“How much is that doggie in the window” is a phrase from a popular song that references a time when the puppy mill trade began to boom. Behind the lyrics and enticing pet shop window, beautiful photographs on a breeder website, or local ads, there often is a puppy mill.
Puppy mills began to gain ground in the Midwest shortly after World War II spurred on by the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA). Farmers were attempting to find ways to supplement their income after the depression and the government introduced the concept to them.
Most farmers were ignorant when it came to canine breeding and had little money to invest so dogs were housed in dilapidated chicken coops or rabbit hutches with little or no veterinary care or socialization.
Eventually they discovered the pet store market and the benefits of selling to them but they also sold to some major department store chains. The market expanded until independent pet shops, pet store franchises, and mega pet stores were all customers.
Even though puppy mills have been a problem since World War II, it wasn’t until the Oprah Show aired a special on puppy mills that the general public sat up and took notice.
Oprah’s awareness about puppy mills was sparked by a billboard off the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, Illinois. It said, “Oprah: Do a show on puppy mills. The dogs need you.”
The man behind the billboard urging Oprah to help puppy mill dogs was Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue. Established in 1997, the group has rescued thousands of abused, unwanted or abandoned animals every year. They rehabilitate them and adopt them out to families–and a good portion of those pet rescues come from puppy mills.
Puppy mills are mass dog-breeding operations that care more about the profit they make instead of about the physical and mental health of the animals in their care.
One report on Amish Puppy Mills said they are simply “fed & bred” because the dogs in puppy mills are kept in deplorable conditions. There is rampant inbreeding, veterinary care is minimal (if there is any at all), animals fill the overcrowded cages, and there is limited shelter from the elements. Most never get outside their cages unless they are being moved.
The breeding stock live their lives without toys, human contact, or access to the outside world. The are bred excessively and then are abandoned, sold off, or killed when they need additional care or their fertility wanes.
So why do puppy mills still exist?
Puppy mills continue to thrive because they take advantage of uneducated consumers who become smitten by the cute puppies in pet store windows or who are attracted to the wonderful pictures featured on websites.
For example, one of my neighbors (a normally smart woman) came home with a puppy she paid $1500 and insisted she had to “rescue” the puppy from the pet shop. She didn’t “rescue” that animal at all. All she did was promote the pet trade and the deplorable conditions of the puppy mill behind the scenes.
Many of the pups that come from puppy mills are a mess. Not only because of their dismal environments and upbringing but because of poor genetics and lack of socialization.
House training and other behavior problems are escalated because they have to live in their excrement or eliminate in their living quarters–which is not normal.
Major health problems are common in these types of animals.
I remember one dog behavior case that was particularly disturbing for me. The animals were bought at a mall pet shop chain and were from a puppy mill.
These “purebred” puppies were way too big for the breed standard and they had blue eyes which was abnormal for that breed. They had lots of problems–but I was called in because they were out of control and had bitten everyone in the household multiple times.
It was an impulse purchase and the dad was more concerned with my hourly billing than he was about getting the animals sorted out.
Locally we have a pet store owner who lied about her puppy sources when I asked her. Many of the local residents now boycott the store because she conducts trade with puppy mills.
However, another of the stores up here attracts loads of customers because they refuse to sell live animals. The staff attempts to educate people about the problem and sends those looking for animals to the local shelter and also provide a bulletin board dedicated to re-homing animals.
Puppy Mill Awareness Day is this weekend and was nice to hear that a puppy mill ban was passed in the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania. It now needs to pass in the Senate.
I hope you will take some steps to help fight the abusive puppy mill industry.
Saturday, September 20th is the Fifth Annual Puppy Mill Awareness Day.
How can you help?
- Avoid impulse pet purchases.
- Stop purchasing puppies from stores, websites, and newspaper ads.
- Adopt from an animal shelter or purebred rescue group.
- Seek reputable breeders who care where their puppies go and who interview hopeful adopters–be sure to visit their premises.
What else can you do to stop puppy mills?
Visit these websites to educate yourself, your friends, and your family:
Watch the Oprah Puppy Mill clips online.
Listen to Puppy Mill Awareness Day Podcast.
Participate in the National Puppy Mill Awareness Day.
Learn about the Animal Welfare Act.
Join the Ning Stop Puppy Mill group.
Learn about Puppy Lemon Laws.
Listen to How much is that doggie in the window? and get the lyrics.
Do you have an idea about how to stop puppy mills or want to suggest another stop puppy mill resource? If so, leave one below.