Buyer beware: Make sure you're not supporting puppy mills
An edition of "Oprah" last year focused national attention on the "puppy mill." Puppy mills provide an unending supply of often purebred puppies to a public with an insatiable appetite for them, an appetite that has created a situation ripe for abuse. Puppy mills force dogs to produce litter after litter just for profit. These dogs are often plagued with disease, malnutrition, and loneliness.
Oprah's intrepid investigative reporter found bitches who could barely walk after living a life of immobilized confinement. When people buy a puppy from a pet shop, newspaper ad or from the Internet, they are often supporting a cruel industry.
Puppy mills frequently house dogs in shockingly poor conditions, particularly the "breeding stock" who are caged and continually bred for years, without human companionship, and then killed, abandoned or sold to another "miller" after their fertility wanes.
These dogs are bred repeatedly without the prospect of ever becoming part of a family themselves. The result is hundreds of thousands of puppies churned out each year for sale at pet stores, over the Internet, and through newspaper ads. This practice will end only when people stop buying puppy mill puppies.
How do you separate fact from fiction?
1. Pet stores cater to impulsive buyers seeking convenient transactions. Unlike responsible rescuers and breeders, these stores don't interview prospective buyers to ensure responsible, lifelong homes for the pets they sell, and the stores may be staffed by employees with limited knowledge about pets and pet care.
2. Puppy mill puppies often have medical problems. These problems can lead to veterinary bills in the thousands of dollars. Pet retailers count on the bond between families and their new puppies being so strong that the puppies won't be returned. And guarantees are often so difficult to comply with that they are virtually useless. In addition, poor breeding and socialization practices can lead to behavioral problems throughout the puppies' lives.
3. A "USDA-inspected" breeder does not mean a "good" breeder. Be wary of claims that pet stores sell animals only from "USDA-inspected" breeders. The USDA enforces the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which regulates commercial breeding operations. But the act doesn't require all commercial breeders to be licensed, and the USDA enforces only minimum-care standards and its inspection team is chronically understaffed. Breeders are required to provide food, water, and shelter, but not love, socialization, or freedom from confining cages. Many USDA-licensed and inspected puppy mills operate under squalid conditions with known violations of the AWA. Federal law prevents state and local authorities from blocking the shipping and sale of these animals across state lines, placing the burden on the customer to educate themselves.
4. Many disreputable breeders sell dogs directly to the public over the Internet and through newspaper ads. They often sell several breeds, but may advertise each breed separately and not in one large advertisement or website. These breeders are not inspected by any federal agency and, in many states, are not inspected by anyone at all.
5. Reputable breeders care where their puppies go and interview prospective adopters. They don't sell through pet stores or to families they haven't thoroughly checked out.
6. Purebred "papers" do not guarantee the quality of the breeder or the dog. Even the American Kennel Club (AKC) admits that it "cannot guarantee the quality or health of dogs in its registry."
When looking for a pet, do not buy from a pet store, and be wary of websites and newspaper ads. Don't buy a dog if you can't physically visit every area of the home or breeding facility where the seller keeps the dog.
Puppy mills will continue until people stop buying their dogs. Putting them out of business should be a goal of every dog lover. Instead, visit your local shelter or respectable rescue individual or organization where you will find a wide selection of healthy, well-socialized puppies and adult dogs - including purebreds - just waiting for that special home - yours.
Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.