It’s true that the cute puppies and kittens for sale in pet store windows or even online can be hard to resist. But a closer look at the source of these animals reveals a story of pain of suffering and a cruel system of forced breeding that’s supported and encouraged whenever someone decides to buy an animal from a pet store or a breeder rather than adopting from a shelter.
That adorable little puppy in the store probably came from what’s called a “puppy mill,” a breeding facility that forces mother dogs to produce litter after litter at an exhausting rate in cramped, filthy conditions. Constant confinement and a lack of adequate veterinary care and socialization often result in unhealthy animals who are difficult to socialize. Because of that, many puppies are abandoned within weeks or months of purchase by frustrated buyers—further contributing to the tragic companion-animal overpopulation crisis. With so many adoptable dogs and cats in animal shelters waiting for a good home, there’s never any excuse to support the cruel puppy-mill industry.
Puppy Mills’ Dirty Secrets: Cages, Filth, and Neglect
Puppy mill “housing” can consist of anything from small cages made of wood and wire mesh to tractor-trailer cabs to tethers attached to trees. Female dogs are bred twice a year and are usually killed or abandoned when they are no longer able to produce puppies.(1) Mothers and their litters often suffer from malnutrition, exposure, and lack of adequate veterinary care. Puppies are torn away from their mothers and sold to brokers who pack them into crates for transport and resale to pet stores, which can involve traveling hundreds of miles in pickup trucks, tractor-trailers, or airplanes, often without adequate food, water, ventilation, or shelter. Even if a store claims that it doesn’t buy from puppy mills, there is a good chance that it buys from a broker who does.(2)
The Plight of ‘Purebreds’
Some people impulsively buy purebred dogs, even though they may not be educated about the breed or ready for the commitment that companion animals require. Movies such as 101 Dalmatians and Beethoven, TV shows, and commercials have caused a jump in the popularity of certain breeds, yet very few potential dog caretakers take the time to research the traits and needs of the breed they are considering. “Every time Hollywood makes a movie about dogs, the breed goes to hell,” says one guardian of bouviers des Flandres dogs. A Dalmatian fancier concludes that “the unscrupulous breeders will see there’s a profit margin there.”(3) When there is a surge in demand for a particular breed, puppy mills try to meet that demand. But when Jack Russell terriers don’t turn out to be just like Frasier‘s “Eddie” or St. Bernards don’t act just like “Beethoven,” rescue groups and animal shelters are flooded with abandoned members of these breeds.
At puppy mills, dogs are bred for quantity, not quality, so unmonitored genetic defects and personality disorders are commonly passed on from generation to generation. This situation results in costly veterinary bills for people who buy these dogs and the possibility that unsociable or aggressive dogs will end up abandoned by their unprepared “owners.” “[T]here’s virtually no consideration of temperament,” says one dog trainer. “I wish legislators could sit in my office and watch … people sobbing in extreme emotional pain over having to decide whether to euthanize their dog because of some serious behavioral problem.”(4)
Inadequate Inspections (How Puppy Mills Are Getting Away With It)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is supposed to monitor and inspect kennels to ensure that they are not violating the housing standards of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), but kennel inspections are a low priority. In the U.S., there are more than 1,100 research facilities, more than 2,700 exhibitors, and 939 dealers that are supposed to be inspected regularly.(5)
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency of the USDA, employs approximately 120 veterinary inspectors who are supposed to inspect, unannounced, the various types of facilities covered by the AWA.(6) This means that along with about 3,300 breeders and a few other types of facilities, 120 inspectors have to cover more than 8,700 facilities nationwide.(7)
Because many of these mills now sell directly to consumers over the Internet, they escape the minimal USDA standards that apply to breeders who sell to pet stores. “It’s a massive loophole,” says USDA spokesperson Jessica Milteer.(8) Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who has repeatedly sponsored legislation that would require all breeders selling more than 50 dogs per year to be licensed and undergo veterinary inspections, argues that while the AWA might protect pets sold at the wholesale level, it fails to address smaller operations. Durbin says, “Now that online puppy sales happen every day, it is clear that law has not kept pace with recent developments. Internet sales bypass the retail pet store.”(9)
The Tragedy of the Puppy Pipeline
Puppy dealers who want to avoid U.S. laws—the few that exist—look elsewhere to continue doing business. For example, there is a network of breeders and smugglers who bring puppies into the U.S. from Mexico. While investigating what he called this “multi-million dollar industry,” Capt. Aaron Reyes of the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority in Los Angeles County reported finding “puppies stuffed in speaker boxes, screwed into the car door panels and wrapped in blankets with their little legs taped to their bodies and stuffed under seats.”(10)
While no federal agency tracks the number of puppies who enter the U.S., an investigation by a New York TV station concluded that thousands of puppies arrive every year and that many are sick or dead on arrival. A staff member at a private veterinary clinic at John F. Kennedy International Airport told the CBS affiliate that she had even seen “a couple of cases where [the puppies] were shrink-wrapped.” The station also found that although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies have been alerted to the problem of attempting to ship underage, sick puppies by crowding them into filthy, crowded kennels for hours at a time, none has jurisdiction over the animals’ care. The CDC only checks animals for rabies, and the USDA regulations for dogs’ age and transport conditions do not apply to foreign shipments.(11)
3 Things You Didn’t Know About Puppy Mills
- The puppy-mill industry is quite large in the United States, which contributes to the lack of accountability and standards of care that are rampant in this business. The majority of these facilities are in the Midwest (there are an estimated 1,500 unlicensed kennels in Missouri alone), but they can be found throughout the country, and some dealers even import puppies from other countries.(12,13)
- The importation of puppies from other countries is a huge part of the puppy trade, and this journey can be fatal for the animals who are shipped and sold. At Los Angeles International Airport, for example, 30 puppies were found in a shipment from South Korea. They were in such bad condition that 20 either had died or had to be euthanized after the arduous journey.(14)
- It’s common for people to seek out so-called “designer dogs,” such as Labradoodles and cockapoos, who can be sold for thousands of dollars to unsuspecting buyers who know nothing about the breed. Says one veterinarian, “People just see a designer breed and say, ‘I’ve never heard of that dog, but it sounds cute.'”(15)
What You Can Do to Help
The good news is that it’s easy to help. Because millions of unwanted dogs and cats (including purebreds and “designer dogs”) die every year in animal shelters, there is simply no reason for animals to be bred and sold for the pet trade, and without pet stores, the financial incentive for puppy mills would disappear and the suffering of these dogs would end. So the next time you’re ready to welcome a new furry friend into your life, head straight to the animal shelter or a rescue group and adopt. You can also take action for companion animals online here!
- Natalie Lariccia, “A Warning on Puppy Mills,”The Vindicator 25 Apr. 2000.
- Chuck Haga, “Every Dog Has Its Day,” Star Tribune7 Sep. 1999.
- Richard P. Jones, “Panel Weakens Pet Industry Rules,”Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 19 May 2003.
- S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, “Risk Based Inspection System,” 17 Oct. 2014.
- Lyle Muller and Jacob Luplow, “Only 120 Inspectors Check U.S. Dog Breeding Operations,” IowaWatch.org, 3 Jan. 2015.
- S. Department of Agriculture.
- Suzanne Smalley, “A (Designer) Dog’s Life,”Newsweek 13 Apr. 2009.
- com, “U.S. Legislation Calls for Veterinary Inspections of Dog Breeders Selling on the Internet,”DVM Newsmagazine 13 Apr. 2011.
- Chris Sweeney, “Inside the Black Market: Puppy Smuggling,”DVM Newsmagazine 25 Mar. 2010.
- CBS Broadcasting Inc., “Puppy Pipeline: Many Shipped to America Are Abused,” WCBS-TV, 17 Feb. 2006.
- Josh Shaffer, “Bill Targets Squalid ‘Puppy Mills,'”Fort Worth Star-Telegram 13 Apr. 2002.
- Kearney Courier, “Lawmakers Strengthen ‘Puppy Mill’ Law,”The Kearney Courier 20 Apr. 2011.
- Carrie Kahn, “Shipment Shows Dark Side of Foreign Puppy Mills,” NPRMorning Edition 30 Dec. 2008.