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Puppy Mills

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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It all started innocently enough. After World War II, farmers were desperate for alternative ways to provide for their families. The war had been expensive for the American people, and to make matter worse, crops were failing. In an attempt to help alleviate the financial strain of farmers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested breeding and raising purebred puppies as an alternative "crop." Little did they know what would eventually happen.

Farmers decided to give puppy raising a try. With the influx of large amounts of purebred puppies, pet store numbers grew as a way to sell these puppies. It seemed like an ideal situation. The farmers were better able to support their families, pet stores had a consistent supply of purebred puppies and the American public had an easy way to add a dog to their family. But, along came greed.

Some people running these dog breeding operations had little animal knowledge and few funds. They soon realized that if four dogs could produce a certain amount of puppies and money, then 20 dogs could bring in even more. Buying cheap low quality dog food or feeding table scraps also increased the profits. The expense of proper veterinary care was a luxury they chose not to have. Eventually, dogs were bred as soon as they reached puberty and bred as often as possible. Medical care was not provided and cleaning and sanitation was ignored. Even in horrendous conditions, dogs would still deliver those money-making puppies.

Eventually, animal welfare organizations became aware of the deplorable conditions. At the time, there was no legal way to penalize these breeders and bringing public attention and outrage to the situation seemed the only thing that could be done. Soon, the term "puppy mill" was coined and has been used to label commercial breeding kennels with many different breeds of dogs. They primarily sell to pet stores but some may sell to private individuals. The dogs are bred for profit only and maintaining the integrity of the breed is not a concern. Adequate sanitation and proper care of the dogs is not provided. Little, if any, concern is given to preventing the spread of genetic ailments or contagious disease.

The Ethics of It All

Be aware that just because someone has a commercial breeding kennel and has several different breeds of dogs, that doesn't mean they are a puppy mill. Breeding dogs for profit or as a business should not be thought of as a crime or unscrupulous. How the dogs are cared for should be the primary concern. Some breeders have scruples and care about the dogs. They keep their environments clean and sanitized. The dogs are properly bred and veterinary care is provided. The problem is being able to tell the good kennels from the puppy mills without actually visiting the kennels.

In response to various forms of animal cruelty, puppy mills included, the Animal Welfare Act was passed in 1971. This act defined proper care of animals and allowed for penalties to punish substandard facilities. This originally seemed the way to solve the problem.

Unfortunately, the USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service only has about 65 investigators and there are over 4,000 licensed breeding facilities with over 10,000 breeding sites, most concentrated in the midwestern United States. These mills are thought to produce over 500,000 puppies each year. Adequate supervision and inspection is impossible.

Is There Anything You Can Do?

Since puppy mill owners are primarily driven by profit, reducing their income can have a substantial impact on their desire to continue their business. Since their puppies are sold to pet stores, do not buy a puppy from a pet store. Consider adopting a dog from a shelter. If a purebred is what you want, contact a purebred rescue organization or contact a hobby breeder. These breeders typically have one or two different breeds of dogs and have a deep appreciation, understanding and love of the breeds they own. Cost is also significantly less.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking you are saving that cute little puppy at the pet store. By buying that dog, you may be providing a great home but you are also providing more incentive for the pet store and puppy mill owner to produce more dogs. Another consideration is that many pet store puppies are not healthy. Genetic problems and disease are rampant and may not show up for weeks to months later. That expensive puppy you bought at the pet store will eventually cost you much more.

More Aggressive Options

If you think you have found a puppy mill and want to report it, there are some things you should do first. Make sure you have the correct facts. Just driving by a house with lots of dogs in cages doesn't mean you found a puppy mill. And, if that is your only proof, it will be nearly impossible to convince the USDA to send an inspector to that place. There are few inspectors for the vast number of licensed breeding facilities and diverting their attention based on a hunch will likely not happen.

To increase your chances of getting an inspection and possibly even shutting down a specific puppy mill, consider doing the following:

  • Know about how many different breeds are being raised at the particular kennel. You may consider visiting the kennel with a friend. Pretend you are an interested buyer but do not lie or try to deceive the breeder. True mill owners vehemently protect their kennels and livelihood. Resist the temptation to criticize the mill owner. This will not help you. Always keep in mind your ultimate goal.

  • Try to record as much information as possible. It is doubtful the breeder will allow you to take photos. Write down everything you saw as soon as you have a chance. Make sure your friend witnesses everything. Do not ask probing questions. Only ask about the puppy or breed you are interested in and look around. Some mill owners are very suspicious and have learned to detect people whose only purpose is to shut them down.

  • If the above sounds a little to secretive for you, consider notifying authorities. Your local humane society or animal control can help. File a report but expect it to take time. These people are very overworked and it may take a while before they have the manpower available to inspect the area.

  • Contact the local health department. Fecal contamination or dead bodies are threats to public health.

  • Contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service. This is the branch of government responsible for policing the kennels and licensed breeders. Be aware that the USDA-APHIS can only regulate those kennels that gross over $500 per year selling puppies.

  • The American Kennel Club Inspections and Investigations Department is another organization to contact. If the breeds are AKC recognized and records and identification of the breeds are not met, the AKC can revoke their license. You can also contact the United Kennel Club.

  • Contact the media. Public outrage can go a long way toward closing or hampering a local puppy mill. The unfortunate thing is that the puppy mill owner can just shut down in one place and open up again somewhere else.

    Shutting down a puppy mill is difficult. With consistent pressure and investigation, it is possible to improve the conditions of a particular kennel. Unfortunately, making widespread changes in puppy care and breeding and shutting down all the mills in the country is not probable. Your best chance of improving the way dogs are bred and sold is to go about it one mill at a time. For more information on puppy mills, please read The Battle Against Puppy Mills.

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