Many people recognize Old Order Amish for their horse-drawn carriages and 17th-century appearance which includes mostly dark-colored clothing, beards for men, head coverings for women in public, and a ban on zippers. slide. Buttons? These are fine.
“Will Alisha react to the internet, cell phones and computers in your home,” our friend Gerry from Long Island asked, joking that the dog might have Amish beliefs and practices. He wondered aloud if Alisha would have trouble driving an automobile powered by an internal combustion engine rather than horsepower.
The Amish in America comes from conservative Anabaptist communities which began in Switzerland in the 1600s. They follow the teachings of Jakob Ammann, who spearheaded a split with the Mennonites over the issue of excommunication. Mennonites take a milder approach to excommunication.
When we arrived in Lancaster County, I felt refreshed. The clean air, rolling pastures, and orderly, well-made buildings reminded me of the bucolic countryside in Europe, such as rural Germany or Switzerland, where the Amish originated. I also felt a pleasant absence of marketing, technology and materialism. As we passed the school, my 10 year old daughter stepped in.
“Hey Dad, do you think this is where Pee Wee Herman made that balloon music for the Amish people?” she asked, referencing one of our favorite hilarious and heartwarming scenes from the 2016 movie “Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday,” in which Paul Ruben’s character charms a group of Amish by demonstrating the joy of crunching a balloon as a source of fun – a low-tech activity that then spread wildly among this community.
The Old Order Amish are known to be estranged from mainstream society and cautious of technological innovations, according to Edsel Burgge, Jr.., associate researcher at Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. And there are more and more of them.
As of 2020, approximately 340,000 Old Order Amish resided in approximately 560 settlements in the United States. Another 6,000 live in Canada and about 200 live elsewhere. The Old Order Amish birth rate is more than triple the American birth rate. Many Amish families have 5, 10 or more children.
As we pulled up to the Stoltzfus house, Esther walked out with Alisha and my daughters went crazy for their new pet. They ran around the yard, playing and bonding with the little pup while I chatted with Esther and Isaac. Their own house dog, an older Yorkshire Terrier, pranced in the yard.
They told me they started owning and breeding Siberian Huskies, a favorite dog of Isaac, in the early 2000s. “It went from there,” he said. Growing up, he saw puppies selling for as little as $5 through message boards and classified ads. But around the millennium, the demand for small dogs began to take off, as did Lancaster County’s reputation for breeding small dogs and hosting some puppy mills.
“People just started to meet that demand as the demand grew,” Isaac said. “When we first started selling dogs, I thought selling a puppy for $300 was a fair amount, you know. That was a pretty decent paycheck.
The Stoltzfus family said they only sold Siberian Huskies until 2019, when they started seeing more city dwellers come to buy puppies and realized that Siberian Huskies were perhaps only not be better suited to life in a small apartment. So they split into smaller breeds “for people who want a dog inside the house.”
The Stoltzfus family expanded their operation by building a kennel that could house about 10 dogs, mostly females. If each female bears 3 to 7 puppies per year and those puppies sell for between $700 and $1,200, the Stoltzfus family probably earns between $21,000 and $84,000 in income each year from the sale of puppies.
The big boom in their business came when apps started creating markets between breeders and buyers. “That’s when puppy sales really spiked, once we started putting them on the internet,” Esther explained. “Usually we would have just listed them in the local newspapers. We didn’t have people from everywhere like we do now. Most people now come from out of state.
And the internet and app economy also brings together strangers and Amish families more often. I mentioned that I saw they had clients from Brooklyn, Ohio and many other places recently.
“Oh yes! A lot of people are from New York, New Jersey and Maryland,” Esther explained.
From their perspective, Petfinder and other apps that connect strays and rescue dogs to owners are a great service. They also know that America has more demand for pets beyond the stray and rescue market. And the application is very helpful for Amish families, who are trying to sustain their family, their farm, and their faithful way of life.
“Regular people aren’t doctors and lawyers, you know, so their jobs usually don’t pay as well as people with college education,” Isaac said. “So they supplement their income by selling a few dogs.” They also like to share this small business with their children, who often play with the dogs and walk them on the farm.
Isaac and Esther said they were happy to see puppy welfare awareness growing in the area. A non-profit organization group called PAWS includes a large group of Amish men who work with animal welfare advocates to educate people about the law as well as how to have decent care for dogs. “They’re trying to whittle down this puppy mill idea and get it out of Lancaster County,” Isaac said.
Isaac and Esther gave us a tour of their farm, including the workshop where Isaac and his children make beautiful hardwood furniture with clean lines and, at times, a distressed farmhouse look. They showed us the barn where they keep their horse and buggy.