By Janet McAfee
“Puppies are Not Products” is the title of a campaign of Best Friends Animal Society to fight the proliferation of commercial puppy mills. A puppy mill is an inhumane, usually large scale, commercial dog breeding facility where there is no regard for the health and well-being of the animals in order to maintain low overhead and maximize profits. Animals are often kept in small crowded kennels stacked on top of each other with no protection from the scorching sun or bitter winter snow storms. Unfortunately, the laws to protect them are inadequate.
A recent Pet Place article detailed the plight of 190 abandoned dogs on a Lucerne Valley property believed to be a puppy mill. Loving All Animals was one of dozens of rescue organizations that participated in the lottery to obtain some of the dogs when they became available at a county shelter. After an intensive training program to overcome their lack of socialization, the dogs were adopted and are doing relatively well. We trust these beautiful animals will continue to be ambassadors of change.
Sadly, thousands of these commercial breeding sites operate throughout our country, often in rural areas outside of the public eye. By contrast, those licensed breeders who truly care for their animals would never sell them online or to pet stores, and they welcome you onto their property to meet the parent dogs.
Animal advocates are surprised to learn that these large scale puppy mills may not necessarily be illegal. What are the laws that regulate puppy mills? In 1966, Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act, a complex piece of legislation that outlined minimum standards of care for dogs, cats, and certain other animals bred for commercial sale. The United States Department of Agriculture enforces the AWA. However, many inefficiencies and loopholes and a shortage of investigators allow for substandard care to continue.
Only these large scale wholesale operations that breed or broker animals for resale, i.e. those selling to pet stores or sight unseen via internet, are required to be licensed and inspected by the USDA. Those businesses that sell directly to the public face-to-face are NOT required to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act or any federal standards of humane care. You can check the status of a licensed facility by going to the website www.aphis.usda.gov.
California provides standards of care in addition to the federal, but without any enforcement mechanism. In 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB241 which would have limited commercial breeders to no more than 50 animals.
In backyards across America, secreted away in sheds and kennels, small profiteers breed a nominal number of animals and sell them through newspaper ads, Craig’s list, and word of mouth. Some operate as small family businesses, but the goal of profit dominates the need for medical care and socialization of both the breeding mothers and the pups. Purchasers of these puppies sometimes discover, after the sale, that the pups are sick due to unsanitary living conditions and lack of vet care. These facilities typically have more animals than they can care for, and do not hire adequate staff.
The Humane Society of the United States obtained records from the USDA licensed breeders showing many get away with repeated violations. Fines are rare and suspended licenses are even more unlikely. Horrendous facilities with repeated violations are often allowed to renew their licenses again and again. The Humane Society and other animal welfare groups promote legislation that would tie up loopholes, increase USDA staffing, and expand funding for inspection programs.
The Humane Society of the United States provides the following facts:
- 99 Percent of the puppies bought online and in pet stores are from puppy mills.
- A dog used for breeding in a puppy mill has half the life expectancy of a dog living in a family home.
- 95 percent of Americans who purchase puppy mill dogs are not aware of the source.
- Breeding females may lose their teeth as overbreeding depletes their calcium.
- The minimum legal size kennel allowed is only 6 inches larger than the dog on all sides.
- A licensed breeder can own a thousand animals or more, keep them in cages their entire lives, and breed them as often as they wish.
The living conditions for animals in these facilities needs to reach a deplorable level in order to breach criminal law standards. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and our 4-legged victims cannot speak. Cases are tough to prosecute, and District Attorneys are reluctant to prosecute when they do not foresee a chance at conviction. When there is a conviction for violating the standards of care, the penalty is usually probation.
Best Friends campaign to combat puppy mills includes attempts to convince pet shop owners to convert to “rescue boutiques”. They urge communities to join with the 84 other cities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, that have banned the retail sale of dogs and cats. You can sign up to receive legislative updates from Best Friends at yourvoice.bestfriends.org.
What can animal lovers do to help? Write letters to the editor, and elect animal-friendly candidates. Adopt a pet from a shelter or private rescue. Educate your family and friends about puppy mills. Advise them to go to www.petfinder.com where they will find adoptable rescue dogs of every breed. View adoptable dogs and cats at our local county shelter at www.rcdas.org. Be a voice for those who have none, and don’t give up, as the fight against puppy mills and bad breeders has been going on for decades. Educate just one person about the horrors of puppy mills, and you have made a difference.