The Puppy Mill Problem

It wasn’t that long ago, that if a family wanted to adopt a dog, the first place they’d look would be local shelter. Purebred dogs were for rich folks. Lower and middle income families were happy to have a good looking mutt from the ASPCA or other local shelter. But that’s changed.

Now when lower and middle income families or individuals think about getting a dog, the first thing they do is go to the local pet store. And at the local pet store, if they’re not fixed on a particular breed, they can walk out with a real “purebred dog” for just a few hundred dollars.

How did this change in our societal behavior happen?  Well, surprisingly, the United States government played a role in it.puppymill15

According to Cori Menkin, Esq., (Senior Director, Program Counsel Government Affairs & Public Policy, ASPCA)  historically, the number of puppy mills in the United States grew dramatically in the post-World War II era.  During that time, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) began encouraging struggling farmers to raise puppies as a “cash crop” in an effort to ease the strains on them during the Great Depression (Best Friends).  During this time, there was virtually no oversight or regulation of this industry.  The federal law which regulates commercial dog breeding, the Animal Welfare Act, was not enacted until 1966 (USDA National Agricultural Library).

Dog-Auctions-Amish-House1

Amish Dog Auction

As a result of the encouragement by USDA, puppy mills became more prominent in agricultural areas.  Currently, the state with the highest number of large-scale commercial dog breeders is Missouri.  However, there is also an extremely high concentration of breeders in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which has the highest concentration of puppy mills of any county in the country (Last Chance for Animals).  Surprisingly, commercial dog breeding is very prevalent among Amish and Mennonite farmers, with pockets of Amish dog breeders found throughout the country, including Lancaster County (AWA Watchdog).

This is the crux of the problem. Dogs have gone from being pets to being commodities. Not for everyone, of course. We Americans love our pets as we would a member of our family. But for many, they are simply “things”, “profit centers”, “objects” that deserve little more than life supporting care until their value in dollars come in.

How Big an Industry is the Puppy Mill Industry?

To put things in perspective, one big player in the Puppy Mill Industry is the Hunte Corporation. They are not “breeders” but “consolidators” or brokers.

The Hunte Corporation touts itself as the largest puppy dealer in the world, with sales in the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Japan. The company distributes animals through retail chains such as Petland. [15] According to a November 2007 article in the Tulsa World, the company buys and sells 90,000 puppies each year. The facility is a massive, block-long 200,000 square feet building. It houses business offices and ten million dollar, climate controlled kennels. It also has a surgery room, an examination room, a grooming shop, trucking bays, a warehouse and a retail pet store which sells purebred dogs.

How can we hope to end their entrenched practices of using dogs as products? Legal methods have not worked. Public education has not worked. Protests have not worked consistently.  See more here:  Hunte Corp/ Petland

The answer is the marketplace. Give consumers better choices. That’s what we aim to do.

2 Comments to The Puppy Mill Problem

  1. I’m trying to understand how you are dividing the world of dog breeders. In your opinion, are all commercial breeders the equivalent of puppy mills? If that is true, where will your “responsible” breeders come from? At the moment, small breeders produce less than 10% of the dogs purchased or adopted by the American public. As a long-time breeder, I know that I don’t want to breed any more litters just to meet this need. Most of the breeders I know don’t want to produce more puppies. So who is going to meet the need in your Plan?

    • philvet says:

      No… of course not all commercial breeders are puppy mills. But right now there’s no way for the public to differentiate between the two. Setting standards and having an accreditation process will allow the great breeders to separate themselves from the mills, and the amateurs.

      Good question about who will fill the need. Perhaps if we’re successful in making breeding dogs a profitable profession, more breeders will want to do it more often, or…. other dog lovers will see the opportunity and consider dog breeding as their new profession. The market abhors a vacuum, and someone will fill that vacuum.

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