We've all seen them, noses pressed to the glass, eyes pleading for somebody to take them home. Those adorable furry faces are so cute and cuddly that many a rational person has made the impulsive decision to bring one home, a few hundred dollars later. Inevitably, thousands of dollars in veterinary bills after that, the poor sucker finally realizes that maybe buying that puppy in the window wasn't such a grand idea after all.
Many people, unfortunately, have no idea of what goes on behind the scenes, and where that pet store puppy came from. As tempting as it is to take them, such an act fuels the puppy mill business, sentencing more dogs to lives of misery, and usually brings the new owner years of heavy vet bills and heartache. For the sake of these poor defenseless dogs, please take a minute to read some of the information provided below before considering the purchase of a pet store puppy.
Where do pet store puppies come from? The truth is horrifying.
It is well known that puppy farms - or puppy mills as they are also called - are only interested in profit. They are not interested in animal welfare, as this would cut in to their profits.
The majority of pet shops that sell puppies are supplied by puppy mills, as these unethical pet shops are also motivated solely by profit and are fully aware of how puppy mills operate.
Puppy mills hold breeder dogs captive in filthy conditions and abuse them all their lives. They destroy their health by making them breed continuously from the moment they are physically able.
They receive no treatment from a vet and are often starving and ill, suffering terribly. The breeding dogs die painful, prolonged deaths from infection and illness because of this abuse and neglect.
Treatment from a qualified vet is considered too expensive and the dog not worth it. This is because the dog, which is simply considered a commodity like any other, can easily be replaced.
No health checks are done to see if they are suitable to be breeding dogs, so terrible conditions are constantly passed down to their puppies.
When the dog can no longer make money by being bred because of physical problems due to being bred too often and neglect, it is usually killed inhumanely.
People who buy from anywhere supplied by puppy farms inadvertently fund all this suffering.
Veterinary treatment is also withheld from the puppies at puppy mills because of it cutting in to profits. This means that many of the puppies also die painful, prolonged deaths.
A lot of inbreeding goes on in puppy farms as the breeding dogs are not health tested. As a result, the puppies are often riddled with painful physical and behavior problems throughout life. These problems are very distressing, and expensive to correct, if they can be corrected at all. Sadly, Sometimes the only humane option for owners is to put the dog to sleep.
The puppy farms and the sellers they supply know about all these problems, but do not care. When each dog is taken in to the care of a US rescue from a puppy mill, it often needs between $700 and $1000 worth of veterinary treatment.
The puppies are taken too young from their mothers, leaving them weak and vulnerable to illness. They then have to be transported from the puppy farms many miles to the destinations of the retailers. Many die on the journey and further puppies die in the back of pet stores and with other sellers.
Many puppies at puppy mills are born deformed. These are usually killed inhumanely and callously when they are babies, because they are seen as nothing more than defective goods.
Pet shops that sell puppies don't want the public to know they are unethical, so will rarely admit that their puppies are from puppy mills. The simple act of selling puppies from cruel puppy mills - especially while millions of innocent, homeless shelter dogs are being put to death every year due to there not being enough homes for them - shows how unethical these pet shops are.
People who purchase these puppies may think they are 'saving' them, but they are actually funding this cruel industry, encouraging it and enabling it to continue.
Pet Store Puppy
I don't remember much from the place I was born. It was cramped and dark, and we were never played with by the humans. I remember Mom and her soft fur, but she was often sick, and very thin. She had hardly any milk for me and my brothers and sisters. I remember many of them dying, and I missed them so.
I do remember the day I was taken from Mom. I was so sad and scared, my milk teeth had only just come in, and I really should have been with Mom still, but she was so sick, and the Humans kept saying that they wanted money and were sick of the "mess" that me and my sister made. So we were crated up and taken to a strange place. Just the two of us. We huddled together and were scared, still no human hands came to pet or love us.
So many sights and sounds, and smells! We are in a store where there are many different animals! Some that squawk! some that meow! Some that Peep! My sister and I are jammed into a small cage, I hear other puppies here. I see humans look at me, I like the 'little humans', the kids. they look so sweet, and fun, like they would play with me!
All day we stay in the small cage, sometimes mean people will hit the glass and frighten us, every once in a while we are taken out to be held or shown to humans. Some are gentle, some hurt us, we always hear "Aw they are So cute! I want one!" but we never get to go with any.
My sister died last night, when the store was dark. I lay my head on her soft fur and felt the life leave her small thin body. I had heard them say she was sick, and that I should be sold at a "discount price" so that I would quickly leave the store. I think my soft whine was the only one that mourned for her as her body was taken out of the cage in the morning and dumped.
Today, a family came and bought me! Oh happy day! They are a nice family, they really, really wanted me! They had bought a dish and food and the little girl held me so tenderly in her arms. I love her so much! The mom and dad say what a sweet and good puppy I am! I am named Angel. I love to lick my new humans!
The family takes such good care of me, they are loving and tender and sweet. They gently teach me right and wrong, give me good food, and lots of love! I want only to please these wonderful people! I love the little girl and I enjoy running and playing with her.
Today I went to the veterinarian. it was a strange place and I was frightened. I got some shots, but my best friend the little girl held me softly and said it would be OK. So I relaxed. The Vet must have said sad words to my beloved family, because they looked awfully sad. I heard Severe hip dysplasia, and something about my heart... I heard the vet say something about, back yard breeders and my parents not being tested. I know not what any of that means, just that it hurts me to see my family so sad. But they still love me, and I still love them very much!
I am 6 months old now. Where most other puppies are robust and rowdy, it hurts me terribly just to move. The pain never lets up. It hurts to run and play with my beloved little girl, and I find it hard to breath. I keep trying my best to be the strong pup I know I am supposed to be, but it is so hard. It breaks my heart to see the little girl so sad, and to hear the Mom and Dad talk about "it might now be the time". Several times I have went to that veterinarians place, and the news is never good. Always talk about Congenital Problems. I just want to feel the warm sunshine and run, and play and nuzzle with my family.
Last night was the worst, Pain has been my constant companion now, it hurts even to get up and get a drink. I try to get up but can only whine in pain. I am taken in the car one last time. Everyone is so sad, and I don't know why. Have I been bad? I try to be good and loving, what have I done wrong? Oh if only this pain would be gone! If only I could soothe the tears of the little girl. I reach out my muzzle to lick her hand, but can only whine in pain.
The veterinarians table is so cold. I am so frightened. The humans all hug and love me, they cry into my soft fur. I can feel their love and sadness. I manage to lick softly their hands. Even the vet doesn't seem so scary today. he is gentle and I sense some kind of relief for my pain. The little girl holds me softly and I thank her, for giving me all her love. I feel a soft pinch in my foreleg. The pain is beginning to lift, I am beginning to feel a peace descend upon me. I can now softly lick her hand. My vision is becoming dreamlike now, and I see my Mother and my brothers and sisters, in a far off green place. They tell me there is no pain there, only peace and happiness. I tell the family, good-bye in the only way I know how, a soft wag of my tail and a nuzzle of my nose. I had hoped to spend many, many moons with them, but it was not meant to be. "You see," said the veterinarian, "Pet shop puppies do not come from ethical breeders."
The pain ends now, and I know it will be many years until I see my beloved family again. If only things could have been different.
(This story may be published or reprinted in the hopes that it will stop unethical breeders and those who breed only for money and not for the betterment of the breed. Copyright 1999 J. Ellis)
Actual Interview with an Ex-Pet Store Employee
I used to work for 'x corporation' and also for 'y corporation' (names available upon private request).
The puppies are all from mills in the south and the western states. They came in shipped 6 to a crate that was the size for one, two at the most. Covered in feces and filth sometimes one or two would be dead. Some were pulled from their mothers at 4 weeks so that by the time they were shipped to the stores they would be 6 weeks old. Puppies came to the store that had hardly any teeth and couldn't eat the food given to them. These pups are also fed a minimal amount of food so that the sales personnel are selling dogs and not spending their time cleaning cages. 1/4 cup of food per day per dog only! We were trained to sell sick puppies by showing how calm (sick) they were. Many puppies died within days of reaching the store or were so sick and malnourished that they died within days of being bought. The store has no motivation to correct this because they get "CREDIT" for all puppies that die. ALL stores that sell puppies work this way. They buy a puppy for no more than $100 usually closer to $60 and sell it with worthless AKC papers for $600 or more. The customer will not get their money back if the dog dies or becomes ill but must take a credit for another puppy. The warrantee always states this in very clever ways. Stores will not spend $100 in vet bills for a $60 pup so they get minimal or no vet care. Once stores stop selling puppies the mills will die out too. AKC also benefits by this bogus trade in hundreds of thousands of dollars in worthless AKC registration applications. Most puppies are not even of pet quality and harbor birth defects and other deformities. The puppy mills exist to feed the pet store chains. They are connected and something must be done on both ends. This is a multimillion dollar industry rooted in death and suffering.
I thought it was the greatest job in the world until I got a good look at the behind the scenes at the business end. The day I quit was the day that a pug puppy died from collapsed lungs in my arms as I took it to a vet, on my own without the stores permission. The dog came in apparently healthy but five days later started coughing and had a nasal discharge. The pup was pulled from out front and put out back, out of view. Out back it was also about 60 degrees or less. The pup then developed severe diarrhea (excuse the spelling). On the managers orders the pup was to be given no food or water. His belief was that without water and food it couldn't have the runs. Two days later the dog was so dehydrated that it could no longer stand and when you pulled the skin up on its neck it stayed that way. Now the manager took an IV needle and put about a cup of fluid under the pups skin on the neck. The pup lay there rasping and gasping and wheezing( it had received no medication up until this point) and when the manager left for the day I took the dog to the vet. It was dead before we got there and the vet said it's lungs had collapsed. The manager was furious that I took the dog to a vet because he did not need a vet to see the condition of the dog. I quit after that because so many had died and would continue to die for a buck. The sales people (myself included) are sent to training seminars on "How to sell a puppy". Basically, when you see someone looking at a puppy you go get it, and without asking, put the puppy in their arms. Then you either back off and force them to stay with the puppy for as long as possible or you lock them in a little room with the pup. Either way, afterwards, you make yourself scarce until they have sold themselves on bringing the dog home. It is not an accident, the sales people are trained to do this. We are also trained to make a list for the potential customer on why it is good to have a puppy from the store. We think of every little thing and write it down. Then we make a list of all the negatives and we do not help the customer think of any at all. Guaranteed the "plus" list is much much longer. I used to work as a Vet assistant before I took this job. When I saw the conditions that the pups were in and how they were handled I thought that I could help the store to be better. What I found instead was an animal nightmare and that they had it set up just the way they wanted. I saw papers fabricated and medical histories falsified. The customers would ask about a puppy that they had seen a day or two before and now was missing (because it died or was going to). The standard answer was, and still is, "Oh, he has been sold and has gone to a new home". Medications are not done by a vet but by the sale people and store workers themselves. Mostly older teens and young people trying their first job. They can not be expected to know what they are doing or how to care for a sick animal properly. Anyway they are not allowed to because they have to be out on the floor selling the puppies . You get paid on a commission basis and the more pups you sell the more you make. For these reasons, and more, I don't mind at all if anyone else sees this. I only wish I still had the paperwork from the 'x corporation' on selling and dog care to give to someone...
"I too was very excited when I got a job at the mall pet store in college. Doctors Pet Center it was called. I only worked there about 6 weeks. I couldn't stand the abuse of all those animals. There was a kitten that had gotten too old and we couldn't sell. I was going to take it home but the manager decided she would "put it out of its misery" as she put it. (Slammed it against the wall.) I walked out of work that day and never went back... They also kept all sorts of animals that died in the refrigerator in the back office. I opened the door one time to put my lunch in. Needless to say I was totally grossed out... Thank you for putting this information on your site for all to see. Hopefully I will be able to get the puppy that I have been wanting, but I refuse to help any mill or unethical breeder to do so. I just wanted you to know that your info on pet stores is appreciated." Bonham, Texas
Today the average puppy mill will house between 75 and 150 breeding animals, most housed in hutch-style cages with wire floors. The fecal matter drops to the ground below and waste accumulates beneath the cage, providing a haven for flies and other vermin. Even with fairly prompt removal of waste, the ground becomes permeated with stench as the urine cannot be raked away. Dogs housed in indoor facilities endure an equally deplorable existence with ammonia vapors and odors permeating poorly ventilated buildings. Rodents, flies and other pests plague the animals almost constantly. Solid surfaces are supposed to protect the legs of puppies; however, as they mature and scout out their surroundings, feet and legs often fall through wire floors. The resulting injuries compound their misery. Their soft coats of fur become soiled with the fecal matter that didn't drop through the cage, adding insult to injury.
At 8 weeks of age puppies are "harvested" and cleaned up for the trip to the broker. They are bathed to clean up feces and odors they have endured during their brief lives in the puppy mill. Pus is wiped from their sad and scared eyes just before they are shoved into whatever is convenient – with any luck an approved shipping container. Some will perish, and others will be rejected by the broker only to be held back for breeding stock. Many others will be killed for their lack of monetary value and some may even be sold for research. The survivors can be seen at your local pet store, but the emotional scars and irresponsible animal husbandry can bring misery into your home instead of anticipated joy.
If you have any compassion at all for the animals bred and raised under these miserable conditions, stay out of pet stores. Each puppy purchased from a pet store serves an industry with no conscience and virtually no enforcement by USDA. Thousands of unwanted animals of all ages and breeds are euthanized at shelters every day. Adopt and spay or neuter a shelter animal or rescued companion animal, and do your part to help end the plight of unseen thousands housed in puppy mills throughout the country.
As modern consumers, we equate a large inventory and broad selection with a satisfactory shopping experience. But with puppies and other pets, just the opposite is true.
Breeding healthy and well adjusted puppies is a time and energy intensive endeavor. After testing the parents for genetic problems and providing veterinary care for the puppies, breeding seldom leads to lucrative profits. An ethical breeder breeds to improve his or her “line,” and normally uses puppy sales only to offset the costs of showing the parents.
The puppy mill sales strategy, on the other hand, is to make it difficult for prospective customers to go home empty-handed ... so they provide a large assortment of breeds. With pets, a big selection is a danger signal! Be wary of any breeder that breeds many breeds of dogs. In the long run, it’s better to resist this appeal to your customary shopping sense.
Learn about which breed or mix is right for you before you actually go to look for your pup. An impulsive choice can lead to a boatload of regrets later! Reserving a quality home raised puppy of a particular breed can sometimes mean a several month wait, but will pay huge dividends. For those who want to visit/view a selection of dogs, but don’t want to support the puppy mill industry, consider one of the wonderful pets available at your local Humane Society.
Before purchasing a puppy, consider these important questions:
Are the puppies in a home environment with plenty of stimulation?
A puppy should have plenty of early experience in its future habitat: the human home. A puppy that has been raised in a kennel, cage, or barn will be under socialized to people and to the sights and sounds of a normal household. Puppy mill puppies are so under stimulated that, as adults, they may tremble upon seeing a falling leaf or hearing a cupboard door click shut. Look for a puppy who has been well-socialized to family and visitors and that lives in an active area of the house. Also, puppies should always have plenty of toys available.
Do the puppies have access to a “potty area”?
Housebreaking is extremely difficult for puppies purchased from puppy mills. Most spend their formative weeks in small cages with wire bottoms that allow wastes to drop through onto a tray. This teaches puppies that 1) it doesn’t matter where they eliminate because they never have to step in it, and 2) they can’t get far from the smell, so they’d better learn to live with it. It destroys the puppies natural instinct not eliminate in their bed and food areas, as puppy mill pups have no other choice. The end result is a puppy that can’t be housebroken using a crate (cages are self cleaning!) and that doesn’t have any desire to eliminate outside of its home turf (no use trying to escape from that poop smell!), and thinks it's just fine to mess anywhere. On the other hand, puppies raised in a large pen in a kitchen learn the difference between living areas and elimination areas. This makes it very easy to teach indoor/outdoor discrimination later.
Is the mother of the puppies present?
Unscrupulous breeders may tell customers that the mother is absent because “she’s protective” of the puppies, or because the puppies are “being weaned.” These could be simply excuses. In reality, the puppies’ mom might be kept in a filthy barn or basement with dozens of other breeding dogs. Breeding stock animals are often caged together, and parents’ names on puppy registration papers may be no more than guesses.
By the way, if the puppies’ mom is less than enthusiastic about your approach, the pups themselves may grow up to treat guests the same way. You don’t need the hassle of a puppy that had a “protective” (i.e., fear aggressive) mom! And as far as weaning is concerned, never consider buying a puppy so young that it is just being weaned.
How old are the parents?
Make sure the puppy’s parents were at least two years old before being bred. This allows time for genetic or temperament problems to be discovered before they are perpetuated.
Know how to read the registration papers and pedigree.
If you are buying a purebred puppy, make sure that the breeder lets you review the AKC or UKC registration papers. Puppy mill puppies are often registered with official-sounding organizations that are really mail order fakes. The Continental Kennel Club, for instance, readily supplies “papers” for any mixed or purebred puppy for a fee. BUT...do not be mislead that the AKC doesn't register puppy mill pups ...BECAUSE THEY DO!
Also check the registration papers for the puppy's state of origin. Although some respected breeders live there too, be cautious of puppies bred in Kansas, Iowa or Missouri. These states have huge puppy mill industries that ship puppies to local middlemen.
We've all seen them, noses pressed to the glass, eyes pleading for somebody to take them home. So cute and cuddly that many a rational person has made the impulsive decision to bring one home, a few hundred dollars later. And inevitably, thousands of dollars in veterinary bills later, the poor sucker finally realizes that maybe buying that puppy wasn't such a grand idea.
Right idea, wrong place, unfortunately.
Every single puppy sold from a pet store came from a puppy mill, or an irresponsible backyard breeder.
How can I make such a blanket statement, tarring them all with the same brush? Simply because there is not one single responsible breeder out there who would allow one of his or her dogs to be marketed out like regular merchandise to whomever can lay down the cash.
This is a fact, there is no debating this. Even though the pet store workers may try to assure you that the dogs came from a responsible breeder, it is simply not true.
Let's look at what defines a responsible breeder:
- A responsible breeder must know where their puppies are going.
- A responsible breeder will interrogate the potential buyer about their home, family, living arrangements, other people that share their house, their past, and their future. Police interrogations have nothing on a breeder trying to find the best possible home for his or her dogs. One I spoke with a few years ago sent a five page questionnaire, on top of the fifty or so questions she asked me over the phone.
- A responsible breeder will sell with a contract.
- When you buy from a responsible breeder you will be signing a binding contract stating that if something (anything) happens, to this dog the breeder is the first to be told. This may seem a little extreme, but there is a very legitimate reason behind this. If your new dog develops a genetic defect four or five years down the road, she'll know to pull the parents from the breeding line.
- You sign that if something happens to you, and you can no longer care for your dog, she will be notified, so she may take the dog back into her care or find it a new home.
- You agree to spay or neuter your new pet as soon as possible to help prevent unwanted litters if your dog was bought as a companion.
- You agree to abide by any other terms and conditions set forth in the contract. You agree to be a responsible owner for the pup she is entrusting you with.
- As daunting as this is, if you think this over, you will realize that she has done this to protect her dogs. Most people have no trouble signing these contracts with a clear conscience. A responsible breeder will take back into her care, any dog at any time that has been bred from her breeding lines. Quite often even dogs that were not.
- A responsible breeder will do her very best to make sure that none of her dogs ever end up in a shelter.
- A responsible breeder can guarantee your new dog's freedom from genetic diseases and defects for life, knowing that she has done the very best to breed best possible parent to the best possible parent and both were free from genetic problems.
Can ANY pet store say the same thing?
Puppy Mills: Behind the Scenes.
How many times have we seen those adorable furry faces pressed up against a pet store window? As tempting as it is to take them, such an act fuels the puppy mill business, sentencing more dogs to lives of misery, and usually brings the new owner years of heavy vet bills and heartache. Where do pet store puppies come from? The truth is horrifying.
It was summer when I visited puppy mills in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In the last few years, the area has become a hub for large scale commercial dog breeding operations. And although the Midwest still ranks as containing the highest number of dog breeding operations, the concentration of puppy mills in Lancaster County is unparalleled.
Accompanying me was a Humane Society of the United States investigator who had monitored the Pennsylvania mills for years. He knew the county well, and had seen not only the proliferation of puppy mills in the area, but at the same time, the increased press and public attention in their operations.
Driving through the pastoral landscape, it seemed impossible that animal suffering could exist amidst such beauty. This illusion was quickly shattered with my first view of a puppy mill. For years, I had seen and studied photos of infamous facilities, but nothing prepared me for seeing the real thing with my own eyes.
We approached a farmhouse from the road and turned onto a muddy lane. Rounding the corner, we didn't even have to get out of the truck to see or hear what awaited us. Rows of dilapidated cages were lined up outside a barn. Stopping the truck, my throat constricted with shock. Dogs were crammed three or more to a small cage which were elevated over mounds of feces. Matted fur covered their eyes as they rushed towards the front of their cages, barking at uninvited visitors. Their plight was so dramatically different than the dogs I knew, the dogs who lie lazily in afternoon sun, waiting for their next meal or walk. No, these dogs were here for a purpose and only one purpose: to make money.
We saw many mills that day. Posing as buyers, we were able to handle and examine some of the puppies. Many seemed sickly, disoriented, and underweight. And when we were allowed to see their mothers, or sneaked onto a farm to view the conditions, the hopelessness of their lives weighed on me like a heavy load that rests on my shoulders even to this day.
Dogs hold a special place in our hearts. Domesticated thousands of years ago, they were chosen to be our protectors, companions, and best friends. And although we have betrayed our responsibility towards them in many ways, none is so distressing or disturbing as the puppy mill.
The term "puppy mill," coined in the mid-to-late sixties to describe large scale commercial dog breeding facilities, has only recently arrived in the mainstream vernacular. It is a term that some claim is sensational and manipulative. The word "mill" refers to an operation that churns out dogs in mass, using female dogs as nothing more than breeding machines. The term conjures images of dogs crowded in wire cages, living in their own wastes, shivering from the cold, or baking in the heat. Tragically, this vision is not far from reality. Most people, not just those interested in animal protection, are shocked when confronted with the bleak images of dogs housed and bred in puppy mills. But in the 5,000 puppy mills found across the country, thousands of dogs are bred and raised for profit, valued not for their companionship or loyalty, but for the cold hard cash they bring.
Many consumers possess an image of puppies at a family farm, lovingly raised and cared for. Others may not even think about where a pet store puppy comes from. Drawn to a pet store window by a bin of wriggling puppies, the furthest thing from a customer's mind is the origin of these cute bundles of fur. But by buying a puppy, often for a price of $500 or more, the consumer is unknowingly supporting a cycle of abuse that begins at the puppy mill.
What the consumer can't see is the puppy's mother, imprisoned miles away, pregnant again, her body being used to produce more money-making puppies. Starting at six months, she is bred every heat cycle. She is often weak, malnourished, and dehydrated. Rarely, if ever, is she provided with veterinary care. She cannot maintain her productivity past her fourth or fifth year. After that, she is nothing more than a drain on the mill's operation and must be disposed of. If she's lucky, she'll be humanely euthanized. More often than not, she will be shot or bludgeoned to death. Discarded, her wasted body will lie forgotten in a local landfill or garbage dump.
This is the picture the pet stores will never show. And until recently, the ugly truth of puppy mills has been hidden. But when problems with many of the puppies bought at pet stores across the country began to surface, consumers and animal lovers alike began asking hard questions. Puppies with seizures, parasites, infections, bacteria, and behavioral problems were being seen far too often to be merely coincidental.
Puppy mills and the pet store industry have begun to feel this scrutiny. They insist that it doesn't make good business sense to sell sick puppies or house breeding females in less than humane conditions. But evidence gained after years of documentation and investigation directly conflicts with these assertions. In addition, those small scale breeders who do treat their animals humanely, who raise them in their homes or in small, cleanly kept kennels, do not usually make a profit off their dogs. It is virtually impossible to breed in a humane fashion and make money at the same time. Although a pet store may sell a puppy for $500 or more dollars, most commercial breeders can only get around $35 per dog from a broker who in turns sells to the pet store for around $75. In order to make a profit and cover costs, corners must be cut, and puppies must be churned out at a furious rate. The cut corners are the animals themselves: their housing, their health, their cleanliness. Inherent in the profit-making mills is the sacrifice of humane standards in order to make a profit.
What protection, if any, do these dogs and their puppies have? On the state level, puppy "lemon laws," existing in a handful of states including New Jersey and California, seek to offer consumers protection against buying sick puppies. Although these laws do chip away at the production of sick puppies, they do not address the inherent problem of the whole system: the selling of dogs for profit.
The federal level offers even less hope. The current system not only allows the continuation of a business that makes money off the backs of dogs, but fails in its responsibility to provide even a basic quality of life for dogs in puppy mills. Originally passed in 1966, the federal Animal Welfare Act was amended in 1970 to include in its provisions the oversight of large scale commercial dog breeding facilities. Regulations were written with the intention of ensuring the proper care, feeding, housing, and veterinary care for the thousands of dogs found in puppy mills across the country. Mandated by law to enforce these regulations is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). But with a shortage of inspectors responsible for overseeing these facilities, the agency has developed a reputation for failing to meet its mandate.
Not only have outsiders criticized the agency's ability to enforce the Act in relation to puppy mills, but several internal reviews have also illustrated the gross inadequacies existing at the federal level. Recently, a damning internal review conducted by the USDA's own office of the Inspector General of the agency's South Central Regional Office offered a bleak picture. The South Central Office, responsible for overseeing the majority of this country's puppy mills, was found to be sorely lacking in its ability to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. The report found that the office failed to respond to complaints from the public, failed to report a large number of blatant violations of the law, and that supervisors told inspectors not only where and when to inspect, but instructed their staff not to write up too many violations of problematic facilities. USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, embarrassed by the report's finding, has demanded the development of an internal plan to respond to the crisis within the agency.
The USDA is also feeling the heat over the puppy mill issue from members of Congress. After receiving constituent mail on puppy mills, Congressman Glenn Poshard (D-Il) and Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), sprung to action. Working with The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection organizations, they gathered over 100 signatures from members on both side of Capitol Hill in a letter to Secretary Glickman expressing concern about the problems found in puppy mills across the country. Sent late last summer, the letter has caused anxiety within the USDA.
This Spring, the agency will consider enacting stronger regulations covering puppy mills as well as examining ways in which their enforcement powers can be increased. Although any change in the way puppy mills are regulated is an improvement, and stiffer rules may even shut down or discourage potential operators from opening a facility, the changes will not directly eliminate the mills themselves. Until the demand for mass-produced pet store puppies decreases, there will always be a buck to be made in the production of dogs.
Rachel A. Lamb is Director for Companion Animal Care at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington, DC.
Puppy Mills: What They Are and What You Can Do About Them
The term “puppy mill” is used more and more frequently today in the media, and often it has a different meaning depending on who is using the term. It depends greatly on the writer’s point of view as to what is considered to be “reputable” dog breeding. For the purposes of this article, I consider a reputable breeder to be someone who breeds only for the betterment of the dog breed. Such a person very carefully picks only the best champion stock for breeding, and screens all breeding dogs for genetic defects. They very rarely make a profit from their operation, and more often, take a loss. Their primary motivation is to produce better dogs, which are as close to the breed standard as possible.
A puppy miller, on the other hand, breeds only for profit. They breed dogs without any consideration for genetic defects or “faults” as defined by the breed standard. They vary widely in their treatment of their breeding dogs and puppies. The worst examples of puppy millers cruelly confine their breeding animals in cramped, horribly unsanitary conditions and give little or no veterinary care to them. These are the places that are featured in the media, such as the Dateline NBC show that aired this past April. Dogs that are rescued from these conditions are often the worst we see in rescue, in terms of physical and emotional health. There are also puppy mills who keep their breeding dogs clean and vetted. These millers at least offer some level of health to their dogs, if not a loving “home” environment. How is it that I can call all these people “puppy millers” when their operations are so different? To me, the bottom line of what is a mill and what isn’t is that a mill produces purebred dogs for profit only and turns out poor quality and/or sick puppies as a result.
So, how do you know a puppy mill puppy when you see one? For one thing, consider its source. Pet shops are a huge market for puppy mill puppies. Just by looking at that cute little puppy in the window you would never guess that his mother is locked in a puppy mill cage in a Midwestern state, barely able to keep herself alive, let alone care for her puppies. The pet store may claim that they buy from only local breeders. That may be true, but what they don’t tell you is that they also buy from brokers who buy puppies from mills all over the Midwest. Pet stores may also claim they only deal with USDA licensed breeders. The fact is, being USDA licensed is a huge red flag that the breeder is a puppy mill. Breeders only have to get a USDA license if they sell wholesale to pet shops or brokers. What’s even worse is that a USDA license means practically nothing. There are only 65 USDA inspectors to cover 11,000 facilities per year. Even when an inspection is done and violations of the Animal Welfare Act are found, generally nothing is done or there is only a minimal fine. Kim Townsend of NoPuppyMills.com has excellent information on her web site about just how shoddy the USDA inspections really are.
In the event a miller runs such a horrendous operation that he loses his USDA license, there are still plenty of ways for him to sell his puppies. Believe it or not, he can still sell to pet shops, if he gives co-ownership of the puppies to the pet shop owner. Then, the miller is not wholesaling his puppies; he is retailing them. Retail puppy sales do not require USDA license. Flea markets are another popular place for puppy sales. They rely on the puppies’ cute faces to sell themselves, and by the time the new owner figures out their puppy is terribly sick, the seller is long gone. Many millers advertise in their local newspapers also, or they may partner with another person who will sell their mill puppies from their home. Sometimes the miller is so bold as to list all the breeds they have in one ad. Other times they will fool you into thinking they only have one breed by running separate ads for each breed. When you contact the people about their ad, they may give you a reason why they will be out in your area and offer to bring the puppy to you or meet you somewhere. If you actually get to visit their home, they will only bring out the breed you are interested in. You won’t be allowed to see the parents, because the parents are either out back, covered with filth and reeking of disease, or they aren’t even there.
Another tool of puppy millers to make their dogs sound well bred is American Kennel Club (AKC) papers. The AKC is only a registry, and as such, has no regulatory ability over breeding practices. It exists to track the parentage of purebred dogs. Ever since its inception, a breeder was on their honor to be honest about the parentage of the puppies they produce. Mills were able to register anything, even cross breeds, as purebred dogs. An uneducated puppy buyer wouldn’t even know the difference. Another common practice was bunching puppies together. The AKC charges a fee per litter, not per puppy. If you have two females of the same breed with litters at the same time, even if the ages of the puppies are quite different, register them as one litter and save a little money. Another common practice was to add a few extra puppies to a litter so that you can register puppies for your friend whose AKC privileges have been revoked. Things are changing, now, however. The AKC has now started requiring DNA testing for breeding dogs and puppies, which increases the costs to the miller dramatically, and vastly increases the chances of them getting caught for their dirty dealings and losing AKC privileges. Does this deter the millers? Not really. They just turn to different registries, like the Continental Kennel Club (CKC), America’s Pet Registry (APR), and others. Purebred papers from these sources are not worth the paper they’re printed on. Millers don’t even have to prove they own the dogs they bred, or that they are the breed they claim. These registries will even register mixed breeds, like cock-a-poos!
What does all this mean to you? A puppy that comes down with distemper or parvo is your worst nightmare come true. Your precious new puppy may rack up vet bills totaling in the thousands, and still end up dying. It’s only common sense to realize that puppy mills, which care only about profit, may skip costly vaccinations that could have prevented your puppy’s death. Health certificates for the puppies can be easily forged by a vet who is in alliance with millers. Even if the puppy did receive its shots before it left the breeder, pet stores rarely will give any veterinary care to the puppies they have after they receive them. People who have worked in pet shops speak of “dying rooms” where the sick and dying puppies are put until they have died and can be thrown like so much garbage. They certainly couldn’t keep that sick puppy out in full view of the public.
Even if the mill puppy doesn’t get sick right away, there may be some genetic disease lurking within his body. Which is more tragic, an 8 week old puppy who dies of parvo, or a 1 year old dog who dies from a hole in his heart? How would you feel if the dog you dearly love was killed or struck down with a painful or debilitating disease in the prime of life? You’d probably be pretty angry about the poor breeding practices that produced him, and well you should be. It’s true, not every genetic disease can be screened for, but a responsible breeder will make every attempt to identify these problems if possible. They will either certify their puppies to be free from genetic defect or they will wait until their dogs are several years old before breeding them, so that late onset diseases will have appeared by then. Another group of genetic diseases are associated with so-called “rare” colors and patterns. It’s a known fact that blues and isabellas have skin and coat problems. Millers breed these colors because they can increase their profits if they convince buyers that the pups are rare. This is an area where the public can exercise a little common sense. If a color is “rare”, there is probably a reason why. Either it is an improper color for the breed and as such is disqualified from showing, or it has health problems associated with it that responsible breeders do not want to propagate. The double dapple pattern is another example of this. Double dapples are frequently born with congenital blindness and/or deafness. The trend now among mills is to produce puppies that have two patterns, as in dappled piebalds. This practice is very detrimental to the breed since it makes the patterns difficult to track. AKC only allows one pattern to be chosen for a pup, so years down the road there may be recessive genes that pop up without warning. Since piebald and double dapple both produce white in the coat, and double dapples can have such serious congenital defects, it is important to keep them separate or it may not be possible to tell which pattern an offspring has.
Let’s assume now that your pet store or flea market puppy doesn’t have any contagious disease or genetic defect. You might think then that your puppy is just as well off as if it had come from a responsible breeder. Sadly, this is not true. In addition to the physical health problems of puppies coming from mills, there are emotional problems very often too. These puppies are raised with very little or no human contact until they are suddenly yanked away from their mothers and sold. They are usually sold at a very young age because keeping the puppies additional weeks would eat into the miller’s profits. Without proper socialization during the critical period of 3-10 weeks of age, the puppies may become withdrawn and distrustful of people. During this critical period, it is absolutely essential that the puppies receive contact with people if they are going to make good pets later on. Without this socialization, the puppies will be fearful of people and will remain that way throughout their life. Many times puppies that are raised in isolation from people will never be able to bond with a human. Their fear of people can manifest itself in all manner of neurotic behaviors such as fear biting and submissive urination. Long term isolation from other dogs is also a reason why so many dogs develop obsessive behaviors like spinning and pacing. In rescue we see many adult dogs that have lived their entire lives in puppy mills. They are the worst behavioral cases we get. Occasionally, their fears are so deep-rooted that there is nothing that can be done to cure it. To me, this is the worst part of the puppy mill industry. The dogs are treated as a commodity rather than as a cherished pet. They merely exist rather than having a life. They will never know the joy of chasing a ball, or lying on a sofa watching TV. They’ll never have any “goforarides” or plush squeaky toys to shred. They suffer and die without ever knowing love.
In order to stop the mills, several things about our society must change. The first thing and most important thing, is the USDA must be cleaned up. There need to be many more inspectors and those inspectors should actually go out and enforce the Animal Welfare Act like they are supposed to do. No more “warnings” for serious violations that go unchanged for years on end! We need to have a zero tolerance policy for animal cruelty in this country! Not just for the puppy mills, but for all America. Our society has let animal abusers get away with their crimes with nothing but a slap on the wrist for far too long. We need laws passed in every state that makes abusing an animal a felony. Write your Senators and Representatives about your outrage at the horrible animal abuse that is allowed to happen in this country. Make your voice be heard!
Second, inform everyone you now about buying from responsible breeders. Tell them that to find a responsible breeder, they should ask vets, go to dog shows, or ask friends for referrals. Explain to them that a responsible breeder will want to check them out as thoroughly as they check out the breeder. A breeder who doesn’t care where their puppy is going is either a mill or no better than one. A responsible breeder will offer health guarantees with their puppies. They will place their puppies on a contract that states the buyer will return the puppy to them if they can’t keep it. They will do everything they can to ensure that the buyer and puppy are completely happy with each other.
Third, boycott pet stores that sell puppies. We need to send a clear message to pet store owners that we are fed up with the large scale abuse of dogs and we want it stopped! Unfortunately, just taking away the American market for mill puppies is not enough to stop them. The mills will simply divert their business to foreign markets. That’s why it is absolutely essential to changing the laws. There are many organizations in existence who are dedicated to this task. See the links section below to visit their sites and get involved! The only way the puppy mills will ever be stopped is if all Americans make it clear that we will not tolerate this any longer!
Is this the way a dog should have to live it's life?
No love, no warmth, no kindness and only considered a commodity. Think of all the dogs like this one below and tell yourself you can look the other way. Think of him or her when you see that puppy in the pet shop window and how miserable and unhappy his or her life truly is. Think of this face and get involved. This could be your puppy's mother.
Copyright © Michelle Wray 2000, written in collaboration with DOG Magazine. Reposting or copies of this article must credit the author and show copyright.