Cindy A. Adams, ASPCA
Puppy Mills, The Tragedy Continues
Go ahead. Buy that puppy in the window. Yes, that beautiful, adorably winsome creature whose huge, soulful eyes cry, “Please, take me home. I’m full of love and affection and I know you are too.”
The only thing you should know before you make this purchase is that in doing so you will he contributing to the livelihood of an inhumane puppy mill breeder. You will actively be condoning the wretched existence of thousands of breeding stock dogs who lead lives of misery and desperation. Do you really want to a high price for your pet? Can you live with the fact that half million puppies die annual they even make it to a pet store? And are you ready to deal possibility that your new pet will soon manifest one or more of illnesses, viruses, congenital defects or temperament problems so rampant in puppy mill dogs?
Perhaps, you think, the special purebred dog that’s caught eye must be an exception. He be one of the 10 percent of pet shop dogs not bred in puppy mills. Or perhaps you feel that by nurturing this puppy you can make up for the tremendous suffering it’s already seen in it’s short lifetime.
In fact, the only way you can end the suffering is to walk away from this dog. Putting more money into the pocket of puppy mill breeders and their pet store clientele can only propagate the cruel cycle.
You might or might not already be aware of the travesty of puppy mills. Roughly 5,000 in number as of late last year, these operations are largely concentrated in rural sections of six Midwestern states – Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Arkansas. They became widespread when volume-driven factory farms infiltrated the chicken industry and some farmers turned to puppies as the new cash crop. Treating dogs as nothing more than a commodity, they ignored the fact that these highly sentient creatures require and deserve care and companionship.
The most common puppy mill scenario is of dogs living in crowded, makeshift pens, unsheltered from extremes of heat and cold. The animals are usually malnourished and without adequate supplies of fresh water. Wire cage bottoms allow the dogs’ excrement to pass through the cage, but this waste is usually not cleared away, and the animals can become crippled from walking on the wire. In non-wire bottomed enclosures, the dogs simply live in their own excrement.
Breeding stock bitches are made to have litters at every heat, usually twice a year; when the size of their litters begins to dwindle, after about five years, they are killed because they can no longer turn a profit. Sometimes their bodies become a meal for the mill’s other dogs. Puppy mill owners knowingly breed genetically defective dogs. They also sell puppies too early thus the animals are younger and cuter in the pet store, but diseases and congenital defects haven’t had time to incubate and manifest themselves yet. Most operators provide neither the socialization nor veterinary care the puppies need.
Puppy mill owners commonly falsify registration papers, a fact even the American Kennel Club, the nation’s largest registry, has acknowledged in press reports Breeders sell to unscrupulous brokers, middlemen of tragedy who crowd puppies from many mills into tight, poorly ventilated quarters, where disease can spread fiercely. Pet store personnel often have the hapless pups waiting hours to be picked up at the end of an already long, miserable journey. For these services, consumers pay prices marked up exorbitantly from what the breeder initially received.
If you are skeptical that the picture could be so bleak, consider figures released last May by the California Assembly Office of Research. The non-partisan study revealed a 48 percent chance that the state’s pet store puppies are ill or incubating an illness at the time of purchase; dogs imported into the state rather than raised locally are three times as likely as others to have problems.
If you are strong enough to walk away from the pet store window and pursue a more humane channel of acquiring a companion dog, you will be part of the solution to this tremendous problem. Time and again, informed consumer boycotts have proven to be a fast-acting, effective weapon. And while the efforts of caring legislators and animal protectors cannot be abandoned, it was the powerful one-two punch of intensified media coverage and a boycott initiated last May by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and supported by the ASPCA, that seems to finally be making a dent in the problem. HSUS investigator Bob Baker, who has spearheaded the documentation of puppy mill abuse since 1980, says of the boycott, “This is the first time we’ve had any success. There is no doubt that we’ve stemmed the tide.”
The timing of the boycott appears to have been highly effective; sales began to decline during the summer, when pet stores’ cash flow is already at its lowest. So far, pet store business is down anywhere from 5 percent to 50 percent, depending on location. The decline is greater in California, for example, due to heightened awareness of the problem there (15 percent of the nation’s pet store sales are concentrated in California). Baker also notes that breeders have begun to go out of business, defaulting on loans they had taken out to build and expand their operations. Financial difficulties have also caused several of the top brokers in the country to drop out; even if this results in a temporary industry shakedown, it will be easier for authorities to track fewer brokers.
Supporters hope the continuing boycott can counteract the longstanding ineffectiveness of the United States Department of Agriculture in regulating puppy mills and the absence of a dedicated, central regulatory body in the pet store industry. They will also, however, continue to try and enact legislative solutions. California Assemblyman Sam Farr, for example, sponsored measures to educate consumers after failing at attempts to stop the flow of puppy mill dogs into California. (At one time there were twelve full-time pet industry lobbyists in the state fighting such measures.)
Under a new law that went into effect January I of this year, California pet stores must post the breeding and brokerage source of all puppies; a sign must be posted near their cages stating that information about surgical procedures and treatment on the dogs is available on request. It is now illegal to knowingly sell a sick dog that needs surgical procedures or hospitalization, and the new law requires that a veterinarian verify every dog’s health with a signature, not previously a requirement.
If California begins to emerge as a savior in the puppy mill problem, Kansas, more than other puppy mill states, emerges as a villain. This image has developed over time, since the state has the highest concentration of puppy mills and therefore the most notoriety Last year, the image was certainly fortified by the passage of a law making it a felony offense to enter an animal facility surreptitiously and photograph or document conditions there, while the animal abuse and neglect going on in the facilities continues to be classified only as a misdemeanor in Kansas.
Critics point out that though the new law was passed under the guise of protecting laboratories from activists, there are few labs in Kansas. In addition, the new law was signed into effect immediately following the broadcast of “20/20′s” puppy mill expose on ABC television last spring. The probability that the measure was designed to squelch further negative publicity seems apparent. Observers are waiting to see if the state’s new governor will take action to enforce or nullify the law.
“Ultimately, laws don’t solve problems, people do,” says Assemblyman Farr’s legislative assistant Darryl Young. Regardless of legislation, stores going broke because of dying demand will look for other venues. By the same token, pet stores will find ways to satisfy consumer cravings for companions as long as their customer base allows them to.
So, don’t be overcome by that doggie in the window; remind yourself that a puppy represents a companion for the next ten to fifteen years of your lives. Doesn’t that warrant some patience and care in the acquiring?
If your heart is set on a purebred dog, you have several alternatives to the pet store. First, you could check local shelters, which receive many purebred animals. You can usually be put on a waiting list if they don’t currently have the breed you’re looking for.
If this avenue doesn’t pan out, reputable local breeders are a kinder avenue than puppy mill-supplied stores. Armed with references from veterinarians, your local SPCA, the HSUS and breed clubs, you can find a reliable breeder in your area. (Refer to “Finding the Dog of Your Dreams” on page 6 of this issue for more information.)
If you want to go even further than responsible consumerism, spread the word about the puppy mill/pct store connection and the ongoing boycott. Write letters to the editors of newspapers and to state legislators; stress the need for regulatory pet industry legislation. If you live within the puppy mill archipelago, let your governor and representatives know that you oppose the presence of the cruel canine factories there. Ask your representatives in Congress how the USDA can be more effective in its enforcement role.
While the puppy mill tragedy continues, the groundwork is laid for its demise; vigilance and concern can promote the hearing process needed. In the ASPCA’s Year of the Family Dog, let’s return the favor and be dog’s best friend.
Cindy A. Adams
ASPCA REPORT – Winter 1991
Courtesy of the ASPCA National Shelter Outreach Department
424 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128-6804
© 1991 ASPCA