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17 May 2000 Issue
Donít Buy That Doggie in the Window!

Compiled from information from The Humane Society of the United States

As you are shopping at the mall, you come to the mall pet store and canít help going in. You are instantly captivated by the beautiful puppies in shiny cages along one wall. Their tails wag ferociously as they reach their paws between the bars, eyes and fur shining, eager to go to their new home.

What a contrast to the place these puppies left behind.

These puppies probably came from puppy mills. A puppy mill is a commercial breeding facility that mass-produces dogs for resale in pet stores. The majority of puppy mills are located in the Midwest, with the largest concentration in Kansas and Missouri. Profit, not quality pets, is the ultimate goal of the puppy mill owner, so breeding practices are often shoddy, and the breeding dogs are kept under the most inexpensive conditions that will keep them alive and producing.

Investigators from The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) visited hundreds of puppy mills across the Midwest, and found that almost all puppy mill dogs endure inadequate housing and poor sanitation. Indoor dogs inhabit converted chicken coops, pig pens, barns, sheds, or even old house trailers. Most outdoor dogs are chained to small doghouses or kept in pens with wire bottoms. The wire bottoms allow waste to fall through and make it easier to clean up after the dogs. Investigators even found dogs living in wooden rabbit hutches, rusty barrels, discarded washing machines, empty fuel tanks, and junked trucks.

The HSUS also found a disgusting, and possibly hazardous, lack of sanitation at most puppy mills. It was all too common to see piles of excrement in and under the cages, exposing the puppies and their mothers to parasites, viral infections, and the threat of diseases carried by flies. The investigators even found dead puppies and dogs in some of the pens.

Puppy mill owners also cut costs by neglecting the dogs' nutritional and health care needs. At one puppy mill, all of the water in the dishes was frozen and the only food available was the remains of a carcass. A mill owner admitted that he had paralyzed more than one dog by hitting a nerve in its back leg while giving shots. Several mill owners said they never took sick puppies to the vet because it was cheaper to expect some to die and take the loss.

The fate of the puppies

At around seven weeks of age, the lucky survivors are removed from their mothers and shipped hundreds of miles across the country. They change hands several times through middlemen called dog brokers before they reach their final destination Ė the pet store.

Even adoption into a loving home may not end the nightmare. According to veterinarian and columnist Dr. Michael Fox, severely inbred dogs often develop emotional problems such as excessive shyness or nervousness and even fear biting. The lack of human contact during the first eight weeks of their lives, coupled with the trauma of separation from their mother and shipping stress, frequently results in these animals not growing up to be good pets. In addition, the unsanitary conditions that the puppies experience in the vulnerable first weeks of their lives often leave them with parasites and diseases. As you can imagine, these puppies often die or are taken to an animal shelter.

There ought to be a law!

All fifty states have anti-cruelty laws which should prevent this neglect and mistreatment. At the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires wholesale commercial breeders to be licensed, inspected, and regulated to ensure humane standards of care. However, state anti-cruelty laws are seldom enforced in rural areas, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for enforcing the AWA, is apathetic about this law and never has enough funds to enforce it.

What can I do?

It is natural to feel sorry for the puppies in the pet store window, but purchasing these dogs only keeps the industry profitable and encourages them to churn out more puppy mill puppies. If you have your heart set on a purebred puppy, buy one from a local breeder. Good breeders are happy to have you come visit their kennels or homes and meet one or both parents of the puppies. If you just want a good family pet, and/or a purebred adult dog, visit a humane society or animal control shelter and save a life.

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