How much is that doggie in the window?
I received a letter from Edwin Sayres in the mail this week. Sayres is president and CEO of the ASPCA, and the letter represents the organization’s annual fundraising effort. Despite the controversies of the past couple of years, I support the ASPCA. They provide a powerful source of advocates for voiceless millions of animals. I believe that in more cases than not, the ASPCA “fights for what is right.”
The letter is heart-wrenching as it exposes some of the dirty secrets of puppy mills. I would like to share some of the facts from their literature as well as other research on this topic.
Profiting From Cruelty
We often read news articles or watch TV segments documenting heroic rescues of “purebred” dogs from puppy mills. I hesitate to qualify as “breeders” those miserable people who seek to profit from the prolific, inhumane commercial breeding industry (Personally, I would be much more inclined to use terms like “criminals.”)
The legal term “puppy mill” was established in 1984 by the case Avenson v. Zegart. The brief defines puppy mills as “a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”
I will note at this point that not all breeders run puppy mills. There are many conscientious, quality, loving, independent kennels run by professional, concerned individuals who are simply devoted to a specific breed and want to see the best qualities of that breed propagate.
Organizations such as the American Kennel and Westminster Kennel Clubs as well as individual breed groups establish a list of standards and compliance guidelines for responsible breeders in consideration of litter registration. Sadly, having “papers” is often not enough. Also, these are not state-legislated oversights, so law enforcement of animal welfare codes falls to overworked, resource-poor localities.
2012 Puppy Mill Statistics
Consider the following:
- Currently more than 4,000 commercial breeding facilities are licensed to operate in the United States.
- It may be assumed that many more commercial breeding facilities operate without a license.
- Commercial breeders depend on retail pet stores and internet sales for support.
- Retail pet stores sell more than 500,000 puppies a year.
- The “purebred dog” business is valued as a multibillion dollar industry in the United States (figures include breeding, showing and registering of pedigree dogs).
- The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) of 1966 provides some legal governance of commercial breeding facilities.
- The United States Department of Agriculture administrates the AWA statutes.
- Only 26 states have laws regulating commercial kennels.
- Missouri’s commercial dog breeding revenue is in excess of $40 million a year.
- Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has the most local commercial dog breeding facilities, earning the title “Puppy Mill Capital of the East.”
Here is a quick video from ABC News highlighting Lancaster’s dirty secret:
Why Is This Happening?
The sheer numbers involved with breeding and selling purebred dogs, and the relatively low regulations and enforcement efforts, make the industry attractive and prolific. It entices people who place the capacity to recognize a profit with no regard to the animal’s welfare into its ranks.
Puppies bred in mill conditions suffer severe health and behavior problems. Breeding-stock dogs spend their lives in cramped, unsanitary conditions with many, many other dogs. The factory dogs often never touch the grass or a human. They and their babies are poorly socialized to other dogs or people. They pass genetic defects on to their offspring and on down generations.
Most puppy mill dogs are shipped to retail pet shops on order. They are transported over long distances in conditions as deplorable as the breeding factories they leave. They are stressed and diseased, and many arrive at their destinations already dead.
What’s Life Like for a Breeder Dog at a Puppy Mill?
- 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a cage
- Cages are typically small with open wire floors to limit cleanup requirements
- No climate control
- Constant exposure to conditions of the weather: extreme heat, cold, rain, snow
- Females are bred at every heat cycle (a 5-year-old bitch may have delivered and nursed 10 litters of puppies)
- Inadequate food
- No veterinarian care
Animal rescue organizations work diligently with law enforcement agencies to assist with raids on breeding facilities operating in violation of animal cruelty laws. The rescued animals are delivered to a safe environment where they are assessed, diagnosed and treated. Nearly all dogs rescued from puppy mills are reported as suffering severe neglect with skin conditions, filthy coats and parasite infestations.
Other common ailments include:
- Acute malnutrition
- Ear infections
- Tooth decay, often so severe the jaw is rotting
- Eye ulcers, frequently resulting in blindness
- Injuries to the feet and legs sometimes causing lameness or requiring amputations
- Even arthritis can be linked to puppy mill conditions.
Dogs from puppy mills who outlive their breeding potential are sold to laboratories, dumped and left to die or simply killed.
I know this all sounds terrible, but there ARE some things that you can do.
How can you help end this cycle of horrific abuse that results in a lifetime of suffering for innocent animal victims?
- Refuse to purchase an animal from a retail store, the internet or an unknown source.
- If you choose a pedigree dog, visit the kennel, make sure the dame and sire are on-site, the facility is clean and the animals are socialized and well cared for.
- Report suspected abuse to the proper authorities.
- Contribute time and money to support responsible animal welfare groups.
- Read legislative initiatives such as the Animal Welfare Act-Title 9, and voice your opinion to your elected officials.
- Educate friends, family, neighbors and coworkers about the cruelty of puppy mills.
- If you’re looking for a new pet, check adoption resources first. Even purebred animals can end up in shelters. Try Petful’s dog adoption center.
Let me ask again: How much is that doggie in the window?
Edwin Sayres would ask that we look past the appearance of that adorable face in the pet store and understand the real cost — the unbelievable suffering involved in producing that puppy. The consumer is the most powerful opponent to the continued existence of puppy mills. When the demand stops the supply is no longer needed.
Want to know one more way to help? Spread the word. Share this article. Tweet it, “Like” it on Facebook, email it to some friends, whatever it takes. The more people know about the heartbreak, the higher the chance our voices can be heard.
Here’s a catchy graphic created by Petful (formerly Pets Adviser) that you can share: