Puppy Mills, Pet Shops & Why You Should Avoid Them

Adapted from a report by Mary Harwelik

What is a puppy mill?

A puppy mill is generally considered to be a large-scale dog breeding operation that wholesales dogs to retail establishments, or to brokers who then sell to retail establishments across the country. Mills house a large number of breeding dogs, sometimes numbering well into the hundreds. The only job of these animals is to produce puppies. The puppies are shipped in cramped, crowded trucks, at a very young age. Many times puppies become sick or injured during the trek to their destination or even die. (The reason so many of the puppies end up sickly and mentally disturbed, is because the breeding stock is not screened for health issues.) The ones who are lucky enough to survive the ordeal end up at the pet shops, or in the hands of brokers.

Many puppy mills keep animals in cages for most of their natural lives with little or no human contact, exercise, health care, or training. The bitches are often bred on their first heat , and on every heat thereafter, until they die naturally (or are disposed of). Conditions at puppy mills vary, although even in the best of circumstances, these establishments can be abusive to dogs.. Because of the conditions, the dogs may fight each other, develop neurotic behavior (such as obsessive licking, jumping, spinning, cage pacing, etc), and become susceptible to illness and injuries which may be left untreated.

Puppy milling is big business in the United States, with annual grosses amounting to millions. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspects and licenses mills, but their standards for licensing are too low for the tastes of many knowledgeable dog people, including veterinarians, behaviorists, and trainers. In addition, many times violations of code are ignored, and disciplinary action is rarely taken against those mill operators who are deemed to be in violation of code. Dead, dying, and sick dogs, filthy grounds, and cramped cages may be found even at those mills that are USDA licensed. The mills do not get inspected enough, nor are millers given incentive to clean up their act. The mills that are not licensed by the USDA are even worse, as hard to imagine as that may be.

Where do the puppy mill pups end up?

Puppy mill pups ultimately end up in pet shops. . Pet shops claim that their dogs come from breeders, that their animals are purchased from USDA licensed producers, and that the dogs are AKC registered. The effectiveness of these claims depends largely upon the naivete’ of the general public. Ask if the animals come from mills, and you will get an emphatic, “No!”. But this of course is not true. The employees of these stores are coached on what to say to customers, and many times are not even aware of the truth behind the puppies they sell.

Let’s examine the claims pet shops make:

1) The “breeders” are actually millers and other large-scale dog producers whose main concerns are merely to pump out as many dogs of different breeds in as short a period of time as possible. Responsible breeders would never wholesale their dogs to a pet shop. Responsible breeders cannot meet the demand of pet shops, who sell many different dogs and breeds and constantly need to replenish their stock. The dog producers that DO meet the pet shop’s stock demands are the millers who pump out hundreds of puppies of many different breeds annually. The pet shop is also able to enjoy the convenience of purchasing all their animals from one source.

2) As already discussed, USDA licensing does not guarantee humane treatment of the dogs in mills. Also, remember that the USDA licenses and oversees factory farming. What the USDA considers acceptable in factory farms outrage and horrify many people who are made aware of what exactly goes on behind the closed doors of the industry. The animals in these situations are treated as product, and are not given the consideration they deserve. Humane treatment and quality of life are not factors deemed worthy of attention. The situation at puppy mills is very similar. The dogs are merely treated as money-making items.

3) The sales pitch, “AKC registered” has been used repeatedly by the puppy mill/pet shop industry and has duped the public into believing that if a dog bears the AKC registered title, it must be of quality. The fact of the matter is that the American Kennel Club (AKC) is merely a registering body. “Papers” on a dog mean that the animal is certifiably purebred. It does not guarantee anything else. There are no requirements necessary in order for a dog to be registered other than having AKC-registered parents. Health, temperament, or where a dog came from, have no bearing on the matter.

Why responsible breeders won’t sell to pet shops:

Pretend for a moment that you are a responsible breeder. You love your dogs, and have spent a lifetime studying your breed, genetics, and health in order to become the best breeder you can be. Your only desire is to produce top-quality animals that are a tribute to their breed, and an improvement upon past generations. You are so well known that you need not even advertise. You belong to the national organization for your breed such as the Great Pyrenees Club of America, or a local/regional dog club. These organizations usually have a specific prohibition against selling pups to pet shops and must abide by a Code of Ethics. The quality of your dogs speaks for itself, and people routinely approach you for puppies. Money-making isn’t the objective for you–in fact, you barely break even after you are done with genetic testing and health certifications, and pre- and post-natal puppy care. But none of that matters, as you aren’t doing this for money. You are doing it for the love of your breed. Your pups are strong, healthy, and stable. Not just anyone can purchase one of your puppies–that is why you extensively screen each and every person who walks through the door looking to buy a puppy. As a responsible person who cares about the welfare of the dogs you produce, you want to be certain that every pup’s new home will treat him or her humanely, lovingly, and responsibly. You want to protect your good name, so you offer guarantees on your puppies that also states that if at any time the owner of the puppy cannot or does not wish to keep the dog, you will take the dog back. You love your dogs, and want to make sure that each lives a long, healthy, full life. You keep in contact with your buyers, offering them help and assistance along the way. You feel responsible for your dogs for their lives–whether they are living with you, or in the homes of those who have purchased from you.

So, ask yourself this question: why would you hand over your puppies to a pet shop to sell? Why would you allow your beloved dogs to be sold indiscriminately, to whoever walks through the door with a credit card? Why would you sell your dogs wholesale, when you barely break even selling them for retail yourself? Why would you even HAVE to rely on a pet shop to sell your puppies when people are knocking down your door to purchase one of your well-bred animals? The answer to all these questions is this: if you are a responsible breeder producing healthy, sound dogs, YOU WOULDN’T!

Back to the pet shops, and their claims:

Still don’t believe that the dogs from pet shops come from mills? Press the issue with a pet shop manager. Find out the name of the wholesaler that the shop obtains it’s puppies from. Check the information obtained by going to the USDA site, and see if you can match the name the pet shop gave you with one of the licensed dealers listed on the USDA site. If the name is missing, it probably means that the puppies were purchased from a non-licensed mill, or directly from a broker who acts as a middleman.

If you inquire about the supplier of the puppies in shops, you will hear a lot of double-talk, repeated phrases such as, “No, all our dogs come from breeders!” (which, if you think about it, isn’t actually a lie–a breeder is merely someone who produces animals), and “Our puppies are guaranteed!”. Ask what sort of genetic testing has been done on the parents to help ensure that the puppies will grow into healthy adults. What you’ll hear is, “All of our puppies have been vet-checked.” No proof of genetic health of parents will be offered, no assurances that the puppies are from healthy stock. “Vet-checked” means nothing more than that the animal showed no overt signs of illness at the time of examination.

Support pet shops that do no sell dogs, and send a message to the puppy mill-supporting pet shops–you will NOT patronize any shop that encourages the inhumane practice of puppy milling or indiscriminate breeding and selling of dogs.