We love puppies. That’s why we don’t sell them.
I read the most gut-wrenching article about puppy mills in The Rolling Stone last month titled, “The Dog Factory: Inside the Sickening World of Puppy Mills.” The reporter, Paul Salotaroff, joined a task force from The Humane Society in a massive puppy mill raid in North Carolina. The story begins with a sickening description of the house under investigation, continues to the discovery of sick puppies and deformed breeding dogs, and ends with the rescue of 128 animals (dogs, cats, and goats) and the arrest of the owner of the operation. Barbara Yates, the woman allegedly responsible, had been running this USDA-inspected puppy mill out of her basement for at least five years and was making a living selling those puppies online. The photos and stories are graphic, but the piece is an informative call-to-action.
The tagline of the article calls puppy mills, “the secret shame of the pet industry.” Those words hit me hard, because, you see, I’m part of the pet industry and I had no idea how devastating and wide-reaching this problem really is. We have a sign in our window that says “We love puppies. That’s why we don’t sell them.” We signed a pledge with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to never sell animals in our store, and when someone comes in looking for a puppy, we send them to local shelters or rescue groups instead. (Check out our Pet Resources page to find one near you.) Based on my background, and the good people I’ve been around, I mistakenly held the belief that most dogs I met came from a shelter or a responsible breeder.
The unfortunate reality is that many dogs are purchased in a pet store or from an online broker. Sales of puppies from puppy mills are happening closer to home than you may think; right here in Colorado. We boast of our dog-friendly towns and high adoption rates at local shelters, but there are still at least 25 USDA-licensed puppy mills in Colorado with an estimated 1,300 breeding adult dogs. Our state makes up just a fraction of the over 10,000 legal puppy mills and brokers nationwide. Some are massive livestock facilities while others are crowded basement operations hidden in suburban neighborhoods. That’s the kind of “secret shame” Salotaroff is talking about.
What is a puppy mill?
A puppy mill, also called a puppy farm, is a commercial dog breeding facility. A court in Minnesota determined the definition to be “a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.” Avenson v. Zegart, 577 F. Supp. 958, 960
How is this happening?
Brokers and pet stores make impressive claims on the reputability of their suppliers while deceiving consumers with terms like “USDA Licensed” and “AKC Registered” and marketing their businesses with stock photos of cute puppies, smiling breeders, and clean facilities.
What does USDA Licensed mean? The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) inspects breeding facilities to make sure they adhere to the guidelines laid out by the Animal Welfare Act. Sounds good, right? Well, the Animal Welfare Act allows up to 12 dogs kept in a single cage and has no limit on the number of animals kept on a single property. Cages must be six inches larger than the dog so the dog is able to stand up, but unlikely unable to turn around. What’s worse is that dogs never actually have to be let out of those cages. The breeders are required to have a written exercise plan, but there is no requirement that those plans are ever carried out. Facilities are inspected as infrequently as every three years and fines for violations often go unpaid.
What does AKC Registered mean? AKC Registered only means the puppy and his or her parents have been registered with the American Kennel Club as purebreds. It does not have any guidelines for health or temperament of the dogs registered. While the AKC does encourage choosing a responsible breeder, many puppy mill dogs come with papers stamped with “AKC Registered.”
Secondly, internet sales are booming. In the last ten years, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) have cracked down on stores selling puppy mill-bred dogs, but online brokers have allowed the industry to continue and thrive. Of the 2 million puppies bred and sold each year, approximately half are sold online.
What can we do?
The Humane Society of the United States recommends we “choke the blood supply of puppy mills” by not giving the industry any money and never buying a puppy from a pet store or through a website. Instead, they encourage adoption of a shelter dog or finding a reputable breeder.
- If you want to buy a purebred puppy
- Choose a reputable breeder and investigate their history and references. The HSUS published a thorough checklist to simplify this process. A responsible breeder cares not only about the health and temperament of their dogs, but also about where their puppies end up.
- Responsible breeders won’t use a third-party to sell their animals so beware of pet stores and online brokers who claim to have working relationships with “good” breeders. Meet your breeder face to face in his or her home.
- Adopt a shelter dog!
- 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in US shelters every year! There are a ton of rescue groups and humane societies in Colorado where you can find adoptable animals in need of good homes. PetHarbor.com, and Petfinder.com can help you find a dog or puppy based on breed, age, and size. These websites fully vet the shelters and rescues, which makes it very difficult for inhumane breeders to sneak through. Despite this vetting, it’s still a good idea to research reviews and any complaints.
- In addition to helping end pet homelessness, puppy mills, and unnecessary euthanization, adopting an animal better for your wallet too! The Simple Dollar, a website devoted to simplifying personal finance, has a great blog post on The Financial Benefits of Adopting A Pet compared to purchasing from a breeder or pet store.
- Get involved
Learn more about what’s happening and tell your friends. We recommend starting with the resources we used to investigate this article: