Puppy Mills: Pet Stores' Big Secret

The real question families should ask this holiday season isn’t how much that doggie in the window costs, but rather what terrible ordeals did that dog go through before arriving there?

According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), many of the dogs you see in pet stores today have been mistreated throughout their lives. Pet stores often rely on large breeding facilities known as puppy mills where the only goal is to make the most bang for their buck, even at the expense of the dogs’ well being. Puppies in these facilities often contract respiratory infections, get intestinal parasites and pick up ticks and fleas, not to mention the prevalence of heart and kidney diseases.

Recently, legislation has passed in several states to crack down on these facilities, but for the time being, puppy mills are legal everywhere in the U.S. and operate with little to no federal oversight. Worse still, puppy mills and pet stores have been known to mislead customers by masquerading as wholesome, reputable breeders in advertising. If anything, this has become more common as shoppers purchase pets through the Internet.

So what really goes on in these places?

While in puppy mills, dogs are not groomed and do not get the chance to run around and exercise. Most are cooped up in overcrowded cages to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be cleaned in the mill. The only dogs that do get to go outside are breeder dogs, many of whom are forced to spend their entire lives outside without adequate shelter. The females, on the other hand, are “bred at every opportunity,” until they can no longer reproduce, at which point they are usually killed.

Take the example of a small family of three basset hounds known simply as Baby, Mama and Grandma Basset. The hounds lived in squalor at a breeding center in South Dakota, forced to drink dirty water out of mud-caked bowls, living out their lives in small, poorly-maintained cages. Then, in 2003, these three dogs were rescued by the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), a non-profit, after the owner of the breeding center agreed to let them go (largely because the health of all three was already declining). These three dogs got out in time, but many of their peers weren’t so lucky.