You open up your local newspaper to see a breathtakingly adorable ad about a new litter of puppies on sale in your area! Captivated, you call the breeder immediately and set up a time to meet at a local dog park. Perfect! The next day, you receive your new furry best friend.
Your first week with the puppy goes well, even though he seems a little anxious and even aggressive sometimes. Even when you give him an anti-anxiety toy, his behavior doesn’t improve much. He’s lethargic and seems to be acting even stranger.
Worried, you take your dog to the vet, who asks you where you got your new puppy from. You talk about the newspaper ad and meeting the breeder at the dog park. The vet goes silent and then says your dog may have been sick before you got him, that he’s probably never been seen by a vet before.
The vet asks you whether you’ve heard of puppy mills. When you say no, the vet explains them to you, and it sounds terrible! You’re an animal lover — you would never condone something like this! But you have, indeed, accidentally contributed to the sad and pervasive problem that is puppy mills.
What’s a Puppy Mill?
So, what is the extent of this industry? And what can you — a responsible animal lover — do to help end the cruelty?
Puppy mills are large-scale operations owned by a breeder whose goal is to make as much profit possible at the expense of a dog’s well-being. Their breeding dogs often lead short, miserable lives without proper exercise, veterinary care, or even stimulating toys to keep them from getting bored.
Puppies can eventually find their way to loving families, but they spend the beginning of their lives in cramped, filthy conditions without proper socialization or healthcare. Left in squalor with many other dogs, it’s easy for them to get sick. But puppy mill puppies can often be found in pet stores and on Internet advertisements.
A Booming Industry with Little Oversight
But surely in a country of dog lovers like the United States, this shouldn’t be a problem! Unfortunately, it is. Here are three key facts provided by the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA:
Every year, two million puppies sold are estimated to be from puppy mills.
There are 10,000 puppy mills estimated to be in the United States.
While many breeders are USDA-licensed, USDA standards are incredibly minimal, and puppy mill owners frequently go unpunished. Identifying information on public USDA inspection reports is also often retracted.
All this information is rather depressing so you may be wondering what you can do to stop puppy mills and their cruelty?
You Can Do A Lot To Stop Them!
Whether you prefer to keep a low profile or become a full-blown activist, you’re not powerless. Here are a few ideas.
1. Simply report the abuse.
If you encounter a breeder with questionable ethics, don’t stay silent. Remember, dogs cannot use words to advocate for themselves. But you can.
You can report your findings to your local anti-animal cruelty organization in your town, county, or state. If you’re not sure whom to contact, ask the local police department. Note down names, dates, and take photos if possible. Keep an organized record of your documents, and be sure to know whom to contact to follow up.
Get as much information as you can about the abuse, but don’t risk putting yourself in danger, or you may risk being charged with trespassing. Traumatized animals can also be aggressive and dangerous.
The ASPCA has further reporting guidelines here.
2. Buy Pets From a Shelter, and Encourage Others to Do the Same
There are millions of animals across the country waiting for a loving forever home. Shelter animals aren’t always strays; there are plenty of well-socialized and healthy animals there because a responsible owner had to move or passed away. So, encourage the people around you to adopt from shelters too.
If you or someone you know would really prefer a puppy of a specific breed, such as a hypoallergenic breed, research a responsible breeder and make sure you visit the area the puppies were raised. Meet the dog’s mother and survey the property. If the breeder wants to meet you in a third location instead of their property, this is a red flag. You can also find purebreds at breed rescues.
3. Research the Origins of Pet Store Dogs
Finding out where dogs from at a pet store originally came from can be tricky. Business owners may be afraid of sharing this information, and accessing records can require some wading through bureaucracy. The Humane Society has a very thorough guide on how to do research on where puppies come from. But your first priority should always be to stay within the law. Not doing so can get you in trouble, and getting into legal trouble doesn’t help the dogs!
4. Animal Cruelty is an Emotional Issue, But Instigating Emotional Conflicts is Rarely Productive
If you do find that a pet store sells puppies from puppy mills, don’t publicly shame them right away. Instead, talk to the store owners privately and maintain a professional and respectful attitude.
You are criticizing a business owner’s livelihood, so defensiveness is expected, especially if selling live pets is an important income stream. From the shop owner’s perspective, they are simply trying to find the fastest way to provide for their household. Or they may simply be ignorant of puppy mill issues.
Instead of telling a business to stop selling puppies outright, provide alternatives. Suggest, for example, sourcing dogs from a shelter or rescue instead. In general, focus on solutions, not accusations.
5. Stage an Effective Demonstration if Necessary
If the business is clearly uncooperative, however, you may need to take more action.
In general, it’s perfectly legal to have a protest and state your opinion, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t laws governing exactly how you can do this. So before heading to the streets with your signs and your team of enthusiastic protesters, do your homework and cover your bases.
Apply for the appropriate permits. Make sure everyone involved is on the same page, and don’t engage with anyone who’s obviously just there to make trouble. The Humane Society also recommends using more general statements like “Adopt, don’t shop.” Accusations pointed at the specific business can be challenged, and you can get in legal trouble if you don’t have sufficient proof to back up your claims.
Remember: violent, unlawful protests and making inaccurate claims will only discredit your cause.
6. Write to Your Local Government Representative or write/sign a Petition
Not everyone is born to lead a rally. But this doesn’t mean the more introverted and shy among us are powerless!
For those who prefer keeping a low profile, one powerful thing you can do is write to a government representative. This person’s job, after all, is to speak up for community members like you. So take the time to craft a professional letter that lays out all your arguments and supporting facts.
You can also write a petition (or sign an existing one). People in charge are obligated to notice if enough people are angry about something! For example, the USDA recently retracted a substantial amount of information from their inspection reports on breeders, and animal welfare organizations have been trying to reverse this. You can sign the ASPCA petition to make inspection information public right now.
7. Join or Donate to Existing Efforts.
If you’re a working professional or a busy parent, you may be well past your college protesting days. But this doesn’t mean you don’t care about injustice or that you are powerless.
Chances are, there are plenty of people in your area with similar beliefs who already have projects underway. You can contribute a lot to the cause by simply donating your resources, whether it’s money or a space to gather. So check out what your local anti-animal cruelty organization is doing, and ask in what ways you can help.
Be a responsible pet owner before your pet even arrives!
Being a pet parent is a lot of work. Most of us try our best to provide a home for our animals, pay for their vet bills, pick up after them, and so on.
But not everyone thinks about the life their pet has led before meeting them, and knowing this information is a key part of being a responsible pet owner. If you or someone you know is looking for a pet, remember to remind them (or yourself!) to:
1. Never buy a pet from a questionable source.
Only buy a pet from a rescue shelter or reputable breeder that you have done a thorough background check on.
2. Never buy a pet on impulse.
Buying pets on impulse is what leads people to forget to do proper research on their pet’s origins.
3. Never buy a pet without having the means to care for it.
This is especially true for pets bought from questionable sources. They may have serious health problems that can mean hefty vet bills and time away from your responsibilities to adequately care for your animal.
Animals have the right to being treated with respect. Speak up today for our furry neighbors, because they can’t without you.