Puppy Mills: People and Their Puppies Pay the Ultimate Price

Twice during the last month, I’ve experienced feelings of anger while in the midst of euthanizing one of my patients.  Normally I feel mostly sadness, often combined with an element of relief knowing that suffering is gently and humanely coming to an end.  Anger is an unusual visitor, but this emotion is sure to surface whenever I euthanize the innocent victim of a puppy mill (puppy mills are large scale breeding operations that produce puppies for profit with little or no attention paid to breed related inherited diseases).  I feel angered when confronted with a sweet little life, cut way too short and clients left confused, bereft, and devastated by the untimely loss of their beloved puppy. Such was the case with Max and Chloe and the people who cared for them. 

Max, was an insanely sweet and adorable Boston Terrier.  Once an effervescent, bubbly Boston, this nine-month-old pup had become listless- fatigued by the exertion of breathing.  You see, Max was born with an abnormally narrowed windpipe (imagine you or me trying to breathe through a straw).  My client Ed recalled thinking that his new pup’s breathing seemed abnormally noisy when he picked him up from the airport. He was shipped to California at 10 weeks of age from a breeder in Missouri.  Ed had been looking for a Boston Terrier and fell in love with Max the moment he saw his photo online.  He did not feel the need to visit the kennel where Max was born because he was so reassured by the emails and telephone conversations he and the breeder had exchanged.  She seemed to provide all the right answers to Ed’s questions.  Max’s health was guaranteed- any problems and Max could be returned, no questions asked. 

Other than the extra noise associated with Max’s breathing (not uncommon in a smoosh-faced breed such as a Boston Terrier), Ed thought he had a normal puppy on his hands.  It was only as Max’s body grew in relation to his small windpipe that he developed labored breathing, eventually needing to utilize almost every ounce of energy struggling simply to breathe. Ed was devastated by the news that we had no way to fix this problem.  With his own heart breaking, he held his sweet little Max tightly as I injected the euthanasia solution.  

Chloe, an eleven-month-old Cocker Spaniel, was born with defective kidneys.  Joe and Cindy first laid eyes on Chloe when they happened to pass through a shopping center pet store on their way to the movie theatre.  They never made it to the movies that afternoon- they bought a puppy instead! They simply couldn’t resist the charms of the little blonde puppy with the big brown eyes.  Joe and Cindy noticed that Chloe drank lots of water, and she could never be fully housetrained. A few months later, when she began vomiting and refusing her food, kidney failure was diagnosed.  Ultrasound revealed that both of Chloe’s kidneys were small and malformed- clearly a birth defect.  The once vigorous playful puppy gradually had become profoundly weak and lethargic.  Unfortunately, we had no reasonable way of creating long-term improvement for Chloe.  Heartbroken, Joe and Cindy gently stroked and loved their little girl as I ended her life. 

Puppy mills stay in business by preying on people who are willing to buy a puppy without doing their research.  These puppy purchasers simply don’t know better or allow their emotions to override their sensibilities.  They are vulnerable to the precious face in the online photo or the adorable puppy in the pet store window (pet stores are notorious for purchasing from puppy mills).  Puppy mill breeders often “seal the deal” by guaranteeing their puppies’ health, knowing full well how emotionally traumatic and near impossible it is for most people to “return a pup” once deep attachment occurs (deep attachment typically requires less than five minutes!).   

My new year’s wish is that my veterinary colleagues and I will see far fewer victims of puppy mills in 2010.  You can help my spreading word to people you know who are interested in purchasing a purebred or “designer hybrid” pup.  Educate them about the dangers of purchasing a puppy online, sight (and site) unseen.  Encourage them to avoid the impulsive pet store purchase.  By buying online or from a pet shop, they may be risking losing their beloved new family member at much too young an age, or inadvertently committing the next 10-15 years of their lives to taking care of an inherently unhealthy product of a puppy mill.  One less purchase from puppy mills, even indirectly is one step closer to their eradication.  Please stay tuned.  In my next blog, I will teach you how to recognize the telltale signs of a conscientious breeder. 

Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

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24 Responses to “Puppy Mills: People and Their Puppies Pay the Ultimate Price”

  1. […] we are in agreement that pet store and site unseen online purchases are not good options- see http://speakingforspot.com/blog/?p=710.  If you are open to adopting an adult dog, let the staff of your local shelter or humane society […]

  2. Mary LaHay says:

    Dr. Kay, thank you for this important commentary. I feel compelled to address a couple of the comments above. One blogger stated that being USDA licensed means “that animals are raised in clean environments and not treated badly.” Oh, how I wish that were true. Sadly, being USDA licensed does not guarantee this. I’ve been researching Iowa’s USDA-licensed breeders for a few years. Analysis of thousands of USDA inspection reports reveal that more than 59% of breeders have been cited for violations to the Animal Welfare Act; violations such as fighting to the death among cage mates, gunshot as a routine form of euthanasia, dogs living without shelter from our frigid winters and scorching summers. The list goes on and on. We have more than 400 USDA-licensed breeders in our state. Data shows that there are more than 23,000 adult breeding dogs trapped in them right now. This has been going on for years. We have to stop believing that public education is the key. It is not. Holding the USDA accountable is what is needed. Holding state agencies accountable for the enforcement and prosecution of animal welfare crimes is what is needed. Better animal-welfare laws are needed. This problem must be addressed legislatively. Get the book “Get Political for Animals and Win the Laws They Need” by Julie Lewin (http://www.nifaa.org/manual.html) and get to work on a grassroots effort in your state. Hard work, but oh so worth it. Contact me for advice at http://www.iowavca.org
    I’d also caution against assuming that being an AKC breeder is a guarantee of a good breeder. Some of the Iowa USDA-licensed breeders I’ve researched and found to have been cited for significant violations sell AKC registered pups.

  3. Lisa Hudson says:

    I just wonder if the same people that are aware of the horrors of puppy mills, which in this day and age is everyone – are the same people with a mink coat in their closets… I think there are people that just want what they want and do not care about what was sacrificed to get it. The other issue is, getting a puppy from a pet store (puppy mill) same thing, is easier then adopting and rescuing a dog – all you need is cash, they dont care what kind of home or place the dog is going to. Perhaps if they did home checks, vet checks and more on the people just laying out cash for a dog, it would add another step for these customers who just dont care about ethics and morals. Also, just dont buy food or items from stores that sell puppies and kittens.

  4. Linda Orr says:

    This article made me cry. I have been a rottweiler breeder for over 20 years now and I also have my own rescue group, Paws and Tails Rescue.
    I work for a local Vet and I see the same things, I wish the government would work more on closing Puppy Mills than working on banning breeds.

  5. Melissa Marshall says:

    Over 100,000 animals a day are euthanized due to overpopulation. Consider adopting an animal at your local shelter or pound. These dogs have often been through a lot, but with loving patience, I promise you will have the most loving pet you have ever had. Puppy Mill dogs not only end up with health issues but they end up in shelters due to over breeding!!! I have four rescues (including one pit bull and one pit / lab mix I inherited when she was abandoned in the back yard of a lease house at two weeks. Without them my life it would not be complete!!! Think about adopting not shopping, and if you do just want that specific breed (some shelters will put u on a list for specifics), then please please be careful to make sure your breeder has the highest ethical standards!

  6. Anne Craig says:

    You are now included on my facebook. Thank you.
    I read this with tears as I just lost my Andy November 3rd. I purchased Andy (dachshund) from a pet store in the mall and for seven years we fought one health issue after another. He had severe allergies that required heavy steriod use to control. He developed diabetes at age five and was on insulin injections for two years. Ultimately he died of aspiration pnemonia at seven. We held him as he took his last breath. There is a huge hole in my heart and still very few days that I am not in tears. I am ready to wage war against puppy mills and breeders. I will spend the rest of my life making sure people know the truth.

  7. Catherine McGovern says:

    This was such an important article that I hope gets to many of the people who need to know the plight of puppy-mill pups. A client at the clinic where I worked was interested in a Bichon for sale at a local pet store. I was so happy she came to inquire about the breed before she purchased the dog. I cautioned her against it, and happily, she welcomed my advice. I suggested she do some on-line research to learn if this was a good breed for her family. Additionally, I was able to give her the name of a local member of a Bichon rescue group, learning later that she had followed up.

    I also will not buy from pet stores that sell puppies. One such store in Pensacola asked our Greyhound adoption group to come there for Meet and Greets, but we, of course, declined.

  8. Erin Piccoli says:

    I am seventeen months into caring for a puppy mill dog with cancer. My one female American Eskimo was diagnosed with Lymphoma at age 3 and has been in chemo treatment since. We are on our 3rd. remission but know time is running out. Her litter mate sister, has had a knee replacement, and needs the other one done also, and has had a weight problem from day one. We did not know at the time of purchase they were puppy mill dogs but discovered it after, of course we were already in love with them! I have since learned the kennel I got them from has shut down. I am sickened by these places and if they only knew of the pain, sorrow and money they cost us that adore our dogs maybe they would have a heart and quit this business!

  9. Johnna says:

    I loved this article. So many people don’t see anything wrong with the practice of “back yard breeding” or “puppy mills”. Is it ok if I republish your thoughts on our website? I would of course give the proper site and author.

    This type of education is critical and Dr. Kay is a gifted writer.

    Thanks for your response.

  10. Obedience Training For Dogs…

    Great article….

  11. Kathie says:

    About two years ago our major local paper did a well-intentioned article promoting all of the brick and mortar pet stores in our county – highlighting services they offer and products they sell. Unfortunately one of the stores also sells puppies and has for years. It outraged me that the owner described the “loving breeders” who cared so much about their dogs – not a puppy mill – a “loving family” in Oregon – who by the way doesn’t mind shipping young puppies to California to go who knows where. There is an awful lot of public education to be done to counteract the double talk and “right phrases” used by pet stores and backyard breeders. Like anything, due diligence takes time – please do your due diligence before adding any living being to your family.

  12. The physical abnormalities in puppy mill dogs are also often accompanied by behavioral problems as well, fear being a major issue for many of these dogs who receive inappropriate or inadequate socialization. Like many medical issues the damage done due to inappropriate socialization may also be irreparable.

  13. I am happy to see a well written article by a Veterinarian. I have been doing all I can to educate people regarding the best ways to get a new dog for years. I have come to see that most people do know better now, that buying from either a brick and mortar or internet puppy store you are buying commercially bred dogs. I am losing patience and sympathy for the people that insist on getting their dogs from these sources.

    The backyard breeders are harder to weed out. They range from someone who believes the old myth that a bitch should be bred once before spaying to the person who enjoys the puppies and extra income without a care or concern about whether the dogs they breed are to the standard, important because it is what causes a person to choose a breed or for health through pedigree study and related health testing. USDA breeders can be either a large scale operation or a backyard breeder, and all that that means is that animals are raised in clean environments and not treated badly. But it does not mean the animals are
    loved, played with, socialized in a family environment as a family pet should be. And because dogs are companion animals, sterile kennel setups are not happy places to spend a lifetime in.

    I urge people to start with the AKC website and breed organizations that are members of AKC when they want to buy a purebred puppy or older dog. Don’t overlook rescue organizations if rescuing is in your heart. “Designer” breeds are mixed breed dogs. Period. They have always been around and you can find them of all ages in the shelters.

  14. Thank you for sharing this information, Dr. Kay. It can never be told too often, especially when there’s so much heartache involved. As you said, the puppy mill owners prey on people’s emotions, knowing how hard it is to turn away from those precious puppies in the pet shops. The only solution is to not frequent the shops at all. The supply/demand argument is so true. There will be puppy mills as long as there are gullible, impulsive puppy buyers. The rescues and no-kill shelters can only help so much. As usual, it’s the innocent ones–puppies and ignorant people–who suffer from the greedy, irresponsible breeders.

  15. Clodagh says:

    I have heard this story over and over from people. Beside educating people on puppy mills and how to find a reputable breed. Encourage people to adopt from shelters. There are thousands of mixed breed and some pure-breed dogs and puppies that need home.

    Mix breed should be particularly encourage if people are looking for health pets. Mixed breed dogs are generally healthier than pure breed dogs.

    To quote or at least paraphase Temple Grandon “As we breed for specific trait we reinforce not only the traits we desire, but also the traits we do not” -Animals in Translation-

  16. Carolyn M says:

    You know, I just wish the US would shut down/ban puppy mills. Evidently that is just too politically loaded to be accomplished. But really, it is ridiculous when you think of the misery they spread, to the animals raised in such conditions and the people that love them.

    I live in Belize and a lot of dogs are brought in from the US; many are, I assume puppy mill dogs. Most dogs are not neutered here; right now there are a lot of pit bulls and GSD. A friend adopted a lab puppy that had no end of health problems and behavioral issues in her short, uncomfortable life. Although they raised her with loving care and concern, she had a very unstable personality and could not be relied upon around people …. even familiar ones.

    We adopted our small dog from the streets of Belize City after she’d been turned into a vet’s office. We’ve been told she’s a Havanese or maybe a malti-poo. She has a heart defect, terrible teeth, is pigeon-toed, luxating patellas and a blue eye. I expect there’s “puppy mill” or “backyard breeder” in her lineage somewhere.

    One problem with telling people not to buy puppies from a pet shop, or on line, is that they believe their purchase will at least make the difference to this one puppy’s life, which of course it will. That’s a powerful incentive and it can be pretty hard to walk past a small cute helpless animal and leave it to an uncertain future.

  17. I’ll add that reading Sarah’s post reminded me of the head of a municipal shelter I once interviewed. Disgusted by the number of animals they were having to euthanize, he told me if people came in saying they just let their dog have “one litter to allow their children to see the miracle of birth,” he would invite them back on Friday, which was Kill Day, so they could also witness the horror of death.

  18. This angers and profoundly saddens me as well. I live in “Puppy Mill Central,” we’re from Kansas, but moved to Arkansas nearly 3 years ago, which is still in the top 5 states for puppy mill production. I’ve seen puppy mills first hand, and I’ve also been to shelters on “Kill Day,” the day shelters designate for getting rid of the excess dogs they can no longer house. It angers me because people who are educated about these horrible operations still buy from them. You say in your post, “Puppy mills stay in business by preying on people who are willing to buy a puppy without doing their research.” When I read that, I thought it was letting the buyers off way too easy. I’ve found while trying to educate people that it is this statement that more often holds true for the people complicit in keeping these operations in business: “they allow their emotions to override their sensibilities.” In the early 1980s when I bought 2 Maltese from a horrible backyard breeder, the problem wasn’t well known. By the late 1990s when I rescued my first Doxie and wrote an investigative piece, Disposable Pets (http://www.writeforyou.biz/Disposable-Pets.htm) it was becoming known, but I think the general public could still be excused for ignorance. Today, the puppy mill buying public would have to literally live in a bubble not to know the problem of puppy mills and the terrible conditions from which these dogs come. My neighbors in KC was a perfect example. Even after hearing my first hand accounts of the conditions in which puppy mill dogs are raised and reading my article, they continued to buy puppies from pet stores. They simply let the moment override them and didn’t see where “buying 1 dog” made them complicit in keeping a puppy mill operation going. Ditto for these people who buy on the Internet. If they are looking for dogs, they surely have run across rescues – and there are many great breed specific rescues out there – but I think there are just some people who will never get over the idea of getting a dog “second hand.” No, I think for the most part, the education has been done, but I don’t know how we change these people’s hearts.

  19. Jill Morstad says:

    Writing from the heart of puppy mill country, where stories like Max’s are all too common. Dr. Kay is right to suggest that until we address demand, we won’t affect supply….it’s any economy of cruelty and consumer indifference to the larger effects their impulse purchase is having on the pet industry.

    I think it was Alfred North who said that asking which has more impact (supply or demand) is like asking which blade of the scissors does the cutting.

  20. Thanks so much for writing about this, Dr. Kay. I wanted to echo Vivienne and also to mention that many shelters and rescues are now receiving large numbers of puppies and adult dogs due to law enforcement raids and closures of mills. My colleague and I offer a DVD, Adopting a Puppy Mill Dog, to walk new adopters through preparing and acclimating dogs from mills into their homes. Many adopters need a lot of support and instruction to deal with socialization, housetraining, and other issues. Folks can check it out at http://www.missiondog.com
    Thanks again!

  21. Diane Rich says:

    As trainers we can all do our best to caution prospective puppy buyers with purchasing dogs online. One of the red flags for puppy shopping is if
    the “kennel” with the cutsie-wootsie name has dogs year around to sell, RUN don’t walk away from that site. Same with “backyard breeders.”
    Also, when these dog factories advertise multiple breeds for sale, RUN don’t walk from that site. The designer breed sellers are becoming a cottage industry.

    Reputable breeders usually have a waiting list for their dogs and do not need to advertise. The wait list can make impatient puppy buyers make impulsive buying decisions. The average dog buyer who has learned to steer clear of pet store dogs has turned to the internet to shop believing they are are conversing with a reputable breeder. These slick used car sales people know how to sell and say all the right things.

    As trainers and Vets, maybe there is a way to unify our efforts and create some sort of national awareness that offers red flags to puppy buyers?

  22. The health problems associated with puppy mills are truly heartbreaking and your post about this brought me to tears. As a dog trainer and dog behavior consultant, I also see the behavioral results of this sort of breeding operation all too often, and that too is heartbreaking for unsuspecting souls who falll for a sweet face only to discover profound shyness and/or reactivity. The dog that should have given a life time of joy and companionship and of course received the same, now is a beloved but seriously flawed family member who requires management and training to varying degrees for a life time.

    I look forward to your next blog on finding responsible breeders; they are out there and they should be commended and supported for bringing puppies into the world who are physically and behaviorally sound and well socialized from the moment they enter this world. I have one of those dogs and he is the light of my life. I also had the honor of helping raise a litter of puppies that came into a local rescue with their mother and every single one of those nine puppies has grown to be an awesome and lovely dog…they are turning one this February and we still have contact with seven of them. Their first birthday party should be a blast. Their momma will bet there too.

  23. Here! Here! I go one-step further…… I do not buy ANYTHING from pet stores that sell puppies!

  24. Sarah says:

    Nancy, I hope you include all the backyard “puppy mills” in this, and/or talk about backyard breeders, as well. In my experience, I see so many people who are breeding their dogs for profit, especially the mixed-breed “designer” dogs and selling them. Most of the time we see these pups come in with their new owners at 6 weeks of age — way too young to be away from mom, and certainly too young to be out in public without shots prior to 8 weeks. Folks, please, please, please spay and nueter your animals, and don’t consider backyard breeding. And, your bitch will never miss not being a “mom.” Being a “mom” will not necessarily make her a better dog. Be responsible to the world which is filled with too many unwanted animals; don’t breed more. I love the bumper sticker that says, “if you can’t feed them, don’t breed them.” Thanks!