capital of puppy mills in the country.”

It can be extremely rough, especially if you have a big heart like Andre or I, to confront the sad reality of illicit puppy mill operations. It can damage the reputation of the entire industry of reputable breeders, not to mention create tens of thousands of unwanted dogs, many of them also with severe neurological or psychological problems.

In almost every interview I do, one question comes up: Have there ever been any dogs you’ve been unable to rehabilitate? The answer to that one is forever drilled into my brain, because the experience was so sad and vivid. It’s that, other than dogs whose people just can’t do what I teach them, there was one case where I couldn’t do anything about a pair of puppy mill dogs that were so severely inbred that their neurological problems made them dangerous, aggressive, and incapable of being rehabilitated.

I had to place that pair with a very strong, assertive pack leader type, and they had to live the rest of their lives away from any other dogs or people. And that all happened because of an unscrupulous person trying to make a buck off of living creatures.

Bob Baker, of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, explained the process to us in the show. An unscrupulous breeder will see how much money they make from raising, say, a hundred puppies and, instead of being happy with that, try to make more by raising two hundred puppies. Pretty soon, they have more puppies than they can handle, living in squalid conditions, and without adequate care, training, or socialization.

This was the first time Andre has had hands-on experience dealing with this problem, but knowing his big heart like I do, I knew it was going to make a positive impression and give him the passion to stop this in his lifetime.

“As sad as puppy mills sound,” Andre told me, “Happiness came from a place where I saw people not attempting but actually making a big change. I met up with Bob, and there were I think 2,500 puppy mills in St. Louis alone, and they cut out half of them in a year. Fifty percent of them gone, in St. Louis, due to this man’s wonderful dreams.”

People like Bob Baker are doing an incredible service for the animals, who cannot speak for themselves. The overpopulation of dogs is a very serious world problem and approximately sixty percent of the dogs being born now are never going to become part of a family. Most of them will be euthanized before they are three years old.

Dog Nation — and all animal lovers — need to know about this problem, but also know that there are people dedicated to doing something about it. Together, we can end such abusive practices, encourage legitimate, humane breeders, and work to solve the dog overpopulation problem forever through education, and spay and neuter programs.

Now I do want to make it absolutely clear that the shady individuals running these puppy mills are hardly a reflection on the vast majority of the people of St. Louis. The industry wound up there more through an accident of geography than anything else. But the people we met and talked to are just as eager to end this blight as Andre and I are, and as I hope you are, too.

Maybe it’s the influence of that French saint, King Louis IX, who’s smiling down on the people of the city to make them so friendly and humane. Maybe it’s just their reputation as a bridge between east and west and old and new. But whatever it is, they’re doing something right.

They even impressed my son, who gave me his overall impression of the place: “The culture in St. Louis is by far among the most unique. They’re in the middle of the country, so they’ve adapted. And they have the best massages at the Four Seasons.”

I’ll second that.

Stay calm, and be a pioneer!

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