When Puppy Mills Go Away I Will Change My Mind


This is blog post  2,500.   I’ve written about many topics in nearly six years as a ChicagoNow blogger.  I’ve averaged writing over a blog post a day. 

My first few blogs were about breed specific bans, a common topic for me – for which I will offer a special announcement this summer. My blog helped to get a “fun” dog fighting application removed; my blog helped to catch the police officer who ran off after his dog attacked another dog at a Chicago dog beach….Readers have even told me the content in some blogs have saved lives, in more than one instance by merely telling a reader to “see your veterinarian.” I’ve posted funny videos (dancing cats) to informative videos and stories (such a recent video on flea protection), and have interviewed celebrities about their pets, recently including Joan Rivers and baseball great Tony LaRussa,. I was the first in the popular press to write about the canine influenza virus and am  now beating the drum about the epidemic of Lyme disease in dogs (and people). Reporting from veterinary and animal welfare conferences, I attempt to bring these conferences to you. 

I wanted to make this celebratory post count for something; I hope it does.

Puppy Mills: I have been among the many voices writing or broadcasting about puppy mills over the years; it’s not a problem the media has ignored. From emotional pleas from the likes of Oprah Winfrey on her show to documentaries on CNN and elsewhere  – the puppy mill story has not suffered for a lack of exposure. Hollywood celebrities, animal right groups, countless have weighed in. Still, the bottom line is that puppy mills are still allowed to exist, even thrive, and their atrocities today are no different than 20 years ago. And these puppy mill animals are mostly sold at pet stores, and increasingly online as well.

Dogs may be our best friends, but when you witness the inhumane and downright brutal conditions animals in puppy mills are held in, clearly we are not their best friends. Despite all the noise about the horrors of these places, the United States Department of Agriculture has done little about it. Maybe, today, it’s a matter of dollars for personnel. Also the minimal standards to pass inspections allow some facilities to get away with canine murder, literally.

While facilities that have been fined are revisited more often, other facilities aren’t visited for several years. Some puppy mills are large operators; others are “all in the family.”

The animals are either sold directly to pet stores or through brokers. Some pet store owners have told me that dealing with brokers is preferable for many reasons including traceability. Brokers don’t necessarily say where the individual animals are from, or following the trail isn’t easy. Brokers also insists the puppies sold at these stores are from loving homes. “This eases conscience (of pet store owners), even if at some level we know better. Sometimes we have very specific stories – all made up – to tell the public.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s true some pet store dogs, cats or rabbits come from other sources, most often commercial facilities. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been to one, so let’s assume these places sparkle, keep the animals in pristine shape, the veterinary care is excellent, the breeding is top notch, and certified trainers socialize the animals. Still, no hobby breeder will ever, ever, ever sell an animal to a buyer without asking questions to insure that pet is the best possible match.

Pet stores pretty much ask one question, “Will that be cash or credit?”

For over 20 years, I’ve personally repeatedly asked pet store industry representatives about what they’re going to do about the problem. I’ve heard a myriad of answers, “We’re working on it,” “We have a committee” to even denying that there is a problem in the first place.

Enough is enough.

I don’t see a reason NOT to support the wave of laws sweeping cities across America, that no dogs or cats (and in some cases rabbits) can be sold at pet stores.

I concede that this approach isn’t going to magically overnight put the puppy mills out of business, but as communities and counties pile on – it’s fewer and fewer outlets to sell their animals. And the publicity surrounding these laws accounts for increased public education. And that’s important, since buying animals from pet stores isn’t the only problem, another issue are all the unknown websites (which may be puppy mills in disguise) or from shady rescues, all increasingly widespread.

In fact, some argue that the ban on pet stores sales shouldn’t occur because of the frenzied sales of animals happening online. The good news is that online sales of live animals is being tempered by the Animal Welfare Act, passed by the Federal Government last fall. Besides you don’t avoid creating laws because there may be ways around them. We have speed laws, though people can buy devices to determine if there are police nearby

Another argument I hear – which I believe is nearly laughable – is that we have wonderful lemon laws in our particular state. These lemon laws refer to laws which allow consumers to return pets and/or receive compensation for medical care if there’s a confirmed medical issue after the purchase. I was in favor of those laws at the time, and I still am, but far prefer that potential lemons aren’t sold in the first place.

Besides, unlike a car, people aren’t likely to return the ball of fur they’ve fallen in love with.  Also, lemon laws generally don’t continue forever, and many congenital conditions, which the laws protect for, can show up later in life.

I’ve been asked countless times to change my position on this – I am happy to when I can be assured that puppy mills dogs no longer contribute to those found at pet stores, and that pet store owners and sales staff are educated enough to assist potential buyers to choose the right pet for their lifestyles, even if it means allowing customers to walk away because it’s the right thing to do.

As I am supporting what I believe is the right thing to do.