puppy mills the Nitty Gritty of a Grissly Business

What is a puppy mill? The HSUS’s definition is: “A puppy mill is an inhumane, commercial dog-breeding facility in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.” This unemotional, rational definition doesn’t adequately describe the horrors that dogs experience while imprisoned in mills–where they’re confined in wire cages, forced to breed repeatedly until exhaustion, continually undernourished, without medical care, and are unsocialized to human touch–except cruelty. When their ability to reproduce saleable puppies ceases, these dogs face inhumane and often tortuous deaths. Buyers want puppies–not older, used dogs–so non-producing mill dog parents rarely have options other than death.

According to the website, www.petsonline.org, another, more descriptive, definition of a puppy mill is: “A puppy mill, or puppy farm, is a large-scale, for-profit, facility that usually operates under substandard conditions concerning the well-being of dogs in their care. The term ‘mill’ was ascribed to these facilities due to the negative connotation of the ‘grinding out’ of their product – in this case puppies – like a wheat mill grinds out wheat.”

While many states are attempting to put protective legislation into place, enforcement is often spotty–due to policing staff shortages, lack of education, or apathy. Many rules are easy to ignore or impossible to administer–especially without the help of the public in the area, whose awareness plays a crucial role in reporting abuses.

Closed societies like the Amish conclaves in Ohio (one of the worst mill states), isolated backwoods shanties in Appalachia (where thick forests and difficult topography block view), remote farms in Arkansas (a state with no laws to protect dogs), and extreme efforts to hide operations (by constructing a building within another “ghost building”–to muffle dog barks and typical outside mill appearance), illustrate the obstacles even the most caring sheriffs face in uncovering these hideous operations.

Thanks to increasing exposure through the media, animal welfare organizations, and celebrity advocates like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, more people are now aware of mills, but often think of mills as the exclusive producers of “lap” dogs–smallish breeds that sell well in pet stores and online. However, as the above story illustrates, mills also produce larger breeds. Mill operators remain flexible and will dispassionately add or replace breeds as breed popularity increases or decreases in social buying trends. They are not loving advocates for a specific breed–they go where the money is. Consequently, although cages the dogs are kept and bred in are barely adequate for any dog, if a larger breed becomes “vogue,” the miller will discard a current breed and begin production of the new fad breed, regardless of needed domicile adjustments. Smaller dogs take up less room though, and therefore allow more quantity to be farmed, more profit made, and are the most common types of dogs victimized by mills.

Petsonline.org continues, “Usually found in urban areas due to the controversial nature of their operations, there are an estimated 4,000 puppy mills in the United States alone, producing more than half a million puppies a year” (these numbers are estimates–mills are notoriously secretive). “Most puppy mill owners sell their dogs wholesale to brokers who, sequentially, sell them primarily to pet stores. Because profit is the ultimate goal of the puppy mill owner, breeding practices are often inferior, and the breeding dogs are kept under the least expensive conditions possible that will keep them alive and reproducing.”

With the advent of the internet, mill producers have found another lucrative market. Internet shoppers rarely research the environment a puppy comes from–they shop for price, breed, and whether the dog has American Kennel Club (AKC) registration papers as a purebred. Because the AKC registers only lineages, and doesn’t make any attempt to test for physical soundness or temperament characteristics (unlike other registries), “papered” mill dogs’ puppies are easily saleable to an uneducated and ignorant public.

Mill puppies are taken from their mothers and littermates at the earliest possible time–usually prior to correct weaning, and certainly weeks before crucial dog-to-dog socialization occurs within the family unit. They’re then shipped to waiting ‘brick-and-mortar’ pet stores (where they’re kept in more cages) or online purchasers. Most arrive sickly, and all are traumatized–which leaves lasting physical ailments and/or emotional scars that inexperienced new owners are hard-pressed to deal with. Buying a mill puppy over the internet or from a pet store often saddles purchasers with burdensome vet bills and lifetime challenges with the dog’s behavior–if indeed, the puppy survives.

When an internet or pet shop buyer takes home a mill puppy, they quickly become emotionally attached–and often as quickly, suffer immense heartbreak when their puppy can’t be saved from the myriad and common illnesses mill dogs arrive with. To increase the human trauma resulting from their puppy’s death, the mourning owner usually has no one to turn to for justice. The owner forfeits the several hundred dollars they’ve paid, and on their own to heal the heartrending pain of the loss of an innocent creature they’ve purchased and fallen in love with. Mill operators are unsentimental and slippery in their business dealings–no refunds or sympathy will be forthcoming. Few state agencies will assist and if the puppy crossed state lines, a morass of legal issues only complicates owner grief.

If the puppy lives and grows to adolescence, behavior issues often ensue, due to multiple traumas in early puppyhood and poor breeding–which leads to “hardwired” phobias and cognitive malfunctions, such as obsessive/compulsive disorder, fear-aggression, etc. Mill dogs with behavior quirks are often abandoned by over-whelmed, resentful, remorseful, and frustrated buyers in local shelters. There the rejected mill dog joins the ranks of homeless mixed breeds, and becomes another statistic in the pet overpopulation crisis. In areas of limited shelter/rescue rehabilitation resources, these woebegone dogs end up euthanized–without ever having a real shot at a quality life.

To be continued. . .

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Sunny Weber

Sunny Weber

Sunny has over 25 years’ experience in pet rescue, humane education, shelter & sanctuary work, service dog training, obedience competition, dog & cat fostering, pet medical care, horse ground training and has authored articles and books in several fields.

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