Few people can resist looking in
the pet shop window to see what cute puppies and kittens might be inside.
But a close look into how pet shops obtain animals reveals a system in
which the high price paid for �that doggie in the window� pales in
comparison to the cost paid by the animals themselves.
The vast majority of dogs sold in
pet shops, up to half a million a year, are raised in �puppy mills,�
breeding kennels located mostly in the Midwest that are notorious for
their cramped, crude and filthy conditions, and their continuous breeding
of unhealthy and hard-to-socialize animals (1).
Puppy mill kennels usually consist
of small wood and wire-mesh cages, or even empty crates or trailer cabs,
all kept outdoors, where female dogs are bred continuously, with no rest
between heat cycles. The mothers and their litters often suffer from
malnutrition, exposure, and lack of adequate veterinary care. Continuous
breeding takes its toll on the females; they are killed about age six or
seven when their bodies give out, and they no longer can produce enough
The puppies are taken from their
mothers at the age of four to eight weeks and sold to brokers who pack
them in crates for transport and resale to pet shops. Puppies being
shipped from mill to broker to pet shop can cover hundreds of miles by
pickup truck, tractor-trailer, and/or plane, often without adequate food,
water, ventilation, or shelter.
Between unsanitary conditions at
puppy mills and poor treatment inn transport, only half of the dogs bred
at mills survive to make it to market (3). Those who do survive rarely
get the kind of loving human contact necessary to make them suitable
companions. By not spending money for proper food, housing or veterinary
care, the breeders, brokers, and pet shops ensure maximum profits. Cat
breeding occurs on a smaller scale, but under similar conditions.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) estimates that 25 percent of the 3,500 federally licensed breeding
kennels have substandard conditions. The USDA is supposed to monitor and
inspect the kennels to make sure they are not violating the housing
standards of the Animal Welfare Act, but kennel inspections take low
priority at the USDA and the kennels are not regularly inspected. Even
when violations are found, kennel operators are rarely fined, much less
shut down (4). Persistent offenders often refuse the Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service (APHIS) personnel access to their facilities to
conduct inspections. In its 1998 Animal Welfare Report to Congress, APHIS
reported that inspectors were denied entry on 2,186 inspection, yet these
kennels remained licensed by APHIS. In one case APHIS inspectors left
blank inspection forms to be filled out by the dealer himself � a
The American Kennel Club (AKC),
while claiming to promote only reputable dealers, does not attempt to
influence or reform puppy mill breeders, perhaps because it receives
millions of dollars from breeders who pay the AKC registration fees for
Puppy mills are rarely monitored
by state governments. Due to adverse publicity about puppy mills in
Kansas, which number about 2,400, the Kansas Legislature enacted a law on
July 1, 1988, which requires registration and semi-annual inspections of
all commercial breeders and kennels to ensure that dogs used for breeding
have proper shelter, food, and veterinary care.(7) However, this law,
like those of many other states, has proved woefully inadequate.(8)
Quantity Not Quality
Dogs from puppy mills are bred for
quantity, not quality, causing unmonitored genetic defects and personality
disorders to be passed on from generation to generation. The result is
high veterinary bills for the people who buy such dogs, and the
possibility that unsociable or maladjusted dogs will be disposed of when
their owners can�t deal with their problems.
Most private breeders will not
sell dogs to pet shops because the care the animals receive is often
little better than the conditions in puppy mills. Dogs kept in small
cages without exercise, love, or human contact develop undesirable
behaviors and may become destructive or unsociable or bark excessively.
Also, unlike humane societies and shelters, most pet shops do not inspect
the future homes of the dogs they sell. They also dispose of unsold
animals in whatever manner they see fit, and allegations of cruel killing
methods abound. Poor enforcement of humane laws allows badly run pet
shops to continue selling sick, unfit animals, although humane societies
and police departments sometimes succeed in closing down pet shops where
severe abuse is uncovered.
In today�s society, where unwanted
dogs and cats (including purebreds) are killed by the millions every year
in animal shelters, there is simply no reason for animals to be bred and
sold for the pet shop trade. Without pet shops, the financial incentive
for puppy mills would disappear. People looking for companion animals
should go to animal shelters or breed rescue clubs.
Although animals sold by local
breeders escape many of the early miseries that dogs suffer at puppy
mills, they are subject to the same physical problems caused by inbreeding
� such as hip dysphasia -- that animals from pet stores often exhibit, and
they also contribute to the overpopulation of companion animals with its
attendant suffering. Only when people refuse to support pet shops, puppy
mills, and breeders will this chain of misery be broken.
1. Hinds, Michael
de Courcy, Amish at Heart of Puppy Mill Debate, New York Times, Sept. 20,
3. Ahrens, Tracy,
Plague of Puppy Mills Hampers Pet Industry and Dampens Consumer Trust,
Daily Journal, Nov. 3, 1993.
4. Regulation of
Pet Dealers Is Lax, USDA Audit Warns, Miami Herald, June 29, 1992.
5. Testimony of
Judith Reitman, author of Stolen for Profit, presented to the Agriculture,
Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, on April 3,
Michael, Should You Buy That Doggie in the Window? Parade, July 19, 1987.
7. Humane Society
of the United States, Animal Activist Alert, July 1988.
8. Scott, Laura,
Missouri, Kansas Still Grappling With Puppy Mill Problems, Kansas City
Star, Jan. 28, 1991.
International Center, New York