So you’ve got your heart set on owning the latest designer dog breed—a Pomapoo*, perhaps, or maybe a Puggle—and you’ve made the commitment to spending a large amount of money to procure a healthy, purebred puppy. But wait—before you buy online or make a trip to a local pet store or swap meet,there are some facts you should know about where some of those puppies may come from. If you aren’t going the shelter route (which is of course our favorite option!), then really do your homework about the breeder.
Facts about Puppy Mills: The Hard Truth
If you’ve never heard the term before, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) defines a puppy mill as any large-scale commercial dog breeding operation wherein the central concern is making as much money as possible rather than maintaining the health, happiness, safety, and overall well-being of the dogs. The problem is that dogs in puppy mills are viewed as products rather than living creatures; just like an old-fashioned water mill, these facilities are powered by churning out a steady flow of puppies at the cheapest cost possible. By learning the facts about puppy mills, you can make sure you aren’t unknowingly buying a puppy that came from one of these horrible places.
The cruelty and neglect that takes place at the vast majority of these mills is horrifying—and surprisingly well-documented. Mill puppies are taken away from their mother as early as 4-6 weeks old, enabling the mother to immediately be impregnated again. Once the breeding female can no longer produce puppies (at around 5 years of age), the breeder disposes of her, frequently by shooting her in the head at close range or bashing her skull in with a blunt object.
To cut corners and keep costs low, puppy mill operators house as many puppies as will fit in cheap wire crates like the ones chickens are transported in, often stacked high on top of each other to save space. The wire floors of the cages cut into puppies’ soft bellies and can trap their feet, causing lacerations and—in cases where the puppy has been trapped for a long time and begins to panic and struggle—even severing the foot altogether. These crates are seldom if ever cleaned, so the puppies live and sleep in their own waste, causing their fur to become painfully matted to the extent that rescuers are forced to cut it off of them with shears.
As you might guess, puppy mills are also breeding grounds for disease—including certain types of diseases that can jump from dogs to humans, meaning that you run the risk of exposing your family if you buy from a source that gets its puppies from mills. Because mill puppies are never given proper veterinary care, it’s not at all uncommon for rescuers to find dogs still pitifully clinging to life whose limbs, eyes, teeth, and/or lower jaws have rotted away.
If these claims seem impossible to believe, keep in mind that these are eyewitness accounts documented by official inspectors for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as rescuers from animal welfare agencies. Summaries of a tiny percentage of these findings, documented in 16 U.S. states during just the first few months of 2015, can be found in “The Horrible Hundred 2015: A Sampling of Problem Puppy Mills in the United States,” a report published by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Who Regulates the Puppy Mills?
Conservative estimates put the number of puppy mills currently in operation across the United States anywhere from 5,000 to as high as 10,000. It’s impossible to keep track of how many there are, because the majority of them operate without any sort of governmental regulation; as of January 2015, fewer than 2,000 puppy mills are licensed by the USDA because only 26 states have licensing requirements and only “wholesale” breeding facilities—that is, facilities where breeders sell their puppies through a broker, a pet store, or the Internet rather than directly to the buyer—are required to have a license. In all, 21 states have absolutely no regulatory measures in place—including our home state of Tennessee.
Even in the states where a USDA license is required, this measure in no way guarantees that a facility treats its puppies and breeding dogs humanely. The USDA “enforces” the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), passed in 1966, under which a variety of conditions that would be deemed cruel and quickly prosecuted if they were applied to a pet dog—conditions such as those described earlier, in which some dogs suffer both physically and emotionally their entire lives without ever setting foot outside their cramped, filthy cages—are perfectly legal.
What’s more, puppy mills aren’t the only industry regularly enacting unspeakable cruelty on animals; the USDA is also responsible for overseeing the inspections of more than 20,000 “factory farms” across the U.S., where livestock are raised for meat, milk, and leather in conditions even worse than those in the most notorious puppy mills—and here’s the shocking thing: as of late December 2014, there wereonly 120 USDA inspectors in the entire country—hardly enough to cover the routine inspections of these 30,000 or more facilities.
Because there’s scant legislation and feeble manpower to enforce the AWA guidelines, the operators of puppy mills that are inspected may only receive a slap on the wrist in the form of a fine or citation; in many cases, inspectors may go so far as to revoke an offender’s license—but loopholes in the legal system mean that even repeat offenders can easily get their licenses renewed. Most puppy mills have been in operation for decades, despite long lists of recurring citations—meaning that dozens of generations of dogs have suffered and died within their property.
The Takeaway: Don’t Do Business with Puppy Mills
As we’ll discuss in a later blog post, there are many things you can do to help stop the cycle of cruelty perpetuated by puppy mills, but the very first step you can take to ensure that you’re getting the best dog for your money—without also creating more demand for puppy mills to fill—is to stop and think about your decision. Is the dog’s particular breed and purebred status a total deal-breaker? Do you really want a puppy, or would an older dog be more suited to your wants and needs?
If you think you can live with a friendly middle-aged mutt just as easily as a purebred puppy, forgo the pet store, flea market, or online order form—instead, take a trip to your local animal shelter and adopt one of the many dogs eager to go home with a loving owner. Even if you really, really want a baby Cockadoodle*, you may be in luck—a full 25% of shelter dogs are purebreds of some kind, and if your neighborhood shelter is fresh out of the breed you think you need, there are hundreds of breed-specific rescue groups across the U.S. trying to find good homes for the dogs in their care. The AKC actually keeps a full list of rescue groups here, sorted by breed. While purebred dogs purchased from puppy mills can cost upwards of $500, adoption fees at animal shelters cost only $50-$200, and some rescue groups will foot the bill for your initial veterinary costs after adoption.
Puppies aren’t just products to be churned out, thrown away if defective, sold and shipped to the highest bidder; they’re living, thinking, feeling creatures that deserve the same kindness, respect, and affection that we afford to one another. Think of your puppy as your newest family member—and go the extra mile to care for him or her.
How Can I Do More?
The best way you can help solve this problem long-term is to support organizations that are fighting to save these pets! One such organization, Fetching Apparel, has developed a fantastic line of clothing and accessories that you’ll love to wear, but will love even more knowing that a large part of the profits help support organizations that rescue pets from not only places like these, but also from euthanization at crowded animal shelters, bad homes and more! At Fetching Apparel, we give a whopping 40% of our profits to no-kill animal shelters, spay & neuter clinics and other great organizations that share our vision. We invite you to read our story and browse our store. You’ll not only find great looking tees, hats and other accessories, but you’ll be part of something much bigger – helping organizations that are dedicated to saving pets from terrible situations such as these, and placing them in loving homes.
*Pomapoo = Pomeranian + Poodle; Puggle = Pug + Beagle; Cockadoodle = Cocker Spaniel + Poodle