As temping as it can be to take home an adorable puppy in the window of your local pet store, it’s important to think twice about where that puppy came from and how it was bred before making it your own. Puppy mills, or commercial dog breeding facilities, often supply pet stores and online shops nationwide with dogs and raise them in ways potential pet parents may not agree with.
We’ve asked Cori Menkin, the senior director of the ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign, to shed some light on the history of these facilities, how they may be treating our potential pets and what we can do to help create safer breeding and living conditions for our four-legged friends.
The History of Puppy Mills
Puppy mills came into existence in the U.S. after World War II, Menkin said, as an opportunity for farmers to make money in the face of widespread failures. As pet store owners began to realize their business would increase as a result of putting puppies in their windows, the demand for puppies increased rapidly, causing them to turn to these farmers on a regular basis for their animals. Unfortunately, the conditions under which puppies were bred and being raised at these facilities was often mediocre at best.
“At that time, they were converting old fridges and rabbit cages into dog crates and frames,” Menkin said. “These farmers were encouraged by the USDA to raise puppies as a cash crop … and were doing it by decreasing their overhead costs and increasing their profit.”
As time went on, the demand for pet store puppies continued to rise, keeping puppy mills across the country in business from the 1940s through today. While there is no legal definition of a puppy mill, the ASPCA defines puppy mills as “any commercial breeding facility that puts profit ahead of the wellbeing of the dog,” Menkin said. Because such facilities have been successful, the conditions under which many dogs live in at puppy mills continues to be less than ideal.
“Dogs are kept in overcrowded conditions, with tiny cages stacked on top of each other and wire flooring that can be detrimental to their paws,” she said. “Females are bred at every heat cycle to make as much money as possible and produce as many puppies as possible.”
Buying Pets From Puppy Mills
While most potential pet owners know puppy mills aren’t the best place to purchase a dog, those same people may not be aware that many pet stores and online shops are supplied by puppy mills, Menkin said. Additionally, while puppy mills must be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the standards required in order to obtain this license under the Animal Welfare Act vary vastly from the humane standards most people expect puppies to be bred and raised by.
“People are reassured that USDA licensing means a dog from that breeding facility is treated safely, but when you go into the details of what the USDA standards are, they do not amount to humane treatment,” Menkin said. “People are shocked to hear what USDA licensed really means.”
Puppies purchased from facilities with subpar living conditions are often exposed to and suffer from a broad spectrum of illnesses and diseases including upper respiratory infections, canine parvovirus, distemper and giardia, which can be transmitted to people, Menkin said. More long-term diseases and genetic defects that can come from a poor line of breeding include luxating patella (or dislocated kneecaps) and hip dysplasia. These issues may not manifest themselves right away, either, which can further confuse potential buyers.
“Genetic defects come in the breeding line [with puppy mills] not testing them the way a responsible breeder would,” Menkin said. “Defects don’t manifest in some of these puppies until they’re at least a year old, so you aren’t going to know right away.”
Learn more about the federal and state laws regarding puppy mills here.
Taking Action Against Puppy Mills
Although it seems impossible that such adorable puppies can come from an inhumane place, many shoppers never see the conditions under which that puppy was born and the life that puppy’s parents have. In order to bring the consumer to the forefront of the puppy mill issue, the ASPCA recently launched at tool called “No Pet Store Puppies” that features more than 10,000 photos of USDA licensed commercial dog breeding facilities. The tool links these facilities to specific pet stores throughout the country that have sold puppies from them in the past year, allowing people to see exactly where their local pets store puppies were bred.
As a part of the tool, consumers can also make a pledge not to support retailers that sell puppies online and in person and can spread awareness of puppy mills in their area by sharing information about where they’ve unknowingly purchased a puppy from a puppy mill.
“People buy puppies without knowing they come from puppy mills,” Menkin said. “Once they know, they can educate other people about where these puppies are coming from. Even if we don’t have a connection to your local store, you can see what these facilities are like and then decide as a consumer if this is something you want to support.”
Fortunately, there are many ways to take home a puppy that don’t involve supporting puppy mills. Menkin offers the following suggestions for finding the right dog:
- Adopt: visit your local shelter to find your next dog, and consider rescuing a mixed breed or older animal. If you’re set on a certain breed, look for a breed-specific rescue group.
- Think it over: instead of making an impulse buy from a pet store, think about the time you’ll need to invest in your future puppy. Bringing an 8 to 12 week-old puppy into your family is a 10 to 15 year commitment, so make sure you’re prepared to provide the care and support a dog needs for the duration of their lives.
- Research: before purchasing a puppy from a breeder, make sure to research the facility, its practices and the health of the dogs. Visit the breeder and make sure to meet your puppy’s mother before taking him home. “If a breeder is not willing to let you visit, it’s because they’re hiding something,” Menkin said. “A responsible breeder is going to want you to visit and make sure the puppy is going to a responsible home.”
Image courtesy of the ASPCA. Kyle Held, Midwest regional director of ASPCA Field Investigations & Response, rescues dog from a large, substandard, unlicensed breeding facility in Lake City, Mich.