When you see a cute puppy in the window of a pet store, your first thought is probably not where that puppy came from. That’s why many people don’t know that puppies offered for sale at a typical pet store, in the classifieds, or online, often come from puppy mills.
Puppy mills are an issue that we at Found Animals care deeply about. So much so that we have been an integral part of bringing “humane model” pet retail into our Los Angeles communities. A “humane model” pet store is one that pulls healthy, adoptable pets from local shelters to adopt out in a retail setting, instead of getting them from so-called, puppy mills. This store model serves two purposes: It saves the lives of pets who would be euthanized in local shelters for lack of space, and it puts a dent in the propagation of puppy mills.
What, exactly, is a puppy mill and why is it so bad?
After World War II, the Midwest experienced widespread crop failures due in part to labor shortages. Most able-bodied men had enlisted or been drafted into military service to fight a global war. Many never returned. Some farmers who did remain turned to dog breeding to subsidize their income because they thought puppies to be a foolproof “cash” crop. After all, dogs don’t require physical human labor or specific weather conditions in order to produce. The U.S. Department of Agriculture even promoted this idea by advertising to farmers that dog breeding was a lucrative, fail-proof business. Farmers accepted the idea and began filling their empty chicken coops and rabbit hutches with dogs. Over time, thousands of others jumped on board this enterprise for quick cash, and backyard breeders popped up all over the country.
In the 1970′s, the term “puppy mill” was introduced to define operations that “grind out” puppies much like a flour mill or lumber mill would grind out its wares. Although not technically defined in the dictionary, in the 1984 case of Avenson v. Zegart, a United States District Court defined a ”puppy mill” as: “a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.” That’s right - health is disregarded - both physical and psychological – in favor of profit. Not at all a humane business model.
And yet, today, despite the efforts of activists, humane organizations, and concerned citizens, thousands of puppy mill operations continue to exist. News reports frequently highlight raids, showing disturbing footage of dirty, neglected and often injured dogs being transported out of these nightmare locations where they have been held, in many instances, for years. If you follow rescue organizations that save former puppy mill dogs, you know that socializing, rehabilitating and getting them back to health is a heartbreakingly long road.
Dogs kept in cages for years, treated as nothing more than puppy-making-machines, starved of care and human kindness until the day they outlive usefulness and are killed, is unacceptable. So why do we allow puppy mills to continue to exist?
We don’t have to accept it.
Stamping out puppy mills is within our power if we all take responsibility to educate ourselves about where we get our pets. As proponents of rescue, we encourage you to always consider adoption first. But if you do decide to purchase from a breeder, do your homework. Visit and tour their entire facility. Meet the parents of the puppies. Review these red flags and do not buy from any breeder who doesn’t pass muster.
Additionally, spread awareness to your friends and family. Educate them on the reasons they should not buy pets from commercial pet stores. Discourage them from buying pets out of state, on Craigslist, or online. Let them know that buying a puppy from a puppy mill is sentencing the parent to a life of cruelty and neglect. Encourage them to do their research and make sure they know where their next furry family member really comes from.
Finally, take note of what goes on in your community. Are there backyard breeders getting away with mistreatment and neglect of their dogs? Are there commercial pet stores that purchase from puppy mills? Don’t tolerate the sale of cruelty in your neighborhood. Call on local animal welfare officers to investigate rural breeding operations. Engage with your followers on social media to call attention to those businesses that buy from puppy mills and take steps to oust them, or help convert them to humane models.
If we all do just a little bit to spread awareness, we can bring an end to this cruel enterprise once and for all.