Puppy Mill Awareness Day – Status of Legislative Efforts to Stop the Cruelty

dogToday is Puppy Mill Awareness Day 2010.  

Puppy mills are those aptly named businesses that mass produce dogs in crowded, filthy conditions with little or no care, exercise or socialization. The dogs trapped in puppy mills will be bred over and over. At times the puppies may literally be ripped from their mother’s body through caesarian sections that are closed with fishing line or some other homemade suture.

Eventually, if she does not die first of illness or disease, the mother will be killed, dumped at the local pound or sold to a research facility where she will be the subject for experiments and testing.

Puppy mills are not much different from the factories that churn out blenders, toasters, televisions, and the like. And that is one of the many dirty little secrets about puppy mills. They are kept in business by consumers, people like you and me. People see the cute puppy in the pet store window and want to give it a home. Pet stores thrive on impulsive shoppers. And puppy mills are where most pet stores get their dogs.  

Consumers think that because the American Kennel Club or other registry issues "papers" that the dog is a purebred in good health.  The AKC, for example, issues purebred registration papers to anyone who submits an application and pays a fee. The papers simply indicate the purebred lineage the breeder stated on the application. The AKC has said it "is the largest and only significant not-for-profit dog registry …in the US. We register nearly 1 million purebred dogs and over 400,000 litters of purebred puppies every year." Though the pet stores and breeders may not tell consumers this, the AKC has announced it "cannot guarantee the quality or health of dogs in its registry."

Consumers may also think claim the breeder is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA does license breeders under the Animal Welfare Act. 7 U.S.C. Sec. 2131, et seq. And, the consumer can obtain a list of licensed breeders known as Class A dealers. There is also available a list of those who broker, purchase or sell animals. They are called Class B dealers. 9 C.F.R. 1.1.  The problem is that the regulations require only enough care to keep the dogs breeding. There are no limits on the breeding. This is an agricultural business after all. The dogs are simply commodities like corn or carrots. And, there are very few inspectors to enforce the regulations. So having a license doesn’t mean much.  

As an example, a puppy miller, a USDA licensed dealer, recently gassed 93 dogs five or six at a time in a makeshift gas chamber. The Animal Care inspector was aware of what happened but never reported this horrific incident of animal cruelty for prosecution. A local shelter director found a description of the incident buried in an inspection report and called authorities. For more on this… For more on the Animal Welfare Act regulations…. 

Breeders that sell directly to the public through the internet, newspaper ads or at flea markets or along roadsides are not regulated by the USDA. A bill pending in Congress the PUPS Act, would change that and also strengthen the exercise requirements for dogs in puppy mills. For more…

States are becoming increasingly proactive in trying to regulate puppy mills. 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. This year California’s legislature passed a bill limiting the number of breeding dogs per commercial breeder to 50, 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 their care including continuous access to an exercise area, veterinary care and socialization. Voters in Missouri will have an opportunity this November to support Proposition B which would limit the number of breeding dogs held by commercial breeders to 50 and require other improvements in their care.   

Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Tennessee also recently enacted laws that regulate puppy mills. Illinois formed a task force to study the issue and make recommendations.  

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

In addition, the Indiana Attorney General 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.

Unfortunately, politics has undermined strong humane standards required of some commercial breeders in Pennsylvania under a 2008 law. The Dept of Agriculture has watered down an unequivocal prohibition on wire flooring in the 2008 law by allowing 50% of the floor of the dogs’ cages in certain commercial kennels to be wire. For more on that….

States have also worked to improve consumer protection against pet stores selling dog from puppy mills. These "puppy lemon" laws provide consumers’ recourse against the store or breeder for puppies that turn out to be sick, diseased or disabled. A recent Illinois law is an example of increasing disclosure requirements about the breeder and the puppy’s history. 

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 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 the initiative is to shut down outlets and distribution channels not only for puppies but also dogs used for breeding.    

All of these laws, if enforced, play a part in stopping the cruelty of puppy mills. You can do your part. Instead of buying a dog, adopt one from a local shelter or rescue.


Photo credit: Maggie Smith