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.