The History of Puppy Mills and Why You Should Care
This blog examines puppy mills in the U.S. It explains what they are, how they came to be, the number that are in operation, and how many dogs are impacted. The piece also outlines some of the many problems with these facilities and explains how the new Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (PUPS Act) can address the so-called “Internet loophole” in puppy sales.
What Are Puppy Mills?
Many people throughout the US have seen headlines plastered across newspapers or television screens, “Puppy Mill Bust” or “Puppy Mill Raid.” But what exactly are puppy mills? At this time, there is no standard definition of the term. However, the definition that I use is that puppy mills are “large usually filthy facilities that are usually found in rural areas, where puppies are bred in large numbers and usually sold to pet stores via brokers.” (Williams & DeMello, 2007) According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) any breeder that owns more than three breeding female dogs and/or has gross sales over $500 per year is considered a commercial breeder. However, this definition regulates breeders that sell directly to pet stores but does not cover Internet sales to individuals. This allows breeders to breed and sell dogs in this manner without any federal oversight.
The History of Puppy Mills and Why You Should Care
Puppy mills came into popularity after World War II in reaction to crop failures in the Midwest. What may be hard to believe today is that the USDA actually promoted puppy mills by advertising that it was a lucrative and failproof business. Encouraged by the government, farmers started to pack dogs into chicken coops and rabbit hutches and sell puppies to pet stores.
Today, the USDA estimates that there are between 2,000-3,000 federally licensed commercial breeding facilities in the US with approximately 1,045 of these facilities being in Missouri (645), Iowa (237), and Kansas (178). The ASPCA believes there are close to 10,000 puppy mill breeders. However, the majority of these breeders are either not properly licensed or are not required to be licensed because they operate on a smaller scale. Since these breeders are not tracked by the USDA, it is nearly impossible to know exactly how many puppy mills are in the US. It is also close to impossible to learn exactly how many dogs are living in puppy mills as some breeders are not required to keep accurate records, or if the breeder is illegal, they will purposely not keep records. However, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), there is an estimated 176,088 dogs kept for breeding at USDA licensed facilities and approximately 1,075,896 puppies born in facilities each year. HSUS estimates that there is an estimated 2.15 million puppies that are sold each year. Many of these puppies are sold via the Internet where there is currently no USDA oversight. It is saddening to think about thousands upon thousands of dogs are living in small, dark, cramped cages for their entire lives and are refused even very basic veterinary care. The use of stacked, wire cages makes it difficult to avoid contact with urine, feces, and other infectious diseases due to the dogs’ paws slipping through the wire and into the waste. Combined with the lack of grooming, environmental cleanliness and oversight, these dogs have a slim chance of living a healthy, happy life.
PUPS Act and the New Rule
Citizens and animal welfare organizations have worked for years to help these animals and some public officials are now listening. Congressman Jim Gerlach (PA), cosponsored by Congressman Sam Farr (CA) and supported by Senator Dick Durbin (IL), introduced a bill entitled the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (PUPS Act) on February 27, 2013. In essence, the PUPS Act closes the so-called “Internet loophole.” Great! But what is the Internet loophole? The loophole consists of breeders that sell puppies via the Internet, mail, or by phone, and who are not subject to the same regulations that govern traditional breeders. This bill calls for high volume commercial breeders, which is any person who breeds more than four female dogs and sells the puppies online, by mail, or over the phone to be federally licensed and inspected on a regular basis in the same way as traditional commercial breeders. This bipartisan collaboration resulted in a new USDA rule that mirrors the PUPS Act. I contacted a staffer from Congressman Gerlach’s office regarding the status of the PUPS Act and was told that he submitted a press release (full release can be read here) on September 10, 2013. Congressman Gerlach stated, “By closing this Internet loophole in the federal Animal Welfare Act), the law has finally caught up to technology. This action is long overdue and necessary to end the horrific conditions and inhumane treatment of dogs at large breeding kennels here in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.”
Not everyone sees this new rule as progress; critics of the PUPS Act believe it is intrusive. Some say the term “high volume breeders” is too broad and can potentially affect smaller breeders that have four or less breeding dogs. There are also concerns about the fees and inspections that small breeders would now be subject to. A number of small breeders feel that these restrictions can hamper the sport of breeding and possibly the advancement of certain breeds.
Conversely, many animal advocates are pleased with the new rule or at least believe it is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this will help thousands of dogs suffering in puppy mills see a brighter day.