What is the difference between a puppy mill and a backyard breeder (byb)? A puppy mill is a large scale operation with hundreds of dogs usually kept in deplorable conditions. They may or may not be USDA licensed and may or may not have inspections. A backyard breeder is a small scale puppy mill. They are not “hobby breeders” (people who breed rarely and typically only have a few dogs). They typically keep within the proper numbers for local laws to not have to be licensed. Some do have kennel licenses. But they are the same as mills in that the dogs are not pets, they are a money making commodity. They are kept in kennels or garages and get bred over and over, the same as dogs in puppy mills. Unlike licensed puppy mills, backyard breeders usually never have inspections.
So, what do rescue operations do to shut down puppy mills and backyard breeders?
In order to file a complaint and have an investigation you have to have years of documentation regarding the mill or the byb. Photos of how the dogs are kept, photos of the dogs that come from the mill/byb and their condition. Vet records about the condition of the dog when it comes into rescue. There are organizations that are solely for shutting down puppy mills. The Humane Society, the ASPCA, PETA and Best Friends all have teams for this. They know what they are doing and have the means and manpower to conduct full investigations.
The problem with puppy mills and bybs is that the laws and legislations regarding dogs and breeding are too lax. Check out this fantastic website for more info: http://www.thepuppymillproject.org/relevant-laws/ . In most states the bare minimum requirement for puppy mills is that the dog has food, water and shelter. Now, for us, that is horrible. That is unthinkable. But in the eyes of the law, dogs are “things”. Dogs are business. They are stock. So as much as the idea of a dog kept in a cage barely big enough for it to stand up and turn around in horrifies us, to the law, it is “adequate”. Neglect, which is awful to anyone who loves their dogs, is a fine line legally. When is neglect abuse? That varies by state, by city, by legislation. I was told by two different investigators that neglect is not abuse unless there is proof of PHYSICAL abuse. So, in the case of the dog we got in….he had a cage, he had shelter, he was given food and water. He had matted fur, ear infections, a hernia and rotten teeth. BUT he had been seen by a vet only 1-2 years before. Adequate care. No signs of physical abuse. NO investigation, no matter how hard I pushed. There was not enough evidence of abuse to warrant an investigation. If you haven’t already, go to our Facebook page and check out the album Flynn-now Finny to see the photos of his condition when we got him into rescue.
The problem with many investigations into mills and bybs is that a lot of times the investigations and accusations are made before there is enough evidence. Once they are tipped off that they are being watched, and find out firsthand from the investigators what they are looking for, breeders can then even more easily make sure they are within the bare minimum of compliance and keep operating. Even puppy mills that have horrific charges are given the chance to clean up their act, get re-inspected and keep on breeding. A great website to see this in action is http://www.caps-web.org/research-investigations/investigations/reports-and-videos . Check out this site to see the findings from investigations. It is disheartening to see that many of these mills are still in operation.
So, if they are within compliance of their license, if they are within compliance of the number of dogs, and if the dogs are in small cages with food and water….they are good to go. The dogs can be matted and filthy and have some medical issues, but as long as it’s not too bad, it’s neglect and not abuse and neglect is hard to define and even harder to prosecute.
I find that horrific. I am appalled that a dog can be kept in those conditions and it’s considered to be legal. But that is a fight that has been going on for years, and one that I don’t have time to participate in and still run a rescue. Here are some fantastic tips about what YOU can do to help stop puppy mills: http://www.prisonersofgreed.org/actions.html
So, I do what I can. I get as many dogs out as I can. I take their pictures. I share their stories hoping that it will open people’s eyes to the reality of puppy mills and backyard breeders. It’s one thing to read about a puppy mill dog and to see the photos online. It’s another thing entirely to hold that dog. To smell the stench that clings to them despite bath after bath. To see the rotten teeth, the oozing ears. The burns from lying in urine for years. To see them tremble at the gentlest touch because they have never known kindness. To see them cower when you reach for them because they have never been held. The fear, the sadness in their eyes is heartbreaking.
Giving money to the people who do this to these dogs is not something I like to do. It’s not. But when the other option is turning my head from them and allowing them to stay in those conditions for their whole lives- well, there IS no choice in my mind. Our goal is to get the dogs that are at the highest risk. The puppies that are older and getting ready to go into heat or have physical defects or medical issues. Those puppies that don’t sell when they are young are at high risk to end up in another mill or with a different byb or in an auction. Then there are the dogs that are still old enough to breed that the mill or breeder are getting rid of without spaying or neutering so they can be bought by ANOTHER breeder or mill and continue to be bred.
I know that when they come into rescue they will get medical treatment, they will be spayed or neutered and they will be rehabilitated as much as they can be in the time we have them to prepare them for life as a member of their adoptive family. Some of these dogs have never been touched or held. Getting them into rescue removes the chance of them being bought by another mill or backyard breeder to continue breeding. The mills and bybs will get their money, one way or another, so we choose to help as many dogs as we can get out and have a chance at life.
And we will keep hoping that somehow down the line the laws will become stricter and that eventually even the laws will reflect the idea that pets are family, not things. At CCR “All Lives Matter.”