The Sad Truth About Puppy Mills and What You Can Do to HelpReading Time: 4 minutes
Exposing The Terrible Truth About Puppy Mills
We’ve all seen them. The commercials on TV showing is the sad and terrified faces of dogs who have been abused and neglected at the hands of breeders who cared more about making money than the health and wellness of those innocent little creatures.
All you have to do is hear the first few notes of the sad song and you know what’s coming. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but it’s a truth we all have to face.
Some of these dogs have lived their entire lives stuffed inside tiny crates, never seeing the sunshine or experiencing what it’s like to walk on grass. Others have known nothing but the outdoors. They’ve been left out in the rain or unbearable summer heat without reprieve.
Many of them are sick, and all of them are afraid.
The underground world of puppy mills isn’t pretty. But talking about them, learning about their dangers and how to spot one is the only way we’re going to be able to put an end to them.
So what is a puppy mill, exactly?
Puppy mills are basically any large-scale breeding operation that focuses on profits rather than the well-being of the dogs. Female dogs are bred at every opportunity with very little time to recover between litters. In these facilities, puppies = money, so the demand for puppies is always at an all-time high.
In many cases, once the female dog has been physically taxed and is no longer able to produce puppies, the owners will simply kill her because she can no longer provide monetary value to them.
You’ve probably seen pictures of puppy mills in the news before, and they probably all look something like this.
One of the hallmark signs of a puppy mill is dogs being housed in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Multiple dogs will be shoved into tiny cages, cages will be stacked on top of one another, and everything will be covered in feces.
It’s hard to imagine that someone could treat innocent dogs with such cruelty, but this kind of animal abuse is all too common.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that about 10,000 puppy mills are currently operating in the United States.
Although puppy mills can be found in every corner of the country, the highest concentration seems to be in the Midwest. Missouri, in particular, has a reputation for being home to a large number of puppy mills.
In 2012, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) began publishing an annual report on problem puppy mills and puppy dealers in the U.S. Missouri has topped the list each year, with 19 problem dealers identified in 2017.
The state was followed by Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kansas, who came in second place with a three-way tie of 12 problem dealers each.
The number of dogs in a puppy mill can vary widely. Some may have as few as 10 dogs, while others have hundreds or even thousands crammed into the facility. According to the HSUS, roughly 2 million puppies are sold annually that originated from puppy mills.
If you’re wondering, “Where on earth do these puppies end up,” just look to your closest pet store.
No one wants to believe that their dog came from such a nightmare place. But the sad truth is if you’ve bought a dog from the pet store, there’s a good chance it came from a puppy mill.
John Goodwin, senior director of the HSUS’ campaign to stop puppy mills, spoke to Rolling Stone magazine in January 2017 for a story on these so-called dog factories. When asked how many puppies sold each year come from puppy mills, he answered bluntly — just about all of them.
“Most every pup sold in stores in America comes from this kind of suffering – or worse. If you buy a puppy from a pet store, this is what you’re paying for and nothing else: a dog raised in puppy-mill evil.”
The practice of breeding dogs for a profit traces all the way back to the 1950s. Local pig and poultry farmers were struggling, so they decided to breed puppies on the side to help make ends meet. They traded in their coops for outdoor kennels and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the next 40 years, the country saw an explosion of commercial dog breeding. What started as a mom-and-pop side business became a full-time gig, and that’s when things took a turn.
The problem with puppy mills is that the health of the dogs is completely disregarded in favor of turning a profit.
Dogs born in puppy mills often suffer from a variety of health problems, a result of the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions and lack of veterinary care. It’s been well documented that puppies from puppy mills tend to suffer from:
- Kennel cough
- Intestinal parasites
Even worse, breeders operating puppy mills tend to disregard proper husbandry practices. Sick dogs aren’t removed from the breeding pools and breeds are crossed in so many different ways that many of resulting puppies have congenital or hereditary conditions.
It’s not uncommon for the puppies to have heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders (such as hip dysplasia), diabetes, deafness, eye problems (cataracts, gluacoma, etc.) or respiratory disorders.
We mentioned earlier that there are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the country right now. There are undoubtedly more out there, but so many operate in the shadows that it’s hard to know the true number.
Well, the USDA only licenses a small fraction of kennels — about 2,500, to be exact. That means the vast majority of breeding operations are running their business without any oversight.
An additional 2,500 or so kennels are licensed at the state level, but that still leaves the bulk of operations unchecked.
The fact is, the federal government only requires a breeder to have a license if s/he sells the dogs “sight unseen,” such as via a puppy breeder or pet store. However, if the breeder works directly with buyers, selling the dogs either face-to-face or through ads, it’s basically a free-for-all.
In hopes of getting more breeders under regulation, the USDA passed an amendment in 2014 that required online sellers to obtain a federal license. This would then require them to submit to annual inspections and a set of rules for the dogs’ standard of care.
The problem — the department relied on breeders to come forward and comply with the new law. As of January 2017, only 300 breeders have.
For its story on puppy mills, Rolling Stone asked USDA Spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa what happens to those breeders who chose to ignore the law.
“It is virtually impossible for us to monitor the Internet for breeders,” Espinosa said. “[We] rely heavily on the public and their complaints.”
Once again the agency finds itself placing the burden on the community to find and report puppy mills. The trouble is, they’re not always easy to spot. Just visit any one of the thousands of websites that pop up advertising purebred puppies. We bet they’ll all tell you that the puppies are bred humanely in a caring and loving environment.
If only it were true.
You already know that pet store puppies tend to be the products of puppy mills. But what if you’re responding to an ad in the local newspaper? Or you found a breeder online that has the most darling corgi puppies? How do you know if the operation is legit rather than a puppy mill in disguise?
There are some common red flags you can look for to help determine whether your breeder is operating a puppy mill.
Does the breeder seem to always have puppies available, usually in large quantities? This is one of the first signs that you’re likely dealing with a puppy mill situation.
Be wary if you’re constantly seeing fliers or online announcements advertising puppies for sale from the same person organization.
Another red flag is a breeder who has multiple breeds of dog available or who claims to have “rare” or “new” breeds available. Breeding dogs should never be an experiment, but sadly many owners will cross-breed dogs as a gimmick to get your attention.
Reputable breeders typically focus on one breed of dog, maybe two.
Breeders who operate puppy mills tend to be very secretive. After all, they don’t want you catching on and reporting them! This is why so many of them will ask to meet you in a public place to finish the sale. This is a classic move by puppy mill operators and should immediately put you on alert.
If your breeder refuses to let you come to the property to meet your puppy, walk away.
Other secrets puppy mill operators like to keep:
Your puppy’s parents. Not meeting your future puppy’s parents is like buying a car without knowing the make/model. A breeder who won’t let you meet the pup’s mom and dad is someone you shouldn’t work with. Not only could they be operating a puppy mill that is creating all sorts of cross breeds, but the person could actually just be a broker who is selling puppiessecondhand.
The name of his/her veterinarian. You don’t necessarily need to interrogate the veterinarian, but it is important to know that one is working with mom and her puppies. Having a name will let you look up the practice to make sure it’s local and that the vet is in good standing.
Something else to watch out for is a breeder who doesn’t ask any questions. Those who breed responsibly care about the future of their puppies — they won’t part with them for just anyone. A breeder who doesn’t ask you anything beyond how they’ll be paid and where you’ll hand over the dog is someone who is only in it for the money.
Legitimate breeders typically have a contract that you will sign to ensure the puppy is well cared for. Paperwork typically includes spay/neuter agreements, breed papers that show your dog’s parentage and registration, a health contract, as well as instructions on what to do if things don’t work out with your furry friend (i.e. returning the puppy to the breeder rather than dropping him off at the local shelter) so it can be re homed.
Keeping an eye out for these warning signs can help keep you from becoming an accidental supporter of puppy mills.
Another great solution, though, is simply looking for puppies for adoption. It’s a huge misconception that the only dogs you’ll find in a shelter are problem pets and mangy mutts. Oftentimes puppies rescued from these horrid mills are taken to local animal shelters and humane society, and many of them are purebreds! In fact, the HSUS estimates about 25% of dogs in shelters are purebreds.
So the next time you’re looking for a dog, do your due diligence. Don’t let yourself get so caught up in the excitement of bringing home a new puppy that you fail to ask questions or flat out ignore the signs that you’re working with a puppy mill.
The more people refuse to work with these irresponsible and heartless breeders, the better chance we have of stopping puppy mills for good.
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