The Horror of Puppy Mills

Puppy Mill-these are words that chill my heart and turn my stomach. Dateline, 20/20, NBC, Good Morning America, and The Today Show have highlighted problems at puppy mills, but some people still don’t know the horrors of a puppy mill or what they can do to end this national disgrace. If you can’t bring yourself to read about puppy mills, at least read the last paragraph! Everyone needs to be aware of what they can do to shut them down.

Puppy mills are found all over the U.S., but are concentrated in high numbers in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. It’s a multi-million dollar industry supporting 5,000 puppy mills found across the country.

A puppy mill is a business that mass-produces dogs for a profit with minimal regard for the quality and welfare of the animals. Thousands of dogs are bred for profit, valued not for their companionship or for improving the breed, but for the cold hard cash they bring.

The adult dogs spend their entire lives in tiny cages in deplorable filthy conditions that promote viruses and disease. These cages are often stacked on top of one another so that the waste from one cage falls into the cage below. Often the dogs go without food or water for days and are likely to be underfed and in poor health. Dogs’ lay and sleep in their own excrement on wire bottomed cages that cut into their feet. The most basic grooming care is non existent and their hair grows matted and is often infested with fleas. Skin infections, open wounds, ear and eye infections are common and usually not treated. There have been many reports of dogs rescued from puppy mills with toenails grown around in a full circle because they have never been trimmed. These dogs can barely walk.

Starting at six months of age, the female is bred every heat cycle. She is often weak, malnourished, and dehydrated. The females are kept pregnant constantly but receive little veterinary care due to the costs. Smaller breeds of dogs often require surgery to deliver their pups, but don’t get it. This leads to the agonizing death of many females and their puppies. Most females can’t maintain their productivity past their fourth or fifth year and are than a drain on the mill’s operation. If she’s lucky, she’ll be humanely euthanized. More often than not, she will be shot or bludgeoned to death. The puppies produced are frequently of poor quality and ill health. They are often taken from their mothers before they are old enough, in order to be shipped across the country to pet stores. Many die of starvation, dehydration, and/or fatigue on the journey.

During investigations, dogs in outdoor wire cages, living in their own wastes were found shivering from the cold, or with no protection from rain, cold winds, or the blazing sun in the summer. Food was found infested with maggots and drinking water was green with algae. Many animals suffered from starvation and complete lack of water. It is not unusual for a dog to go insane after living year after year in these conditions. Disturbing behavior often caused by confinement includes constant running in circles and self mutilation.

The idea of breeding a dog is to create a good example of that dog, not only physically but mentally. Dogs produced in puppy mills have contributed to deterioration in the quality of many breeds. In a puppy mill, no genetic testing is done which can detect serious hereditary conditions such as hip dysplasia dislocating kneecaps, liver and heart diseases, auto-immune disorders, and seizures. Inbreeding is common and can lead to temperament problems, aggressive behavior or exaggerate undesirable inherited personality traits. Most breeders do not properly vaccinate puppies for such fatal diseases as distemper and parvo.

Pennsylvania, now breeds more dogs than any state on the east coast and the concentration of puppy mills in Lancaster County is unparalleled anywhere in the country. In the heart of Amish and Mennonite country, thousands of puppies in are crowded in locked buildings that used to be barns, chicken coops or trailers and have been crudely converted into kennels.

Picture an old, falling apart trailer or barn with 16″x36″ wire cage kennels lining the walls and stacked three high. Roofs are often rickety and leaking. There is no heat in the winter and no cooling system when the temperatures soar to 90 degrees. Waste is allowed to collect for days and the floors of many are covered with urine and feces, and contaminated with viruses. There is no ventilation, so the odor of feces and urine is inescapable. The wire-bottom cages are not kept in good repair and are usually rusting with feces hanging from the wire bottoms. Paws are cut and infected by constantly standing on wire. Animals are crowded, sometimes 3 or 4 in a cage, filthy from their own excrement. Some females are very pregnant, some have pups in the cages with them. All are filthy, matted and smelling. Many are ill, but no vet will be called in. It cuts into the profit margin. In the eyes of a puppy miller, they are all disposable. Visitors are not allowed and photographs are prohibited.

Until recently, the ugly truth of puppy mills has been hidden. Only recently the problems of puppies with seizures, parasites, infections, bacteria and behavioral problems has been investigated and linked to the conditions at puppy mills. Even though all 50 states have anti-cruelty laws to prevent neglect and mistreatment of dogs, such laws are seldom enforced in rural areas, where most puppy mills are located.

The Animal Welfare Act should ensure proper care, feeding, housing, and veterinary care for dogs in puppy mills, however due to the shortage of inspectors, the United States Department of Agriculture fails in its responsibility to enforce these laws. Overbreeding dams, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, poor quality of food and shelter, lack of socialization with humans, overcrowded cages, and the killing unwanted animals is common. The recently introduced Puppy Protection Act, if passed, will help the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforce the Animal Welfare Act by encouraging swift and strong action against repeat violators. It will also address the problem of incessant overbreeding by commercial breeders and require that dogs be adequately socialized, enhancing their well-being and helping to ensure fewer behavioral problems in the future.

So are you wondering where all these thousands of are puppies sold to? To pet stores across the nation.

More often than not, pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills. That’s how they keep all those different breeds of puppies in stock at any given time. Next time you are drawn to a pet store window by a bin of wriggling puppies, remember the origin of these pups and the endless suffering their parents endure. The American Kennel Club (AKC) registration papers that usually come with purebred pet shop puppies often impress buyers and provide a false sense of security. This registration doesn’t guarantee proper breeding conditions, health, quality, or claims to lineage. The AKC registers thousands of puppy mill puppies each year without questioning the horrendous conditions in which these puppies are raised. Pet shop puppies commonly have worms, upper respiratory infections, ear and eye infections, mange, coccidia or giardia. Sick puppies, even those with contagious diseases often share cages with well puppies.

Backyard breeders are often no better than puppy mills. The living conditions are often the same, but they run their business on a smaller scale. Be wary of breeders who refuse to let you see their kennels, or the parents of the pup. If they fail to produce a certificate of vaccination and de-worming be cautious. Are they familiar with a specific puppy’s personality? If not, the pup has not been handled and socialized. Can they answer questions about the breed? Will they give you names of other buyers who have purchased their puppies? If not, find a different place to buy your pup. Do not support backyard breeders! If you see a situation that constitutes abuse, please call a humane officer to investigate.

Reputable breeders love and care for their animals as pets, not as gainful property. They diligently maintain records of their litters, vaccinations, vet care and general health of each animal. The genetic soundness of their animals is of the greatest importance to them. They breed for health and temperament, and are concerned with quality, not quantity. The mother will be on the premises and the cages will be clean and sheltered. Puppies require human contact at an early age to make good pets. When you buy a puppy from a good breeder, you can expect it to be well on its’ way to socialization and used to being handled and loved. Good breeders will want to know if you’re responsible and if you’ll provide a good home for their puppy.

In addition, there are rescue organizations for just about every breed of dog with purebred dogs for adoption. The animal shelter and humane organizations also often have purebred dogs. Consider adopting a dog from one of them and save a life in the process.

Dogs hold a special place in our hearts. They are our protectors, companions, and best friends.

A puppy mill is a place that sells dogs for profit and it is a living hell for these creatures of God. To the operators, the health of the dog doesn’t matter. The only concern is the profit. The only way to close down puppy mills is to stop the demand for their puppies. Buying puppies from pet shops supports puppy mills by increasing the demand. The Humane Society, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and many other animal welfare organizations urge consumers never buy a puppy from a pet store.

Sandy Barnosky

(published with permission- originally posted in Medina Gazette)

About the author: Sandy is a dog lover first and writer second. She writes for the ‘good of animals.’ Sandy also volunteers at a ‘low-cost spayed clinic’ and at a local rescue in Ohio.

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