We can’t help ourselves when it comes to passing pet stores at the mall and seeing those adorable puppies in the window. Many people give in to the urge to shell out some money and take one of these adorable pups home. What they might not realize is that there’s a serious issue when it comes to such purchases, and that’s why dog breeding laws have been put into place in recent years.
What you may not know is that a majority of these pet stores obtain their supplies of puppies from what are called puppy mills, and they’re not a great place for dogs to be. Because of the actions of these mills, the laws in regards to dog breeding have also affected those who do breeding as a means of income.
Many of these breeders who work out of their own home only have good intentions: preserving an unpopular breed, improving specific breed characteristics, and providing good show dogs for professionals. However, as the saying goes, all it takes is one person to ruin it for everyone else.
What are Puppy Mills?
These are commercial dog-breeding facilities where the health of the dogs are disregarded and put in jeopardy in order to maximize profits. They do this by keeping the dogs in very small cages with barely any space to move around, and are made pregnant on a regular basis in order to produce as many puppies per year as possible. In order to promote the health of a dog, good breeders gives their female dogs a few months to rest after birthing a litter. However, puppy mills ignore this, which can put the lives of their female dogs in jeopardy.
Puppy mills also rarely seek medical attention for their dogs when they become ill because of the sheer volume of dogs that they have in their possession. This leads to many diseases such as parvo, heart worms and intestinal parasites going untreated, even in the puppies that they sell to pet stores. Because these puppies are too young to be vaccinated when they leave the facility, they might not show signs of the disease until it’s too late, making it more prevalent for these horrific infections to be spread to others.
Unfortunately, not all puppy mills are illegal. The owners of such places are allowed to continue with their activities as long as they provide food, water and shelter to their animals. It’s only when there are signs of neglect and abuse that the authorities are allowed to step in and shut these places down.
Regulations of Puppy Mills
Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act back in 1966 which outlines the minimum standards of care for all animals that were bred for commercial resale, including cats and dogs. Enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture, commercial breeders are required to be licensed and inspected on a regular basis by the USDA.
In order for this license to be obtained, there must be an application made to the USDA, and a pre-license inspection must be passed according to the standards and regulations of the AWA. Then, a license is issued once the appropriate fee has been paid. They are then required to meet the federal standards of humane care:
- Housing and Enclosures: animals must be kept in structurally sound enclosures that protect them from other animals, as well as extreme weather conditions and temperatures. Drainage systems must be in place and be kept in good repair, and the floors must protect the animals from injury. Cages should be kept dry and clean, and there should be easy access to food and clean water.
- Ventilation: there should be cool air or increased ventilation when temperatures are above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, or heat should be provided when the temperatures are below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Lighting: there should be sufficient lighting for safe and easy cleaning, provision of food, and inspection.
- Sanitation: excretions and food wastes should be removed and disposed of on a daily basis, or as often as necessary. Primary enclosures, as well as food and water receptacles, should be sanitized at least once every two weeks.
- Interior: the interior surfaces of the facility should be impervious to moisture and should be easy to clean and sterilize.
- Pests: the facility should have an effective program in place to control and minimize the presence of insects, ectoparasites, and pests.
- Food and Water: animals must be provided with nutritious, palatable food that has been properly stored so that it is free of contamination. The food should be served in a clean receptacle. Clean water should be made available twice daily for one hour, it not all the time.
- Separation: female animals that are in heat should be separated from male animals, except for breeding purposes. Animals that have vicious dispositions should be housed apart from other animals, puppies should be separated from other adult animals except for their mothers, and different species of animals should not be housed together.
- Veterinary care: the breeder should maintain, under the supervision and with the assistance of a licensed veterinarian, a program of disease control and prevention, as well as programs for euthanasia and veterinary care. A caretaker should observe the animals on a daily basis.
- Handling: all licensed breeders are required to handle the animals properly at all times, whether he is feeding, petting, crating, or transferring the animal.
- Transportation: when transporting the animal, the breeder should provide them with adequate space, ventilation and containers throughout the process.
Keep in mind that these are the federal standards; different states are allowed to have varying legislation on this matter that apply more stringent definitions and guidelines for breeders to follow.
The American Kennel Club has restrictions of its own that it applies to those breeders who have registered their litters with the AKC. Investigations can also be made to these premises to ensure that they’re complying with their policies for the care and maintaining conditions for their dogs. They also expect AKC-registered breeders to comply with federal, state and local laws when it comes to the ownership and maintenance of their dogs.
- Care of dogs: they should have access to play and exercise on a daily basis, they must have access to fresh water, and they must have fresh food provided at regular intervals in order to maintain a healthy weight.
- Housing: the primary enclosure must be big enough for the dog to sit, stand, lie down or turn around comfortably without overcrowding. It must be constructed and maintained so that they are securely confined and injury will not result from such confinement. They must have sufficient protection from extreme weather conditions, and the flooring should provide solid footing. Floors made of wire should have a protective coating and be an appropriate size to prevent injury to the feet. It must also be kept in good repair. A solid platform should also be provided for the dog to stand and rest on.
- Operations: there must be a sufficient number of staff members to perform the appropriate levels of care and maintain the conditions for the number of dogs being kept. Enclosures should be kept clean and free of any debris and odor, and excretions should be picked up and disposed of on a frequent basis in order to maintain the health of the dogs. Each kennel should have adequate emergency plans in place for the type of facility and the breeds of dogs being maintained.
The AKC has the power to report unsafe and unsanitary conditions discovered on their inspections to the USDA. AKC privileges for that breeder will also be suspended, with notifications made in writing. Forty-five days are given to correct these problems for a re-inspection, but a failure to do so will result in disciplinary actions being taken.
One would think that this would minimize the reports of animal abuse, but there are always loopholes in the system that make it difficult to keep these unethical practices under control. As stated in the guidelines, only large-scale commercial breeders or those who sell puppies over the Internet are required to be licensed and inspected. However, those who work on a smaller scale and make face-to-face sales with customers don’t have to follow these guidelines or any standards of humane care for their animals.
However, the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act of 2013 was designed to counteract these loopholes in order to protect the welfare of these animals. The guidelines of the Act applied to those deemed to be “volume retail breeders,” which were people who, for purposes of profit:
- had ownership interests or custody of one or more breeding female dogs, and
- sells more than 50 puppies from these dogs in a one-year period, through any means of conveyance.
Such breeders were required to obtain licenses and to make annual renewals, and should state on their applications the total number of dogs exempted from exercise by a licensed veterinarian, as these animals are required to have at least 60 minutes of exercise per day.
There are also guidelines for the kind of exercise these dogs should be getting:
- it should be exercise that allows them to move around sufficiently in a way that isn’t forced, repetitive or restrictive, and
- the area of exercise should be spacious, be cleaned at least once a day, should be free of any pests or vermin, and should be confined in a way that prevents the dogs from escaping
Not only are these restrictions designed for the physical health of the dog, but the mental health as well. Dogs that are confined for long periods of time without any kind of stimulation suffer from severe behavioral issues that make many of these puppies undesirable and even dangerous.
However, not all dogs can exercise on a regular basis, such as elderly dogs or those who have missing limbs. Exemptions can be obtained from a licensed veterinarian who has determined that the dog’s health or condition does not permit exercise, and that determination must be reviewed every thirty days by a veterinarian unless the condition of the dog is deemed permanent.
When are Animals Confiscated?
If an animal that falls under the protection of either Act has undergone unrelieved suffering and there have been no arrangements for veterinary care, then the USDA is authorized to confiscate the animal, only after notice has been given to the breeder. If he fails to provide sufficient medical care, then the confiscation process takes place.In some cases, the USDA may make arrangements with outside organizations to take the dogs in order to expedite the process and get them the medical attention that they need.
This process isn’t foolproof; a breeder can provide veterinary care in order to get the USDA off his back, and then go right back to his old practices. There’s also the problem of making the USDA aware of these problems in the first place, as these breeding facilities aren’t operated where the public can see them.
Regular inspections should catch these problems, but breeders may “spruce up the place” just for these inspections, and continue to be slack with the regulations throughout the rest of the year. This makes it even more difficult to bring attention to the inhumane care of these poor dogs.
Actions by Citizens
The responsibility isn’t only in the hands of the USDA and the AKC. The mistreatment of these animals can be brought by the ordinary citizen, especially those who make the mistake of purchasing these puppies from pet stores. Some states are creating legislation that protects the consumer, by punishing unlicensed breeders, breeders who misrepresent the condition of a dog for sale, or breeders who have altered or falsified a dog’s health certificate.
Customers who purchase a dog from a breeder directly or from pet stores can request to see the documentation of the animal they’re purchasing, such as where they were obtained, and if there are any vaccination records. A failure to comply with this request should put any consumer on alert as to where their potential puppy is coming from, as well as the health condition of the animal.
This information can be brought to the property authorities, such as the Humane Society of the United States, or the USDA directly. You should first take the dog to the vet in order to receive medical treatment before preparing your complaint. It should include:
- name, address and phone number of the breeder/pet store/kennel
- copies of your veterinary bills
- copies of purchase agreement and bill of sale
- copies of any registration papers that were provided at the sale
- photographs and other documents related to the dog’s medical condition
- if the dog has passed, the veterinarian’s necropsy report
- a brief timeline of the events related to the dog’s purchase and the subsequent health problems
Filling out a complaint with the Humane Society of the United States puts them on the alert and allows them to keep track of the practices of these breeders and/or pet stores so that investigations can be conducted.
However, it’s never a good idea to purchase from pet stores in the first place, even if you have the best of intentions. All pet stores obtain their puppies from mills, as good breeders are concerned with who is getting their puppies and wouldn’t give them to any pet store. You may fall for those cute faces and feel sorry for them, but by refraining from purchasing a puppy, you’re decreasing their demand.
If everyone were to adopt this mindset, puppy mills would no longer be able to continue operating would eventually shut down due to a lack of funds. This is a goal that many humane societies hope to accomplish in the future, and we can play our part by boycotting pet stores and breeders with inhumane practices.