Dogs: Companions, Pets or Livestock? A Non-Graphic Explanation Of Puppy Mills

Whether you are into animals or not, chances are high that if you have any ‘dog people’ in your social media networks, the topic of puppy mills has made its way into your newsfeed. And if your animal-loving friends are inclined to refer to Paulie Puptastico and Princess Fluffybutt as ‘my kids’, ‘furbabies’, or some variation on that theme (because ‘pet’ just sounds so…possession-y), said newsfeed items probably have super sad and disturbing photos attached (translation: you may skip right past them because…duh…super sad and disturbing).

I get it. Animal people can get a little over the top and sometimes that is a real buzz kill. So, I’m here today to break it down for you, no gore, no graphic horror stories, just the straight scoop so you can understand the bottom line on this whole puppy mill issue and why people get so worked up about it.

ONE WORLD VIEW? Errr…not so much.

Turns out, dogs are not universally seen as family members and pets. Some places in the world, they are considered food. I’ve been to South Korea and have seen butchered dogs suspended from market stalls right next to chickens and ducks with my very own eyes so…yeah, some places in the world dog meat is a thing but the Humane Society International is working on it.

ONE COUNTRY VIEW? Welllll, um…no.

Turns out, even though we don’t eat dogs here, (unless they are sold in packs of ten and made from cows and pigs), we do not have a universal view on whether dogs qualify as family pets. Some people, and even some segments of society *cough* Amish *cough* actually consider them livestock, and they have a little organization called the USDA to back them up.

NO, WAIT YOU BACK UP…the Amish?!

Yeppers. And let’s be clear, not all Amish are dog breeders and not all dog breeders are Amish but I got your attention, didn’t I? Yeah, even in cute sounding towns like Shipshewana, Indiana, bad things are happening to dogs although Lancaster County, PA has been identified as the primary disturber of urban sensitivies. Why would they do something like that?!  It ain’t personal, baby, it’s business.

Big business.

The author of this op-ed (wow) attempt to defend Amish breeders went on to say:

In capitalist America, if there is a demand for something, including puppies, the product will come from somewhere.

And that, my babies, is the point at which puppies (and kittens) become products. Commodities. Substantial sources of income for both the breeders and the retailers who, intent on grabbing their cut of this cash cow dog, inhabit our fair cities *cough* Naperville *cough*.

The good news is, some cities have the balls to take a humane stand. ‘Sup Chicago?

Okay, but the good breeders…they are licensed by the USDA, right? I mean ‘puppy mill’…that a little harsh isn’t it?

You do know you live in ‘Merica, right? Land of Agribusiness and gestation crates? It’s the U. S. Dept of Agriculture, baby, and livestock is livestock, whether it sleeps in your bed and makes the funniest faces eating peanut butter or not.  Sure, USDA-licensed breeders aka commercial breeders who sell through retail pet stores, do have to provide the minimum care standards set by the federal Animal Welfare Act, just like an livestock farmer. (Keep reading for fun facts on internet pet sales.)

Curious what breeder standards are for dogs?

Breeder dogs can be kept in a cage 6 inches bigger than it on all sides for life and there is no limit as to how many times they can be used to breed. 

Now, to be fair, dogs over 12 weeks old are supposed to get exercise, unless, of course, they are housed in groups that allow each dog those space requirements (6 inches each side per dog x # of dogs makes for awesome playgroups).

But…but what about the AKC? Don’t they do inspections? I mean, people pay good money for AKC registered dogs.

You. Are. Adorable. Naive….but adorable.

As for USDA inspections…here are some highlights from the USDA’s most recent audit regarding their oversight effectiveness.

  • AC’s Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers. 

And I quote: “The agency believed that compliance achieved through education and cooperation would result in long-term dealer compliance and, accordingly, it chose to take little or no enforcement action against most violators.”

So the whole “Puppy Good. Money Bad. Shame on You. Be Nice.” approach to enforcement isn’t working out. Didn’t see that coming.

  • APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators

“Specifically, it (1) inconsistently counted violations; (2) applied “good faith” reductions without merit; (3) allowed a “no history of violations” reduction when the violators had a prior history; and (4) arbitrarily changed the gravity of some violations and the business size.”

He offered to pinkie swear and everything. I mean, I ask you this…how you gonna write up a guy who offers you his pinkie?

And my personal favorite:

  • Some Large Breeders Circumvented AWA by Selling Animals Over the Internet.

A direct quote from the report:

“Large breeders that sell AWA-covered animals over the Internet are exempt from AC’s inspection and licensing requirements due to a loophole in AWA. As a result, an increasing number of these unlicensed breeders are not monitored for their animals’ overall health and humane treatment.”

Dick Durbin was the lead sponsor for the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (PUPS) which would bring “high volume retail breeders” who sell online under the jurisdiction of the USDA. This bill was introduced on February 27, 2013, in a previous session of Congress, but was not enacted.

IN SUMMARY: The dog breeding industry makes a lot of money, flies underneath the regulatory radar with incredible ease and the condition the breeder animals live in and endure will break your heart. There are kitten mills, also.

So, now you have the basics and, I hope, some sense of why animal lovers who learn about this stuff go so bananas.

If you would like to hear the story of how one woman started a movement to help bring this all to the attention of common folks like you and me, go check out Theresa Strader’s TedX talk. You can learn all about how she went undercover at a dog auction and how she kept her shit together there long enough to save some pups.  Not sure I could have pulled it off like she did.

And, hey, a shout out to her husband, who welcomed a whole bunch of dogs into his life, as well, after that trip. Rescue spouses have a special place in heaven, no doubt about it.

DID YOU KNOW? You can text PUPS to 30644 to get a list of puppy-friendly pet stores in your area (message and data rates apply).

Also, check out The Puppy Mill Project and National Mill Dog Rescue on Facebook.

Filed under: Puppy Mills

Leave a comment