Animalia: Puppy Mills
The reality of that doggy in the window.
—by Carol Koleman
I found my dog, Joe, at a pug rescue. I was committed to adopting a dog and my daughters wanted a pug puppy. At the time, I didn’t know that one quarter of all dogs in shelters are purebred, but I did know that virtually every breed of dog has a rescue, so that is where I went.
Joe’s mother was found pregnant and wandering along a highway. She was only two years old, but exhibited obvious physical signs of having been bred too often. But there was a happy ending: She found a loving home far from the nightmare she must have lived. She gave birth to her last litter of pups. And we found Joe.
In a puppy mill, profits come first—before the wellbeing of the bitch or the health of her pups. She is likely bred the first time and every time she comes into heat, and without regard to potential genetic problems. The puppies are weaned prematurely, and separated from their littermates too soon when they are purchased by brokers and shipped to pet stores around the country.
Puppy mills began after World War II when midwestern farmers scrambled to find an alternative crop during a period of widespread farm failures. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) categorized the raising of puppies as a crop and sanctioned this endeavor. Though breeding and selling large quantities of dogs requires a license from the USDA, and the Animal Welfare Act requires that they be regulated, the laws are minimal and don’t address humane treatment. Many puppy mills operate without licenses. The Humane Society of the United States reports an estimated 10,000 licensed and unlicensed puppy mills in the U.S. sell more than two million puppies annually.
Missouri has been labeled the “Puppy Mill Capital of the US” by animal welfare and consumer protection groups. A few years ago Missouri citizens voted to limit the number of breeding dogs per facility to 50; require cages to be at least as tall as the dog standing up; and limit the number of litters a bitch could produce within 18 months to two. In April 2011 Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon repealed the proposition, maintaining no limit on number of breeding females; no restriction on cage height; and no restrictions on how often females are impregnated.
In 2010, Salt Lake County Council approved an ordinance to regulate puppy mills. It requires any breeder who produces more than one litter a year to obtain an annual license. The ordinance includes basic humane treatment such as protecting dogs from the elements, and annual vet examinations. This was strongly apposed by local breeders, claiming that the problem is only in rural areas. But I ask, why would requirement of such basic needs of animals be a problem? It seems that a reputable breeder would support such an ordinance.
It’s difficult to gauge the prevalence of puppy mills in Utah, which typically run beneath the radar and so are not regulated. This, combined with selling dogs via the internet, enables backyard breeders to essentially run rampant. You may help this problem by keeping an eye (and ear) out for anyone who appears to be breeding dogs.
We need more watch groups and legislation protecting animals, not less. Utah is one of a handful of states that makes it illegal for “whistle blowers” to take photographs of inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms. Really? So, I’m going to be arrested and fined for documenting the suffering of an animal so I may perhaps make its dreary life at least somewhat comfortable before it’s slaughtered? A surprisingly backward stance considering that we have fairly strong animal rights faction (in SLC anyway).
Almost all (99%) of dogs in pet stores come from puppy mills. You will hear all kinds of stories: The puppies have papers (AKC papers mean only that a puppy was supposedly born of two dogs of the same breed registered with the AKC), they’ve been checked by a vet (maybe to see if they’re breathing), they know the breeders (most likely have never met them), they come from USDA-inspected facilities (i.e. puppy mills). Buying a puppy at a pet store opens a space for yet another puppy and perpetuates the industry.
Six Utah stores sell puppies (none are located in Salt Lake City). The ASPCA has begun a campaign encouraging people to pledge not to shop at such stores.
With over three million dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters each year, there is no rationale for puppy mills to exist beyond their function as a cash “crop.” Beautiful purebred dogs in need of homes land in shelters all the time. If one insists on going to a breeder for a purebred puppy, there are plenty of reputable ones that you can find through referrals from your veterinarian and contacting local breed clubs. The Humane Society also offers advice.
A reputable breeder wants to meet the prospective caretakers of their dog’s offspring. They will interview you, sometimes even check out your house and yard, make sure you’re the right fit. They want their puppies to be placed in the best possible situation.
If you see a puppy in a store, in an ad or on a website, and there’s no way to visit where the puppy was born, run the other way. Don’t be fooled by a flashy website—these are the latest scams from puppy mills. Keep to the mantra, if you can’t meet the puppies’ parents or breeder, you are dealing with a breeder of ill repute.
Puppies that come from volume dog breeders are not going to be the picture of health. To maintain the bottom line, puppy mills do not remove sick or genetically unsound animals so serious problems are passed down to the puppies.
The dogs are housed in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without socialization. They often lack basic needs such as adequate food, fresh water and protection from temperature extremes and weather as well as exercise, grooming or veterinary care; the bitches may not leave their 2×2-foot wire kennels their entire lives. These kennels are sometimes stacked on top of each other so feces and urine from the upper cages fall onto the animals below. Disease, genetic disorders and illness are rampant. I recommend viewing Madonna of the Mills, an HBO documentary that profiles a woman who has devoted her life to rescuing the worn-out females who otherwise would have been killed.
Until legislation passes to provide more humane treatment of animals bred on farms (which will be a long time coming considering we’re talking about battling the agriculture industry), the best action you can take is to simply not buy cats and dogs from stores, ads or online. Consider adoption first and give a great pet the loving home it deserves.