Puppy mills certainly did exist 21 years ago when I authored my first national newspaper column, and also when I first hit the airwaves with a pet radio show shortly thereafter. I’ve changed my philosophy 180 degrees regarding how to address this national embarrassment. In retrospect, I was wrong.
I wrote then, the solution to the problem is to communicate to the public to stop buying from pet stores. I’m no economic genius – but assumed that with diminished demand, the supply could run dry.
I thought that approach was somehow more practical than attempting to sway government. Over the years answers representatives of state departments of agriculture or the USDA have alternatively told me:
- “There is no puppy mill problem, and puppy mills don’t exist”
- “We do our best, but don’t have the resources to deal with all the puppy mills”
- “We’re on track to address the problem – give us more time.”
- “We do an excellent job to enforcing laws; when there is inhumane treatment, those facilities are fined and either adhere to our standards or we close them down.”
Those answers have been sprinkled over 21 years, and we are no better off today. I am.
Frustrated by those answers, many of us thought appealing to the public to simply not purchase from pet stores might do the trick. And I think those efforts began to make a difference.
Some consumers were getting the message, that no responsible breeder would EVER sell to a pet store. Concurrently, ma and pa store owners were either buckling under the pressure of the pet super stores, or simply owners of these places retired as they grew older.
Compared to say 15 or 20 years ago, few pet stores sell dogs and/or cats.
However, along came the so-called designer breeds which proved to be a pet store windfall, often charging big bucks (literally several thousand dollars) for what amounts to be a mixed breed dog, like the Multipoo (Maltese/Miniature Poodle), the Yorkipoo (Yorkshire Terrier and Miniature Poodle), Cheeks (Chihuahua/Pekingese), Cavapom (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Pomeranian) and dozens of others.
Of course, sold at a pet store a dog represented as a part Cavalier and part Pomeranian may be part neither of those two. There’s no way to know. And selling something under false pretenses is consumer fraud.
Meanwhile, along the way, puppy mill online sales began to skyrocket.
Now, I must explain something about puppy mills. Some say there is no precise definition of what a puppy mill is so therefore they must not exist, or because there is no definition, there’s nothing we can do. Those statements are more crap than their own crap puppy mill dogs are forced to stand on. Dogs in these places are kept in tiny and inhumane living environments, often standing on wire their entire lives, receiving little (in any) veterinary care. The females are literally breeding machines. When their usefulness is exhausted, they are sometime sold, but more often killed (I will spare you the details of how this often occurs). Dogs, of course, crave human attention, which is something that rarely happens in these places.
In a nation where most people have a pet, and the percent of pet owners considering their dogs and cats are members of the family hovers around 90 percent, it’s astounding that puppy mills continue to be allowed to operate. And at some level, they are being tolerated.
According to the American Pet Products Association, around 60 percent of dogs and cats actually share a bed with their people. We buy birthday and Christmas gifts for our pets. Spending on pets is so significant (over $60 billion), that if tomorrow pets and the spending on pets disappeared, our economy would take a noticeable hit. And still horrifying puppy mills not only exist but thrive.
And it’s not as if this topic hasn’t been talked about. Aside from many of my own national newspaper columns on the topic, major network TV and cable news magazines and national print publications have repeatedly exposed the mills. In the end, even the “Oprah touch” didn’t move the needle, following an excellent program she did several years back.
So, realizing my approach wasn’t working – when I heard about the Puppy Mill Project I jumped on board.
The backstory is that Chicago-based animal welfare advocate Cari Meyers created the non-profit Puppy Mill Project. The mission is to educate the public about the atrocities of puppy mills. Simultaneously, activity was building organically online by pet lovers who began to support laws around America (and Canada) to ban pet stores from selling dogs or cats (and in some communities’ rabbits as well). These efforts have been supported by Best Friends Animal Society.
I participated in Chicago and in Cook County’s efforts to prevent sales of dogs, cats and rabbits at pet stores.
Today, about 100 communities have approved legislation to limit what pet stores can sell, including Phoenix, AZ; Albuquerque, NM; Los Angeles, CA; Las Vegas, NV, Ft. Lauderdale and Sarasota County, FL. and San Diego. CA. And it seems every month another community or two is added.
National Puppy Mill Project However, not everyone loves these laws as much as I do. When two veterinary medical associations opposed laws to curb pet store sales of dogs and cats, I realized those organizations may not represent their members when so many veterinary processionals, of course, shudder at the thought of treating another sick and/or unsocialized puppy mill dog.
“I’ve repeatedly seen the results of what happens to puppy mill dogs,” says Chicago-based veterinarian Dr. Jane Lohmar. One example was Lilly, a puppy mill breeding Dachshund who had dental disease so bad that there was a hole that formed from from her palate through to her nose (an oral nasal fistula); she also had a giant hernia, mammary cancer, and heartworm disease. “We were luckily able to help this dog,” she said.
In 2015, I created Veterinary Professional Against Puppy Mills (VPAPM) with Lohmar and Dr. Scott Rovner, also in Chicago.
I sometimes receive email from pet owners telling me that their pet store purchased dog is “perfect” medically and behaviorally. I ought to gamble in Vegas with these lucky folks Of course, some pet store dogs do just fine. But many have ongoing medical and behavior problems. For example, kept in cages their entire lives, as puppies, many have no choice but to relieve themselves right there. Some clean up by eating the excrement, a habit that never leaves. And then there’s a formidable challenge to house train these dogs.
Poor breeding and lackluster nutrition may contribute to all sorts of problems.
Knowing how veterinary technicians likely feel, I approached the executive director of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, Julie Legred. That entire organization is now solidly in support of VPAPM, and will make several announcements in that regard soon.
One idea is to train veterinary technicians to advise perspective pet owners about where to get pets and what type of pet to bring into their life in the first place. Legred says that veterinary technicians are educators by nature, and this role suits technicians perfectly. “Guiding clients in advance might prevent a great deal of heartache later,” she says.
Critics suggest that these days the primary mode of sales for puppy mills is online, and our efforts to limit sales of dogs and cats at pet stores don’t address the Internet sales problem.
That’s not entirely true, since our efforts support public education.
No matter, you do what you can do.
Let’s say there are two intersections in town, and neither has a stop light. At one, which is controlled by the State, there are 50 fatalities due to accidents annually. But you have no control to quickly post a stop light there. A second intersection is responsible for about half as many accidents and fatalities, but it’s locally controlled, and you can put up a stop light. Of course, you put up that stop light where you can. And least you save lives you can save.
Some critics suggest working within the system, and talking with the state departments of agriculture or the U.S. Government to fix the problem.
I argue, it’s my mistake that I’ve been too patient. I’ve tried that approach for over 20 years. Do I really think that in 6-months or a year the government will hire more agriculture inspectors, modernize their standards and protocols and aggressively enforce them? At what point do I simply stop waiting? Having said that, I am willing to talk to and/or work with any group who may feel they can make progress another way.
For now, though, I’ve had enough.
Meanwhile, communities are doing the right thing by limiting what pet stores can sell.
Rovner says, “No one wants to close pet stores as small businesses. Many successful pet stores don’t sell dogs or cats; many offer adoptions from local shelters (instead of selling dogs and cats from puppy mills or commercial facilities), which is a now proven successful business model. And we have no argument with responsible breeders. They sell dogs (or cats) at a place where perspective owners can visit, and where the breeders can meet with and ask perspective owners questions. “
I hope you join our efforts, start by simply ‘liking’ Veterinary Professional Against Puppy Mills on Facebook
As a nation, we’ve allowed puppy mills to exist – and currently they are thriving. I can no longer ignore this issue, or wait. Tragically too many dogs have suffered.
This must stop.