Buyer beware: Make sure you’re not supporting puppy mills by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and puppy mills
Don’t shop puppy mills or pet stores; opt to adopt at an animal shelter!

In an unforgettable edition of “Oprah” in 2010, national attention was focused on the “puppy mill.”  Puppy mills provide an unending supply of often purebred puppies to a public with an insatiable appetite for them, an appetite that has created a situation ripe for abuse. Puppy mills force dogs to produce litter after litter just for profit. These dogs are often plagued with disease, malnutrition, and loneliness.

Oprah’s intrepid investigative reporter found bitches who could barely walk after living a life of immobilized confinement. When people buy a puppy from a pet shop, newspaper ad or from the Internet, they are often supporting a cruel industry.

Puppy mills frequently house dogs in shockingly poor conditions, particularly the “breeding stock” who are caged and continually bred for years, without human companionship, and then killed, abandoned or sold to another “miller” after their fertility wanes.

These dogs are bred repeatedly without the prospect of ever becoming part of a family themselves. The result is hundreds of thousands of puppies churned out each year for sale at pet stores, over the Internet, and through newspaper ads. This practice will end only when people stop buying puppy mill puppies.

How do you separate fact from fiction? 

1. Pet stores cater to impulsive buyers seeking convenient transactions. Unlike responsible rescuers and breeders, these stores don’t interview prospective buyers to ensure responsible, lifelong homes for the pets they sell, and the stores may be staffed by employees with limited knowledge about pets and pet care.

2. Puppy mill puppies often have medical problems. These problems can lead to veterinary bills in the thousands of dollars. Pet retailers count on the bond between families and their new puppies being so strong that the puppies won’t be returned. And guarantees are often so difficult to comply with that they are virtually useless. In addition, poor breeding and socialization practices can lead to behavioral problems throughout the puppies’ lives.

3. A “USDA-inspected” breeder does not mean a “good” breeder. Be wary of claims that pet stores sell animals only from “USDA-inspected” breeders. The USDA enforces the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which regulates commercial breeding operations. But the act doesn’t require all commercial breeders to be licensed, and the USDA enforces only minimum-care standards and its inspection team is chronically understaffed. Breeders are required to provide food, water, and shelter, but not love, socialization, or freedom from confining cages. Many USDA-licensed and inspected puppy mills operate under squalid conditions with known violations of the AWA. Federal law prevents state and local authorities from blocking the shipping and sale of these animals across state lines, placing the burden on the customer to educate themselves.

4. Many disreputable breeders sell dogs directly to the public over the Internet and through newspaper ads. They often sell several breeds, but may advertise each breed separately and not in one large advertisement or website. These breeders are not inspected by any federal agency and, in many states, are not inspected by anyone at all.

5. Reputable breeders care where their puppies go and interview prospective adopters. They don’t sell through pet stores or to families they haven’t thoroughly checked out.

6. Purebred “papers” do not guarantee the quality of the breeder or the dog. Even the American Kennel Club (AKC) admits that it “cannot guarantee the quality or health of dogs in its registry.”

When looking for a pet, do not buy from a pet store, and be wary of websites and newspaper ads. Don’t buy a dog if you can’t physically visit every area of the home or breeding facility where the seller keeps the dog.

Puppy mills will continue until people stop buying their dogs. Putting them out of business should be a goal of every dog lover. Instead, visit your local shelter or respectable rescue individual or organization where you will find a wide selection of healthy, well-socialized puppies and adult dogs – including purebreds – just waiting for that special home – yours.

Grim Puppy-Mill Shipment Makes L.A. Take Notice

By National Public Radio’s (NPR) National Desk reporter Carrie Kahn who covers news from Los Angeles. Kahn’s reports can be heard on NPR’s award-winning news programs including All Things ConsideredMorning EditionWeekend Edition, and Latino USA.

Morning Edition,
 December 30, 2008 · Purebred dogs go for top dollar in pet stores around the country, but buyers of cute, cuddly puppies may not know that some come from unregulated breeding mills overseas. So-called puppy-mill dogs are showing up sick and dehydrated at major airports around the country.

In Los Angeles, one recent shipment of dead and ailing puppies from South Korea got the city’s attention. Twenty of the dogs in the shipment seized at Los Angeles International Airport either had died or had to be euthanized after the trip. The 10 survivors were turned over to the city’s shelter.

Five months later, those survivors — five miniature Maltese and five tiny Yorkshire terriers — were ready for adoption. Hundreds of animal lovers, many wrapped in blankets to keep warm, lined up on a chilly morning in front of L.A.’s East Valley Animal Shelter for a chance to bid on the dogs.

Ed Boks, the general manager of L.A. Animal Services, is required by City law to hold an auction when more than one person wants an animal.

“I want to begin with a few facts that you won’t commonly hear from your local pet store concerning puppies just like these that can often times sell for $3,500 or more,” he told the crowd.

Boks said the 10 minipurebreds arrived with forged health certificates. The documents put their ages at 5 months, but they were actually only 5 weeks old.

“These puppies are the product of a cruel, factory-style dog breeding operation that produces animals with chronic health problems, temperament issues and hereditary defects, so our message to all of you this morning is buyer beware,” he warned.

Overseas Puppy Mills Proliferate

Puppy mills began proliferating overseas about five years ago, at about the same time that U.S. authorities started cracking down on unscrupulous domestic breeders.

Tom Sharp of the American Kennel Club says that’s when he started seeing bulldogs arriving from Russia and Yorkies from South Korea. With the help of the Internet, Sharp says, dishonest pet stores and breeders could easily get puppies overseas.

“That way, they don’t have to be inspected by the different organizations and the governments here in the U.S., and avoid all the requirements,” he says.

Right now, the only federal requirement an importer has to follow is to provide proof of a current rabies vaccine — documentation that is easily forged.

Federal regulators say that rule was written at a time when the only dogs coming into the United States were companion pets. Nina Marano of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Congress just passed a law banning the importation of dogs under 6 months old for resale.

But Marano says it will take at least two years for the ban to be enforced.

“We can try to regulate our way out of it, but another part is, I think, the issue about demand — that there needs to be a lot more public education about the demand that is being created for these puppies,” she says.

A Winning Bid

The demand was high for Los Angeles’ puppy-mill survivors.

One winning bidder was Debbie Garringer. “I was really lucky, and I’m happy, so happy, and I will take care of it so much and it will have a beautiful home,” she said.

All 10 of the purebred puppy-mill survivors got new homes, as did 52 other pets from the shelter. In all, Animal Services raised more than $20,000 and got its message out: Adopt, don’t shop.

To listen to this NPR report, click here.