puppy mills

3 posts

The Death of Prop B – The Puppy Mill Bill

On Wednesday, April 13, the Missouri state legislature voted 85-71 to change the requirements set forth in Proposition B (also called the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, or PMCPA), the voter referendum that would have imposed stricter standards of care in the “puppy mills” of the state.

The new legislation, SB-113, removes many of the strongest new standards of care from the original bill, including provisions that require solid cage flooring, appropriate temperature regulation, and a cap of 50 breeding animals per facility.

In a “1984”-esque move, the name of the bill is also changed from the PMCPA to the “Canine Cruelty Prevention Act.”

“In spite of decades of urging by the animal welfare community, the Missouri General Assembly remained silent on the issue of puppy mills until after the voters spoke. The failure of the General Assembly to address the problem is why we finally took this straight to the people,” says Cori Menkin, ASPCA Senior Director of Legislative Initiatives. “And as evidenced by the passage of Proposition B, Missourians care deeply about puppy mill reform. That state legislators are discarding Prop B and ignoring the will of the people they are supposed to represent is appalling, insulting and disrespectful.”

In previous articles, the conditions in puppy mills and pet stores were described in detail; treatment ranges from neglectful to cruel. So, given the abhorrent current situation, why would the legislature have gone against the will of the voters, gutted the bill, and allowed the torture of hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs to continue unabated?

The history of Prop B goes something like this: The measure began as a petition circulated in MO by various animal-welfare groups, including the Humane Society of the United States. Even after the petition was certified with nearly 200, 000 signatures, certain organizations challenged it early and often, with a particularly rabid group, the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners (I urge you to check out this link—it is a particularly good example of the kind of ignorance animal welfare groups go up against), filing a lawsuit in August against Secretary of State Robin Carnahan alleging that the term “puppy mill” was inflammatory and unfair and asking that the measure be removed from the ballot.

The lawsuit was dismissed as frivolous, but protests and anti-Prop B editorials continued, with organizations like the American Kennel Club stating their oppostion to the proposed legislation. However, Prop B passed on November 2, 2010, with a “yes” vote of 51.6%.

The reason it passed by such a narrow margin was largely due to a rural “whisper camapaign” by the agricultural lobby. Using the “slippery slope” argument, they were able to convince many farmers and livestock owners that the proposed legislation would be the first step towards requiring that cows be covered with cashmere blankets and allowed to sleep in owners’ beds at night.

Larry Miller, president of the Southeast Missouri Cattlemen’s Association said, “Down the road it’s going to affect everyone in the United States. They want to abolish all livestock production in the United States. They want to do away with hunting, killing animals for food, fishing. What are we going to eat—soybeans and corn?”

This sentiment has been the main obstacle in passing more stringent regulations in other states, such as Iowa and Indiana, which, not coincidentally, have strong agriculturally-based economies and consequently a large number of puppy mills as well.

This has also been a “Tea Party” Libertarian issue. Though these commercial breeders are already required to register with the state and with the USDA, many in Missouri argue that this is a case of the government forcing excessive regulation on the people.

Never mind that many of these breeders have been cited up to one hundred times by the USDA, which would certainly indicate a lack of effectual governance that could be strengthened by state legislation; since all animals are considered “property” from a legal standpoint, the opposition to Prop B were able to argue that people shouldn’t be mandated to do anything with their personal property.

Because Missouri has the largest number of USDA-registered “commercial” breeders, this would have set the tone for other states, and increased the pressure on legislatures to enact similar measures. Prop B became a dirty fight between the HSUS and the national agricultural lobbies because of this.

Besides lobbyist and “libertarian” opposition, the overall continued demand for purebred animals meant that dismantling the bill would have no effect on consumers. As long as people are willing to purchase pets, and as long as cities and municipalities elect not to enact bans on selling animals (San Franciso tried, but the measure was tabled), sick and mistreated animals will still make the mill owners money.

Ultimately, the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, still has to sign the new bill. It remains to be seen whether he will follow the will of the voters who supported this measure, or the will of the agriculture lobby and the cowed (pun absolutely intended) state legistature. Even people who oppose the measure on the grounds of being against more government regulation should be able to see that the voters did decide on this issue, and the measure should be enacted accordingly.

Here’s what you can do: contact the governor of Missouri directly if you are a resident and urge Gov. Nixon to veto SB-113. Please don’t call if you aren’t a resident of Missouri, but still consider sending an email to let him know that the will of the people and the future of animals in the United States are at stake.

If you live in a state where “puppy mill bills” are on the agenda, like Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska and Hawaii, urge your representatives to work to pass them. Donate to the HSUS and the ASPCA. Work with your local government to stop the sale of animals- this is the best way, ultimately, to ensure that these commercial breeders’ demand dries up. Educate your friends and family about pet stores and puppy mills.

And keep this in mind: “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” – Immanuel Kant

Puppy Mills to Pet Stores: Part 2

In part 1 of this series, we talked about the conditions in a puppy mill. From a puppy mill, the young dogs go to pet stores. The conditions don’t get any better once they leave the mill. In Part 2, we’ll talk about what these dogs continue to suffer through, and why, under no circumstances, should you ever buy a dog from a pet store.

Pet store conditions

Ultimately, a pet store environment is really no better than that of the puppy mill. These dogs are first transported to the store in just about anything short of a rickshaw. No thought is given to temperature or sanitation en route to the store, and many go long, long ways. Some puppies don’t make the trip and die of dehydration, disease or hypo/hyperthermia along the way.

Assuming they get there alive, they’re then put in cages not unlike the ones they came from: wire on the bottom to make cleaning easier (and getting comfortable harder), too many dogs in one cage, and a lack of bedding or toys that provide crucial solace and enrichment (at a developmental stage that desperately needs these things). Pet store employees may mean well, but they’re often untrained in basic animal care and certainly lack any sort of knowledge of veterinary medicine.

They may not even have the opportunity to play or cuddle with the dogs unless they are taking them out for a prospective buyer. In fact, that’s not part of their job. They are retail workers, not animal professionals. So the care these dogs get is often palliative at best, and enough to keep them alive and appearing healthy, not enough to help them grow into physically and socially healthy animals.

Pet store diseases

Without exception (seriously, it’s very close to 100%, in my anecdotal experience), these dogs are sick. It starts at the puppy mill, but the stress and added pathogen exposure of a pet store, stocked with many other animals of other species and housed with dogs from other litters, combined with poor sanitation practices on the part of the workers means these dogs are sick at the store and will be sick when you take them home.

They don’t always look sick, though, especially to the untrained eye. Pet store animals are often dosed regularly with antibiotics or other medications that mask the symptoms of serious problems. A dog with diarrhea? You’ll rarely see one at the store, but when you take little Chanel home, you’ll be cleaning it up hourly. Why? The dogs are dosed with metronidazole, an anti-diarrheal and antibiotic that will typically not “treat” the underlying causes of loose stool in puppies, usually worms or poor nutrition, but sometimes something much more serious.

Vaccinations? Good luck. These dogs may have gotten an initial distemper-combo vaccination (typically a DHLPP), but at that age the vaccinations need to be administered every two weeks, and any shots given before six weeks are completely useless, because the animal has not yet developed the immune function to manufacture the appropriate antibodies. In addition, since they were likely taken from the bitch before they were fully weaned, they do not have the advantage of some of the basic immunities they acquire from her milk.

Again, they may have recieved a dewormer like pyrantel pamoate, but this needs to be administered biweekly as well, doesn’t eradicate all common parasites in puppies, and isn’t as effective without a fecal exam to ensure the dog is worm-free.

Kennel cough,” or bordatella, an upper respiratory infection, is rampant. There is a vaccination for this, but it is rarely given in a pet store and is only marginally effective even in adults with a fully functioning immune system. Many more serious illnesses can be mistaken for kennel cough, as well. Treatment requires at least 7-10 days of antibiotics, and can worsen into pneumonia if neglected.

The most serious of all these problems: Parvovirus. Adult dogs, even unvaccinated ones, typically have a strong enough immune system to avoid this deadly disease. But puppies are very much at risk. Parvo can live outside a host for up to five months, and can only be killed on surfaces with very stringent sanitation and disinfectant protocols. The incubation period for the virus can be up to 14 days, which means that a “healthy” puppy can be in its home for quite a while before showing signs of the disease.

Symptoms are typically lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea (there is a particular smell and appearance to the stool that signifies parvo); if untreated, parvo has an 80% fatality rate. Furthermore, there is no “cure” for it; care is supportive and often requires round-the-clock IV fluids and attention until it has run its course. Unfortunately, many buyers do not realize what is wrong until it’s too late, and the cost of treatment is usually relatively high. Pet store puppies are the highest-risk group of all because of poor standards of care and lack of sanitation in the store.

The “AKC registered” myth

With all the recent attention paid to the puppy mill problem, pet stores have changed their marketing and labeling to mislead a potential buyer into thinking their dog is not from a puppy mill. The most common way they do this is by guaranteeing that the dog is American Kennel Club registered; i.e., from purebred lines. Sadly, the AKC is not in the business of ensuring that their registered dogs are anything but purebred. The AKC makes money from each dog registered with them, and a dog with “papers” does not mean anything. Many people are fooled into thinking the AKC stamp is some kind of “guarantee” or certification; it’s not. The dog may still have many, many problems.

The most important problem with the “purebred” myth: it does not guarantee a lack of congenital defects. Responsible breeders screen both their breeding stock and their offspring for potential problems such as hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, bleeding disorders and eye problems. Some breeds are more prone to these issues than others, and responsible breeders will certify with the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) or CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation), in addition to providing proof that a dog is Von Willebrand’s or mitral-valve defect-free in their lineage. Very rarely is this the case with a pet store dog.

In addition, pet stores often carry “white” or other “exotic” animals, like pygmies. These pets are often the product of severe inbreeding or mutated animals. In some cases, the genes that produce them cause a host of medical and temperamental issues, and these dogs are considered inhumane “aberrations” in a gene pool. The best example of this is the albino or “Z factor” Doberman, all of whom are descended from a mother and son that were bred together to create a small line of badly damaged dogs. Buying one of these dogs is endorsing the very worst kind of eugenics.

Other misleading terms

Pet stores will often use the terms “rescue” or “adopt” when talking about their animals. Do not be fooled. Large chains like PetSmart and PetCo will often keep animals from reputable shelters and rescues in their stores, but they are not “for sale” and you will easily be able to find out what shelter they are from. Older dogs billed as “rescues” may be returns or breeding stock that have outlasted their usefulness. Every dog in a pet store is from a “private breeder”; this is just a term. A refrigerator can be a GE or a Sub-Zero, but they’re different, and all puppy mills are technically private breeders in that they are not a “company” making puppies in a factory.

Adopting and buying are not synonymous. If you are asked to pay any more than a couple hundred dollars (and you should easily be able to find out what that “adoption fee” goes toward), you aren’t adopting. If the pet isn’t spayed or neutered (and they can be as early as 6-8 weeks), and you’re not required to pay a deposit or sign a spay/neuter agreement, you’re not adopting.

The end result of getting a pet store dog

Once you get that dog home, you are virtually guaranteed to have housebreaking and training problems. Cash in your 401k for the vet bills. And, from a moral standpoint, the two thousand dollars that dog cost went right into the pocket of a puppy mill breeder to continue the cycle. No matter how good your intentions, do not buy a dog from a pet store. “Rescuing” that one little puppy from hell sadly endorses the practice.

So what now? In Part Three, I’ll discuss what we can do, from a practical and a legislative standpoint, to stop puppy mills from operating. We’ll talk about the USDA and what they do and don’t do to regulate the sale of dogs, as well as how to distinguish a reputable breeder from a puppy mill.


What Exactly Is a “Puppy Mill”?

Chances are you’ve heard of “puppy mills.” You’ve probably been told not to get a dog or cat from a pet store. You might even know why you shouldn’t.

The problem: lots of people still don’t. All over the United States, legislation regulating “puppy mills” is being debated, passed, or voted down. Some cities, like San Francisco, don’t even allow puppies to be sold in pet stores. Other states, like Missouri, have gone against the will of the people to ensure that these facilities can carry on as usual. This is part one of a guide to these facilities, the pet stores these dogs go to, the legislation on the table, and what you can do to help these animals have better lives.

It’s important to understand what people typically mean when they use the term “puppy mill.” For the extents and purposes of this article, I’ll define puppy mill as a facility where multiple animals are bred and sold for profit without regard to the comfort, health and temperament of the animals being raised or sold, or the suitability of the home they go to. This is a fairly objective definition, and does not include responsible hobby or show breeders.

Why do puppy mills exist? Supply and demand. Owners of these operations often profit quite a bit. Also, a number of people consider pets an accessory, an impulse buy, an object. These people may not want to go through the process of adopting or rescuing an animal. Also, the demand for purebred or “designer dogs,” and the fact that many people want a puppy, ensures that there are simply some people who will seek out a dog the same way they’d seek out an iPad 2.

What goes on in a puppy mill

The primary problem with puppy mills is the conditions the dogs are kept in. Overcrowding is the norm, and to ensure a higher profit, as many animals as possible are often crammed into extremely small cages. Stacking cages is also the norm, and since the crates typically have only wire mesh as a floor, urine, feces and other bodily fluids often trickle down into other cages. Often, there is poor ventilation and temperature regulation, which can further endanger the health of puppies already exposed to the bacteria and viruses rampant in unclean conditions. Vet care is minimal if there is any; owners frequently take “treatment,” up to and including euthanasia, into their own hands. Water bowls can freeze, disallowing access to any water in cold climates, and food left in cages can rapidly grow bacteria in hotter climates.

A puppy mill cannot exist without grist, and sexually mature females are just that. A bitch will often have her first heat at around six months of age. While best practices dictate that a dog should not be bred until 2 years of age (for the same physical reasons an 11-year-old should not get pregnant), owners disregard this and breed bitches every heat cycle, twice a year, until the dog either dies as a result of pregnancy or can no longer conceive. When she survives, she is often killed or sold to a laboratory for testing.

These dogs are bred even if they give birth to litters that exhibit obvious physical deformities or higher fatality rates. Part of a true “breed standard” is a lack of congenital defects and a sound temperament, in addition to appearance. None of these things matter in a puppy mill. Dogs prone to hip dysplasia, bleeding disorders, and severe aggression are bred over and over, ensuring plenty of their progeny will go out into the world to unsuspecting buyers.

Once the puppies are born, they are often separated from the mother as soon as they can eat solid food. This creates a temperament problem that will often follow them through the rest of their lives. When a dog or cat is taken away from their mother or litter-mates too soon, they often do not learn basic things like bite inhibition and social behavior, and the window for such learning is very small. In many cases, they will not be able to “learn” to behave appropriately in certain situations.

What puppy mill rescues look like

In Missouri, I have worked for a shelter that raided several notorious puppy mills. It’s not a simple process to seize dogs from a mill; these facilities need only be licensed by the USDA to be “legal.” After that, it is difficult to track and prove animal cruelty that would result in the license being taken away, and many facilities have nearly one hundred reprimands on their record from the USDA and remain licensed.

When we receive dogs from a puppy mill, their condition is, across the board, abhorrent. In one rescue, all thirty-plus dogs seized had to be completely shaved. Not only were mats pulling the dogs’ skin and hiding abscesses (including one dog who had a gaping, bleeding hole in his muzzle), it was literally impossible to guess what breed they were. Many of the animals are covered in their own urine and feces.

Some dogs have infected and necrotic limbs that need to be removed. Some are so emaciated that they are days from dying. Some are so full of mange or other parasites that their lives are comprised solely of suffering. Puppies, because their immune systems are young and weak, may have parvo-virus, a highly contagious and deadly disease when not treated immediately and aggressively. Worms of all kinds and kennel cough, an upper respiratory infection, are par for the course.

Many of these dogs are terrified and some are aggressive. They receive little to no human interaction in their cages and have no idea what to expect when a rescue worker reaches into their enclosure. Because, as mentioned above, they’ve lived this way since puppy-hood, it can take months or longer to rehabilitate them socially. Many may never be “normal.”

Many of the older dogs rescued have severe dental disease due to poor nutrition. Poor dental hygiene can lead to the same problems in animals as it does in humans, up to and including heart disease. Some females may have serious reproductive issues, such as mammary tumor, pyometra, or a prolapsed uterus (the first is often cancerous, the last two disgusting, painful and usually deadly).

Some of these dogs, despite being rescued, are so ill, are in so much pain, that rehabilitation is not possible. In all honesty, some animals must be euthanized because they are so sick or deformed that they can never live a normal life according to “humane” standards.

Most of these dogs are the “breeding stock,” and those adorable puppies in the window are already at the pet store. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll talk about what their lives are like.