Some of you may have noticed a theme of sorts running through pet blogs recently. This theme happens to be puppy mills, the scourge of animal welfare activists and animal rescuers everywhere. It’s all leading up to another Blog the Change Day that is happening on Saturday, this time the focus being on a certain puppy mill front known as Petland (for more info about this, please come back tomorrow for my Blog the Change post). In light of this, I decided to post a research paper my human wrote a little over a year ago for a college class she was taking. It’s a long read, but all incredibly important especially if you don’t fully understand the breadth of the puppy mill issue. Also, as a disclaimer, both PETA and the HSUS are referenced in the text. Neither of us (meaning my human and I) support the tactics or politics behind either group, but they did offer a wealth of information too valuable to go unmentioned.
Happy tail wags…
An End to Puppy Factories
Written by Ashley Bickford
The barn was dark even though the sun outside was blinding. There were no windows to circulate fresh air or light, only a single door covered with a heavy blanket. The smell of feces and urine hit me even before my eyes adjusted to the darkness. This isn’t right my mind screamed as I the man I had come to call The Breeder ushered me further into the fetid barn. Cries of anguish and sadness met my ears in a crashing wave that made my skin crawl. As I stepped into the barn proper, my eyes finally adjusted, I saw them; puppies, everywhere. There were five pens on either side of the room we were in. Each pen contained at least a dozen or so puppies. In a few of the pens, there were crates stacked on top of each other, each containing three to four more puppies. I could feel The Breeder’s eyes on me as I tried to hold back the sudden retching feeling in my stomach. My feet wanted to run, but my heart wanted to stay to save all the little creatures who had never asked to be put in this horrifying situation. The Breeder mistook my silence for acceptance. He hastily picked up a puppy and shoved her into my arms. I took one look at her searching brown eyes and decided there was no way I was leaving without saving at least one. My naiveté had landed me right in the middle of a fully operational puppy mill; one part of a thriving business in the United States. My experience showed me that there have to be stricter animal breeding and selling laws to stop the operation of puppy mills because they are inhumane, numerous, and the laws that are in place aren’t doing enough to shut the mills down.
“Puppy mill” is the term used to describe large, substandard mass-production facilities that produce puppies for commercial purposes (“Laws that Protect“). Puppy mills are usually the places that supply the majority of the pet shops in the USA that sell puppies (Herbst). Some of these “mills” are small, consisting of only 20 or so breeding dogs and are usually based out of garages, basements, or even sheds. The larger operations can have hundreds to thousands of breeding dogs (Sharon, “Taking Aim” 2). No matter the size of the puppy mill, profit is the number one priority while the wellbeing of the dogs, both of the breeding stock (the intact male and female dogs that are bred to produce the puppies) and the puppies that are being sold, become the thing least worried about. The puppies themselves are considered as nothing more than a “commodity” (Sacks). As Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, the assistant director of government relations for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) stated:
‘These are breeders that breed high volumes of dogs and either sell [sic] them directly to the public or through retail establishments, auctions or flea markets. In many cases, these dogs are not well cared for, and often they fall out of the purview of the [United States Department of Agriculture] regulation process’ (Frabotta).
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has even begun to call puppy mills one of their “top five issues” (Sharon, “Puppy Mills” 2). While that is good and all, puppy mills have been around awhile and the HSUS should have labeled them one of their “issues” a long time ago.
Puppy mills are not a new establishment. They started popping up around the United States after World War II during the time that the country was experiencing severe crop failures throughout the Midwest. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began to promote purebred puppies as the next “fool-proof cash crop” to farmers suddenly found themselves out of a job and unable to provide for their families. The breeding of puppies had a distinct appeal to the farmers as they “did not require the intense physical labor that it takes to produce edible crops, nor [were] the dogs as vulnerable to unfavorable weather.” It was often that farmers cut costs by using repurposed chicken coops and rabbit hutches to house the dogs, a practice that is often still used in slight variations to this day (“What is”).
The demand for this new “cash crop” led to a need for a source in the East. The people that stood as go-betweens, (known today as brokers), from the puppy mills to the pet shops started hosting seminars along the eastern states to show farmers how they could conduct their own breeding facilities. The Pennsylvanian Amish farmers, specifically in Lancaster County, took the idea and ran with it (“What is”). The majority of the Amish farmers believed, and still do to this day, that they have authority to do what they will with animals. In Genesis it says that “the Bible gives [men] dominion over animals.” As one Amish farmer told Diane Herbst, “’[Dogs] are not people; they are animals. So they can be kept in cages‘” (1-2). Lancaster is now known as the “puppy mill capital of the United States” with over 277 licensed breeders and approximately 600 unlicensed breeders in that county alone (Herbst). Whether or not we as humans have dominion over animals, it is still safe to say that we should still treat them fairly and maintain a healthy level of animal welfare.
The life of a puppy mill dog is usually joyless as they are often subjected to inhumane practices. As Cori Menkin, the senior director of legislative initiatives for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) explained: “’ whenever you are engaging in an industry that uses live animals and is seeking to make as much profit as possible, less money is put into the business meaning less care is provided for the animals.“ The dogs are either kept outdoors where they are subject to the elements, or inside poorly ventilated buildings (“What is“). Both the breeding dogs and the puppies are kept in tiny cages that are barely big enough for the animal to move around in. These cages are typically made from anything from chicken wire to wood (“Puppy Mills”). The most widely used cages are those that have wire floors. The wire floored cages are, in theory, supposed to cut back on the clean-up of waste as any excrement just drops to the floor to be taken care of later (“What is”). It is true that the feces and urine usually drops to the floor, but in many cases the caged dogs are stacked one on top of the other so the excrement just falls on to the dog below. This has often led to dogs becoming matted with feces. Typically, the urine and feces are only cleaned up when there is time, so it’s usually during the weekends if at all as sanitation is not considered a very important priority. The left over excrement attracts bugs and vermin that pose a risk to the breeding dogs and their puppies. The urine itself cannot be completely removed from the ground or floor it has soaked into thus the dogs that are kept caged indoors deal with the ammonia vapors due to the leftover urine (“What Are”). The wire floors of the cages often leads to abscessed feet, one of many numerous health issues puppy mill dogs deal with including mange, ear infections, eye problems, and sores (“Puppy Mills”).
Eye witness accounts describe animals being fed maggot-infested food and confined to chicken coops filled with their own waste. The pups, suffering from skin infections and open sores, receive no veterinary care… Moreover, the puppies have not been socialized and tend to act in disturbing and aggressive ways, making them poor risks as pets (Sacks 1).
The breeders that run the puppy mills often fail to account for the breeding dogs’ genetic quality. This failure leads to hereditary diseases that run unchecked and continue to spread throughout generations. Some of the major genetic diseases that are rampant in puppy mill dogs are epilepsy, kidney disease, deafness, heart disease, eye problems like cataracts, and musculoskeletal disorders like hip dysplasia (“What Is”). Some of these diseases, as well as other problems like aggression or anxiety, don’t reveal themselves after the puppies are purchased (Sharon, “Puppy Mills” 2). Puppy mill dogs that are sold through pet stores are often known to have kennel cough, fleas, distemper, giardia, the deadly parvovirus, mange, internal parasites, and much, much more (“What Is“). Diane Richards found this out the hard way after purchasing a dog from a pet dealer:
[Richards] bought a tiny Yorkshire terrier from a retail dealer who sold a dozen or more breeds from a puppy mill in Texas. The following morning, the puppy.. was barely able to breathe and was near death. Richards rushed her to a local veterinarian who told her he had seen several dogs from this dealer and they had all died (Sacks 3).
The breeding females, as Bob Baker from the ASPCA stated, are often kept in “’squalid, horrible conditions for their entire short lives and [produce] unhealthy, substandard puppies with genetic, behavior, and pathological issues’” (Sharon “Taking Aim” 2). The dogs are bred once they reach their first heat cycle and then continually inseminated every six months leaving no time for recovery in between litters. This cycle continues until their ability to reproduce wanes at around age four to five (Sacks). Most of the female dogs are “dissipated from endless cycles of producing and nursing litters; many have chronic ailments, rotten teeth, and ear, eye, and skin infections.” Once they stop producing puppies, and thus making profit, the breeding females either killed, sold at auction to those looking to squeeze out another litter or two, starved to death, or even sold to research facilities (Sharon “Taking Aim” 2). As the dogs are raised and kept in solitude with little to no stimulation, they rarely bark or attract outside attention (Sharon “Taking Aim” 2). That is often the reason why neighbors of a raided puppy mill will often be surprised that it was even in existence as they heard not a single bark from the premises. The breeding dogs are also very rarely let out of their cages and some can even live their whole lives without setting foot on grass. Human socialization is little to none as well (“What Is” 2). The confined dogs are often seen to pace and circle around in their cages to help relieve themselves of stress (“Puppy Mills”).
If the breeding dog’s puppies make it to eight weeks of age (many are killed due to any issue that deems them unsellable), they are cleaned up and either sent to a broker or sold directly to the public through the internet or from the breeders’ homes. Brokers will often kill, sell to research facilities, or hold to be added to the breeding stock, any puppy they see as lacking “monetary value.” Those that live are the ones sold in pet stores (“What Are”). These all accumulate to why the president of the ASPCA calls puppy mills, “’one of the most offensive forms of animal cruelty’” (Sharon, “Taking Aim” 2). While the topic of animal rights is quite controversial, it’s safe to say that these dogs should have the right to be treated much better than how they are being treated.
Are there really that many puppy mills to worry about though? The senior director of the HSUS’ Stop Puppy Mills project believes there are as she estimates that there are over 10,000 large puppy mills throughout the United States, twice as many as there were in the mid-90s. These puppy mills produce over two to four million puppies a year and hold anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 breeding dogs (Sharon, “Puppy Mills” 2). Missouri, the leading state in the puppy mill industry, accounts for 1,462 licensed breeding facilities that produce around one million puppies annually and make up 40% of all the puppies found in pet shops. Of course, this number only represents the licensed operations. The director of the Missouri branch of the HSUS believes the licensed puppy mills only represent half of the total number in her state alone (“A Dog’s Life”). Stephanie Shain from the HSUS says, “’Many people believe that (puppy mills) [are] an old problem that had been taken care of years ago. Even people who pay attention to animal issues don’t understand how much it has grown.’“ There has even been a surge of puppy mill activity in states like Maine and Ohio that were once very low on the puppy mill totem pole (Sharon, “Taking Aim” 2). People are starting to see how profitable these puppy factories are, just like the farmers at the end of World War II.
There are a lot of issues when it comes to the laws and regulations that are trying to regulate puppy mills. As there is no legal definition for the term “puppy mill,” it is often been difficult to make laws to stop something that doesn’t have a concrete definition. Furthermore, the commercial breeding of dogs is regulated both on the federal level as well as the state, but only in some states. There are states like Alabama and Texas that have absolutely no state laws dealing with breeding facilities, kennels, dealers or pet stores. As some puppy mills sell directly to the consumer, such as those that sell online, the federal government does not require them to be licensed as they are considered a “retailer.” The federal government therefore passes the torch of responsibility onto the state. However, the state views these operations as “breeders” so they believe the federal government should handle all the inspections and dole out the consequences when necessary (“Laws that Protect“). This major loophole has allowed many puppy mills to slip through the cracks and not be held accountable for practices that may be damaging to the dogs under their management. The USDA is the only government force behind monitoring the way that animals are bred as well as how they are shipped. They are responsible for “a licensing and inspection program that is supposed to ensure that animals receive basic veterinary care, a balanced diet, and sound housing.” But, the USDA looks after not only commercial breeding facilities, but zoos, bio-medical research laboratories, circuses, vehicles that transport animals, and marine-mammal parks. Unfortunately, with very little resources and only around 65 field agents to launch inspections, the USDA isn’t able to be everywhere at once. The HSUS also believes that the USDA operates “ineffectually” as they often visit the same offenders over and over again and, while the found violations are sometimes fixed, new violations are often found (Sacks). This is incredibly ineffective as the other operating puppy mills continue to churn out puppies in squalid environments without having to worry that the USDA will be knocking on their door anytime soon.
There are only a few federal laws in effect that try to protect the animals found in breeding facilities. As these laws are only civil laws and not criminal or animal cruelty laws, they only warrant citations and facility closure as punishment. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the first and was put into effect in 1966. The AWA “defines the minimum standard of care for dogs, cats and certain other species of animals bred for commercial resale and exhibition.” This is the law that put the USDA in charge of facilitating and keeping commercial breeding facilities within the law’s restrictions. However, there are many loopholes within the AWA law that allows violations to go unpunished (“Laws That Protect”). Different groups, like the HSUS and ASPCA have come forward to try to make the AWA stricter and have more regulations such as a cap of only fifty breeding females per facility. So far, the regulations have not been passed (Sharon, “Puppy Mills” 1).
There is hope, however, that there will be stricter laws at least on the state level. In this past election, a law commonly referred to as Proposition B but also called the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” was passed in Missouri, the leading puppy mill state. As the law states:
The purpose of this Act is to prohibit the cruel and inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills by requiring large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each dog under their care with basic food and water, adequate shelter from the elements, necessary veterinary care, adequate space to turn around and stretch his or her limbs, and regular exercise.
Proposition B goes on to list other requirements that commercial dog breeders must meet such as adequate rest between breeding cycles, yearly vet visits, that dogs must not be housed one on top of the other, and that the space the dogs are housed must not fall below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or go about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (“2010 Initiative Petitions”). While it’s a small step on the state level and not nationwide, at least it is a step in the right direction.
I am lucky to say that my puppy mill dog shows no ill effects due to her rough beginning in one of the numerous and inhumane facilities. While she does have some anxiety and occasional bouts of colitis, she is quite healthy and social. Puppy mills are no longer the fable that animal activists once talk about in hushed voices. They are real, and they are preying upon society’s love of fuzzy little puppies. We need to take action against them and one of the best ways to do that is through shelter adoption. As consumers, people need to stop giving money to the pet shops that sell puppy mill dogs or the breeders themselves. Only then will puppy mills be hopefully shut down for good.
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Herbst, Diane. “The Puppy Saver.” People 70.13 (2008): 163-167. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.
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“2010 Initiative Petitions Approved for Circulation in Missouri. Statutory Amendment to Chapter 273, Relating to Dog Breeders 2010-085, Version 1.” Missouri Secretary of State. n.p., n.d., Web. 7 Dec. 2010.