Giving Animals as Gifts

a dogPets, of course, add so much to our lives, our families, and a puppy or kitten may seem like the perfect holiday gift. But remember a puppy, kitten, ferret, horse, bird, or hamster, whatever the species of the companion animal, is not a toy to be purchased and wrapped in holiday paper and ribbon.

Talk with your family about what it will mean to have a pet and together decide on the animal you can best care for and manage as part of the family. After all, adding any family member is an important commitment! 

It’s hard during holiday shopping to pass the cute puppy in the window, the kittens in a basket at the market or the birds chirping away in their cages at the pet store. But did you know —

More than 90% of puppies sold in pet stores, along roadsides or at flea markets were born in puppy mills? And that there are also kitten mills and bird mills? 

That the dogs and cats and other animals sold by breeders thru newspaper ads or over the internet were also probably born into mills?

That these mills mass produce dogs, cats, birds, really any companion animal, in crowded, filthy conditions with little or no care, exercise or socialization?

That the animals are held in mills purely for profit, for the puppies, kittens, birds, they can produce for sale to the public or research facilities or worse?

That the mothers will be bred over and over and at times the puppies or kittens may literally be ripped from their mother’s body through caesarian sections that are closed with fishing line or some other homemade suture?

That if the mothers don’t die first of illness or disease, they will be killed, dumped at the local pound or sold to a research facility where they will be the subject for experiments and testing? 

That if you buy the puppy – or cat or bird – from the pet store or along a roadside or at a flea market, you are helping keep these mills in business?

That there are more than 4 million pets killed in shelters every year simply because no one has adopted them and provided them with a home and about 25-30% are estimated to be purebred, produced by breeders?

That the American Kennel Club (or other registry) that issued "papers" to you that the puppy, for example, is a purebred in good health, will give those "papers" to just about anyone who submits an application and pays a fee?

That given the generally low, vague standards and limited enforcement, even if a breeder has a license from the United States Department of Agriculture or state government, it doesn’t mean the puppy or kitten wasn’t born into a mill?

That breeders that sell directly to the public through the internet, newspaper ads or at flea markets or along roadsides are not regulated at all by the USDA?

That’s not all. Breeders have fueled fears and misconceptions that "you don’t what you are getting" when you adopt an animal from a shelter or rescue. It is actually the other way around. Consider this:

There have been so many reports and complaints about breeders that sell dogs that turn out to be sick, diseased, injured, disabled or have congenital or behavioral problems that more and more states are passing laws to protect consumers. These "puppy lemon" laws provide consumers with recourse against the store or breeder for puppies that are sold with undisclosed illnesses, injuries, disabilities, or congenital or behavioral problems and die or cost the new guardian or caregiver hundreds or thousands of dollars in veterinary care. A 2010 Illinois law is an example of increasing disclosures that must be made to consumers or adopters about the breeder and the animal’s breeding and health history.

So, this holiday season, if you and your family decide to bring a pet into your family, adopt one from a local shelter or rescue. (There are even breed rescues for those interested in a particular breed of dog.)

What’s being done to stop the cruelty and shut down companion animal mills:

A bill pending in Congress, the PUPS Act, would regulate most breeders and also strengthen the exercise requirements and ban use of wire flooring for dogs in puppy mills.

States are becoming increasingly proactive in trying to regulate puppy mills. Voters in Missouri just approved this past November a new law that limits the number of breeding dogs held by commercial breeders to 50 and requires breeders to provide humane care.

Indeed, many have realized that large numbers of dogs drive profits but make humane care impossible. Virginia, Louisiana, Washington and Oregon all now limit the number of breeding animals that can be kept for breeding pets for sale. Similar limits were proposed during this past session in Massachusetts and New York. Last year California’s legislature passed such a limit, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.  McKenzie’s Law, H.B. 570, pending in Ohio, would limit commercial breeders to 50 breeding dogs and set standards for humane care including continuous access to an exercise area, veterinary care and socialization. Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Tennessee also recently enacted laws that regulate puppy mills.

The idea is that fewer dogs and stronger and enforceable care requirements will shut down the puppy mills.

The Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has tried another tactic. His office uses forfeiture laws to "follow the money" and seize property purchased with profits or involved with puppy mills operating illegally. Ohio has investigated to determine whether puppy mills are actually paying sales tax revenue. One puppy mill operator boasted that puppy mills brought $9 million in revenue annually to Holmes County, Ohio. The problem is in many cases little or no sales tax was paid to the county or state.

There is a recent trend to ban the sale of dogs at flea markets or along public highways or roads and other public property. A few communities have even banned pet stores from selling dogs. A ballot initiative underway in Ohio would stop the sale or trade of dogs at auctions. The idea with these laws and initiative is to shut down outlets and distribution channels not only for puppies but also dogs used for breeding. And help stop the impulse buys that actually enable puppy mills. 

Photo credit: Jenna Mackenzie