Pet Shops & Pupppy
Few people can resist looking in the pet shop window to see what sort of cute puppies and kittens might be inside. But a closer look into pet shops and how they operate 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.
Pet shops use the natural appeal of puppies and kittens to sell these animals at a very high price, usually several hundred dollars for "purebred" animals (mostly dogs). The vast majority of dogs sold in pet shops, about 360,000 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.(l)
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, and they are killed when their bodies give out and they no longer can produce enough litters.(2) The puppies are taken from their mothers at the age of four to eight weeks, and are sold to brokers who pack them in crates for transport and resale to pet shops. Shipment 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. Such poor treatment results in the puppies" illness or even death; 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 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. As many as 1,600 kennels operating without federal licenses are never inspected.(3) Such unlicensed breeders include "hobby" breeders and farmers who set up small kennels to breed dogs for extra money. The American Kennel Club, 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 "purebred" dogs.(4)
Few State Controls
Puppy mills are rarely, if ever, 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, that requires registration and semiannual inspections of all commercial breeders and kennels to ensure that dogs used for breeding have proper shelter, food, and veterinary care.(5)
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 bark excessively, or become unsociable. 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 however 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
Dollars And Sense
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, and people looking for companion animals would either go to local breeders or to animal shelters. Only when people refuse to support pet shops and puppy mills will their chain of misery be broken.
(1) Knudsen, Thomas, "Dogs Bred in 'Mills' Are Often Victims of Filth and Neglect," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 19 1979.
(2) Rovner, Julie, "Puppy Mill Misery," Humane Society News, The Humane Society of the United States, Fall 1981.
(3) Knudsen, Thomas, op. cit.
(4) Satchell, Michael, "Should You Buy That Doggie in the Window?", Parade, July 19, 1987.
(5) Humane Society of the United States, "Animal Activist Alert," July 1988.
Bernice D. Richardson
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