What is a Puppy Mill?
Puppy mills are an urgent, widespread problem. There are an estimated 15,000 puppy mills in the U.S. alone. In these mass-production factories, dogs are forced to produce litter after litter of puppies, supplying nearly 100 percent of the dogs sold in pet stores and directly to consumers online and through newspaper ads. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of dogs per facility live in overcrowded and unsanitary cages without sufficient food, water, grooming, socialization, or veterinary care and therefore they frequently suffer a multitude of social, emotional, and physical conditions, including genetic disorders and deformities.
In puppy mills, dogs are typically kept in small wire hutches inside sheds with no temperature control or outdoors with insufficient protection from harsh natural elements. They are exposed to extreme heat and cold as well as dangerously high levels of ammonia that arises from urine build-up. Uric acid soaks puppies lying on cage floors, burns their skin and paw pads, and causes respiratory distress.
The wire cage floors are meant to allow feces to drop through, but when cages are stacked, it falls onto the animals below. Feces often cakes cages so heavily it becomes the only solid surface on which they can stand. This is completely at odds with a dog’s natural instinct to live separately from their excrement but they desperately long to feel the security of solid ground beneath their feet. Dogs in puppy mills are rarely, if ever, released from their cages to exercise or play.
Their imprisonment in cramped cages also causes the urine and feces buildup to severely mat the dogs’ fur. Frequently in a rescue situation, dogs are found so matted that their entire coat must be shaved off. Once shaved, dogs that had first appeared much larger are often revealed to be emaciated. In some cases, their matting and confinement are so extreme that their fur actually grows into the cage, pinning the dog in one spot.
Overgrown nails are extremely common in puppy mills and can actually get caught in or grow around the wire and trap a dog to the cage. Nails that are never trimmed or never worn down by walking or running on solid ground often grow back into the skin. This creates an infection that leads to painful suffering and life-threatening medical conditions. It is not unusual to find small collars that have not been changed as dogs have grown or collars that have been fastened so tightly that they have become embedded in a dog’s neck and must be carefully cut out.
Fighting is not uncommon in the overcrowded pens, which are too small for even one dog to be in even part of the day, much less their entire lives. The dogs spend most of their time unattended so fighting goes unnoticed and injuries are untreated. It is not abnormal to find dead dogs on a regular basis at a puppy mill. Some dogs endure a process called “de-barking” – having portions their vocal chords painfully removed to reduce the noise of their incessant pleas for help and attention.
Dogs also endure injuries from their dilapidated enclosures. Unsanitary living conditions attract bugs and rodents and breed infectious disease. The sick and injured dogs are rarely, if ever, seen by a veterinarian so their conditions result in endless suffering and sometimes death. The health of a puppy mill dog is not even sustained by adequate food and water. If there is water at all, it is typically filthy and contaminated with algae growth, urine, and feces. Any food present is often infested with maggots and mold.
Some puppy mills keep dogs in windowless breeding boxes, which are typically smaller than the main cages. Here, mother dogs give birth and live with their puppies through the weaning process, which is usually prematurely forced while the puppies should still be drinking their mother’s milk. This early weaning causes emotional trauma to both the mother dog and the puppies as well as health problems in the puppies.
Females are bred repeatedly, usually twice a year, every year, until they can no longer produce puppies. This is incredibly stressful on their bodies but they are viewed as moneymaking machines, as disposable property, not as individuals with inherent worth. Female dogs are commonly bred before it is safe to do so because the earlier they start, the more puppies they will produce in a lifetime. Puppy mill breeding dogs are often given hormones and steroids to try and increase the number of puppies they produce. These drugs can cause extreme pain and serious side effects – all in an attempt to increase the number of puppies for profit.
American puppy mills produce millions of puppies every year while millions of dogs that are put to death in shelters every year. When the breeding dogs’ bodies can no longer maintain a high level of productivity, they are destroyed. Puppy millers are no longer profiting from these animals, so they dispose of them in the cheapest way possible. They do it themselves, often on their property, by starving, drowning, shooting, beating, or burying the dogs alive.
The offspring of breeding dogs are expensive to keep and dollars are to be made, not spent, so puppies are taken from their nursing mothers as soon as they can be weaned, sometimes before. These puppies not only miss the critical social learning skills that are essential to healthy canine relationships but they have often inherited problematic medical conditions from their parents.
Due to these intolerable conditions, unsuspecting consumers are often buying sick puppies and will incur expensive veterinary bills trying to treat immediate health problems, such as parvovirus or genetic problems that reveal themselves years later. The worst case but not unheard of scenario is that the puppies do not survive long after being purchased.
Mill owners increasingly advertise and sell through the Internet and newspapers, misrepresenting themselves as a reputable business. The websites, almost 100 percent of the time, picture happy dogs romping in the grass or cuddling with children and puppies piled in baskets or on colorful blankets, when the reality for the dogs is a deplorable prison that forbids them any natural behaviors, depriving them of any joy or even basic sustenance. When mill owners sell in-person they usually meet the customer somewhere away from their property. They never let customers see where the puppy lived, where the parents are still suffering.
Federal law does not regulate breeders who sell puppies directly to the public, though state cruelty and neglect laws usually require adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care for sick animals. However, puppy mills are mostly hidden in rural areas and often go undetected and the laws go unenforced.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the federal organization charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which sets basic standards of care for certain kinds of animals bred for commercial resale. The USDA admits to a deficient and problematic record in the inspection of dog breeding facilities. There are a greater number of facilities than the number of inspectors to visit these facilities. Often times, breeders are allowed to perform self-inspections. In May 2010, the USDA’s Inspector General issued a scathing 69-page report addressing failures in inspection practices. The report PDF report can be downloaded here.
Watch the ARC End Puppy Mills PSA featuring Sheryl Crow
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