Photo Credit: Dahna Bender
We’ve all been there. You walk into a pet store to pick up some dog food or a collar and you walk by the puppies and fall in love. Sometimes they’re in pens in sawdust, sometimes they are in equivalent of fish tanks. You ooh and aww over how cute they are. You fall in love with them because they’re cute. You feel sorry for them because they don’t have a home and are living in tiny enclosures. You decided then and there that you are going to “save” that puppy and buy it and take it home.
It is understandable. No one likes to see dogs, much less tiny puppies, being neglected or kept in small enclosures.
But the problem with buying a pet store puppy is that the adorable little puppy you just bought more than likely came from a puppy mill.
Photo Credit: SAAW
What’s a puppy mill? A puppy mill is a “commercial dog breeding operation”. What that actually means is that it is a large scale operation filled with neglected and overbred dogs. Dogs in puppy mills are kept in deplorable conditions. They are stacked in wire crates with no bottoms, so the urine and feces drop down onto the dogs in the lower crates. Their feet become splayed from standing on wire. Their coats become matted with feces and dirt and straw. Their teeth rot from having bad food and no vet care. They get all manner of infections; eyes, ears, urinary tract. They have no toys, no freedom. The lucky ones have no human contact. The unlucky ones are beat and kicked. They are breeding stock and nothing more. These dogs may live out their entire lives in these mills producing litter after litter of puppies. When they become too old to breed and are no longer profitable they are disposed of. Sometimes, but not often, the miller will release the dog to a rescue group. But that's rare. Often they will go to an auction where a rescue group may be able to buy them and save them, but likely another mill will buy them to try to get a few more litters out of them. (Read more about dog auctions here) But more often than not they are just killed by the miller, as that is the cheapest and easiest way to dispose of a dog that no longer brings in any money. These dogs are not humanely euthanized as they would be in a shelter. They are shot, they are hit over the head and sometimes just left to die.
That is the truth behind the adorable puppy you see in the pet store. That is the truth behind the puppies you see on websites that sell puppies online. That may even be the truth behind the puppy you buy on an online classified site like Craigslist or KSL. There are puppy mills in EVERY state-yes, even here in Utah.
When you buy that puppy from a pet store or online, you are creating demand for more puppies. Every puppy you buy at a pet store because you feel bad for it means another puppy is going to be born to the parents that live in those mills. And the other side of buying pet store puppies or puppies from online sites is that these puppies are very often unhealthy. The parents aren't properly vetted, so diseases run rampant. Parvo, distemper. Genetic problems are also prevalent due to inbreeding and the breeding of genetically impaired dogs that are bred because they are “pretty” with no thought to any issues the dog may have. These puppies have heart murmurs, ear problems, eye problems, luxating patellas. They are bred for profit, not to better the breed. So oftentimes these puppies die young of hereditary issues.
And another problem with impulse buys of puppies at pet stores is that it's likely that the buyer has no knowledge of the breed. They buy the puppy because it's “cute”, without any knowledge of what that dog will be like when it grows up. This leads to many purebred dogs being resold on classified sites, or released to rescues, or left in shelters. People don't know the energy levels of the dog, the care required for grooming. They don't know whether the dog is going to be hard to train. And when they can't handle the dog once it's not longer a cute puppy, they get rid of it. Pet stores don't care who buys their puppies, they just want someone to give them money. They can't tell you about the breed, the temperament of the parents.
All of these reasons are why, if you want to buy a puppy, you never buy from a pet store or an online puppy store. You do your research on the breed by going to reputable sites like Dog Breed Info. You look for reputable breeders, breeders that only have a few litters a year, so they can devote time to the parents and to raising the puppies. They have parents that have had extensive health testing. The parents are certified. They are happy to let you in their home, to see where the dogs live, where the puppies are raised. You can meet the puppies parents. If the people want to meet you somewhere, if they won't let you meet the parents or tell you that they don't have the parents, those are red flags. If they don't have proper vet paperwork, health certificates, those are red flags.
Even if you are set on getting a puppy, think rescue first. Many rescues get puppies in. You may have to wait for one, but you could still get one. And who knows, you may find that you find an older puppy or young adult dog that is perfect for you! The advantage of an older dog is that what you see is what you get. You can see their personality, their temperament. And the bonus is there are breed specific rescues for any breed you could want. And the people that run breed specific rescues are experts about that breed. They can answer your questions, give you advice. And when you adopt from a reputable rescue, you have support for life. They will always take their dogs back, so you never have to worry. And they should offer you support for the life of your dog. You should feel comfortable calling them with questions and concerns.
Puppy mills are horrible. They should not exist, but they do exist because of greed and because of supply and demand. As long as there is a demand for commercially bred puppies, there will be puppy mills. As long as they are able to pass inspections because there are not enough inspectors to keep up with the amount of mills, they will continue to get away with their abuse and neglect.
Change starts with the consumers. Buy being educated about the truth behind pet store puppies and puppy mills, consumers can stop buying those puppies. Stop creating that demand. We can all help spread the word. We can educate our friends when they say they are going to buy a puppy. We can all make a difference. Whether you volunteer with a rescue, educate people, donate money to the groups determined to stop mills, you CAN make a difference.
There are many resources online to learn more about puppy mills:
The Puppy Mill Project
ASPCA Puppy Mill Info
HSUS: Puppy Mills
National Geographic-Cesar Milan
HSUS: Reality of Puppy Mills
Ella Grace: A Puppy Mill Cavalier
Animal Corps Philadelphia: Puppy Mills Exposed
Photo credit: Fun Paw Care