Bob Baker, Investigator, ASPCA Anti-Cruelty InitiativesApril 18, 2008
April was a great time for an interactive discussion on puppy mills: not only is April Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, but puppy mills had just garnered some much-needed exposure on a special episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Bob Baker, Investigator, ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Initiatives, is a key player in our ongoing efforts to combat the cruelties of puppy mills and large-scale commercial breeding operations. Always willing to help, Baker stopped by the ASPCA Community for two hours to answer your questions.
Can there ever be a law passed that will ban puppy mills?
Unfortunately, legislators are reluctant to pass laws prohibiting businesses from operating. Some states do have laws that attempt to regulate the practices of puppy mills, but these laws are usually enforced by the state departments of agriculture, which are reluctant to penalize the “farmers” who operate many of the puppy mills.
I am new to this, but I just don't understand why puppy mills are legal. Isn't there enough evidence to prove that they are inhumane, and aren't there laws against this type of animal cruelty?
Lindsey, many of these puppy mills are hidden away in rural counties where cruelty to animals is not taken seriously. Since they sell their dogs to the pet stores through middlemen or brokers, or over the Internet, and do not deal directly with the public, they often go undiscovered and unregulated by the authorities.
Hello, I’ve started a petition on trying to ban puppy mills across the U.S., but every state has different laws dealing with animals. I want to know how to get the attention of legislators, including those outside of my own state. I feel like they just see this issue as “not my problem.”
I think you need to point out to legislators that even if their state doesn't have many puppy mills, it doesn't mean that they don't have a puppy mill problem. The fact that there are pet stores in their state selling puppies from puppy mills means that they have a problem with sick dogs being sold to their constituents. Pet stores are merely the outlets for puppy mill puppies.
And none of the states have strong laws to protect dogs from the abuses prevalent in puppy mills. All states could strengthen their laws and could have better enforcement for their existing laws in relation to puppy mills.
Why can’t they prosecute the pet stores as accomplices for selling the puppies that come from the puppy mills? You cannot convince me that these stores do not know where these animals come from, especially boutique breeds. Put the responsibility on the store to know where the animals they are going to sell come from. If we start putting the dealers out of business, the demand for the animals go down and ultimately the breeders lose interest. The laws have to change and have some teeth. Are these ideas unreasonable?
I like your ideas, Laura, but legislators are not willing to penalize the pet store for the conditions of their sources. However, there have been laws passed in many states that do make pet stores responsible for the vet bills incurred by consumers who have purchased sick animals from them. These are commonly referred to as “Lemon Laws.” There are other laws that do regulate the care of the puppies once they arrive at the pet store. And there have been attempts to ban the sale of puppies in pet stores.
I think your idea might have merit in the form of a civil suit against pet stores for buying from puppy mills. I know that a large class action suit in the early 1990s helped close down 18 pet stores in California that sold puppy mill puppies.
Hi Bob, Janet here with Rescue Alliance, a national 501c3 rescue. I'm in Ohio, very close to Holmes County, where the majority of the puppy mills are. My question: How do I maintain a good relationship with a miller who is obviously cruel?
I sometimes get phone calls directly from the millers themselves to do pickups of the unwanted breeder dogs and/or sick puppies they have. We've gone into some horrid kennels to do this. Some folks ask us why we don’t turn these millers in for abuse and/or bad conditionsbut the reality is that if we do that, then they won't surrender dogs to us anymore and the local authorities JUST WON'T DO A THING. Any suggestions for me?
Thanks for your efforts in rescuing these dogs, Janet. Rescues across the country have the same problem you ask about. If the local authorities won't act on your complaints, then it would not be beneficial to report them. Some rescues take photographs of the sick dogs they rescue from the mills and give them to the media, along with vet reports detailing the problems with the dogs, without naming specific kennels. News stories about the conditions of the dogs living in the mills sometimes will help local authorities to take complaints more seriously. Also, stories are helpful in gaining passage of much-needed laws to regulate these commercial breeders. It is important to build up a relationship with the authorities to convince them of the reliability of what you are telling them and, at the same time, to help you to gain trust in them so that if you do give them specific names, you know that they won't reveal their sources.
Unfortunately, I don't have an easy answer. Sometimes it takes years to build up a trusting relationship with the authorities. But I would encourage you to attempt to direct public attention to the problem through the media. Thanks again for your wonderful work. I work with several rescues, and I admire you so much for what you do to help these poor animals. It can be so sad at times doing what you do, but what great rewards you have in placing these animals into loving homes after living a lifetime in such miserable conditions. Thank you.
Have you ever seen a puppy mill where the owners were treating the dogs right and humanely? Where every dog was fed properly, clean, had all their shots, etc.? And after a bust, how do you go about keeping the breeder from starting up again after some time passes?
One rarely ever finds a commercial breeder raising dogs for pet stores that treats the dogs “right and humanely.” Even if the kennel is clean and provides adequate shelter, the dogs are still living in cages on wire floors for their entire lives and receive no human attention or socialization. The best way to stop puppy mill breeders and keep them out of business is to make it unprofitable. We try to educate the public about where pet store puppies come from. If people would stop buying dogs at pet stores, the market for puppy mill puppies would dry up and puppy mills would be forced to go out of business.
Cigarettes in the U.S. carry lots of additional taxes. These taxes are used to offset increased health care costs. Could we pass legislation to put a steep tax on puppy stores? This tax would be distributed to the shelters and breed rescue groups that have to deal with the problem of pet overpopulation later.
American Eskimo Dog
Wonderful idea, but it is very difficult to gain passage of such lawsthere actually have been attempts in the past. Pennsylvania’s state dog license program uses its fees to pay for animal control and to fund the inspection and regulation of large-scale dog breeders and puppy mills. I think it could be a model for other states.
What about other pet store animals, like cats? Are they from mills, too?
I have come across “cat mills,” Jason, but they are not as prevalent as puppy mills. Cats do not do well in confinement-type colonies. They are more susceptible to diseases, and most kitten mills don't stay in business very long due to the high mortality rate.
Dogs, however, can survive in squalid conditions and the puppy millers know that, so they have little incentive to improve conditions for their dogs. Greed is what drives these people, and if it doesn't improve their profit margins they see no need to improve the living conditions of their animals.
It seems to be profit only that drives these depraved people to go into this line of work. If there could be legislation passed to make it so expensive for these pet stores to be licensed to sell puppies in the first place, then maybe they would stop selling dogs. Take the profit out of it, and watch these awful puppy mills disappear like a dog food bowl filled with filet mignon!
Mary, I wish we could get pet stores to stop selling dogs. That would be the obvious answer. Unfortunately, most legislators believe this to be unconstitutional. However, there have been some good laws passed to regulate pet stores and how they care for their animals, including laws that force them to pay veterinary costs for the sick puppies they sell. Of course, this is merely treating the symptom and not the problem. We are attempting to make consumers aware of where these pet store puppies come from so that they will stop buying puppies from pet stores. This is the ultimate solution.
Which public officials should we bombard with emails regarding puppy mills and animal abusers? I want to see a law passed to change cruelty charges from misdemeanors to first-degree felonies, starting with first-time offenders: no exceptions. The fine and slap on the hand just isn't cutting it anymore. They're getting away with it, and they just keep doing it.
I would start with your state-level legislators. I also encourage you to write to your governor. Governors are responsible for the enforcement of existing laws, so you should request that your governor do all in his or her power to strengthen enforcement. Governors also influence legislation, so your letter to the governor could accomplish two things: better enforcement of current laws, and an appeal for stronger laws.
I'm doing a research paper about puppy mills. What I want it to say is that if you buy a puppy from a puppy mill, you are supporting a type of animal cruelty. Can you tell me something about the proper breeding of dogs, so I can contrast it to the really cold truth about puppy mills and why they are bad? Thanks a bunch.
Maggie, one of the biggest differences between a good breeder and a puppy mill breeder is that a puppy mill breeder breeds their female dogs at their first heat and every heat thereafter, whereas a responsible breeder waits until the second or third heat before breeding, and then will breed only every other heat. And responsible breeders routinely have their dogs examined by a veterinarian. Dogs in puppy mills rarely receive veterinary care. Good breeders will provide a lot of care and personal attention and socialization, but puppy mill dogs are kept in tiny cages their whole lives with no opportunity for exercise or socialization with humans. The differences all come down to raising a dog as a loving pet versus as a cash crop. I hope this helps.
I live in North Carolina, where there is a huge need to end puppy mills, greatly increase spay/neuter and put a stop to dog fighting! I recently joined a group of hardworking volunteers to raise money and awareness for animal protection. We are prepared to do whatever it takes! We are very interested in getting laws passed to put puppy mills out of business, as well as hopefully get the spay/neuter law passed in North Carolina. Our state has a terrible record of animal neglect and abuse, and this will not be an easy task. Where do you suggest we start?
Linda, I would attempt to find out what organizations have been successful in the past in gaining passage of animal legislation in your state. Check with local humane societies and animal control agencies to determine which group has a history of working on animal legislation. Start with that group, and then start building a network or coalition of groups across the state that share your interests.
I would also contact my local legislator and find out what legislator in the state has been supportive of animal welfare legislation. I would then meet with that legislator and find out what your group needs to be doing and how best you can assist the animal-friendly legislators in your state to gain passage of bills. Once you have selected an issue and have a legislator willing to introduce a bill addressing it, then you need to go to the newspapers, radio stations and television stations across the state to gain publicity for your efforts.
As you proceed and need further advice, please feel free to contact me at Rpatrickbaker@aol.com. Good luck in your efforts.
Who really inspects these puppy mills and allows this horror to go on? Are these people paid off not to report any wrong-doing? Shouldn't an organization that is truly dedicated to the welfare of animals do the inspections? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why is the government not stopping it?
Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspect these kennels. Unfortunately, this is a low priority to them, and they attempt to “educate” the operators instead of prosecuting them. Their regulations are extremely lax and in no way ensure humane treatment to the dogs living in these establishments.
Has the ASPCA done any work to counter the appeal/attraction of buying a puppy from a pet store?
We have been working with numerous media sources to help educate consumers about the source of pet store dogs. In these interviews, I always try to point out that contrary to what consumers think, they are not getting a high-quality dog from a pet store. While they think they are getting another Rin Tin Tin or Lassie when they shell out $1,000-2,000 for a puppy in a pet store, they are actually getting a dog with a high likelihood of health problems, genetic deformities and behavioral problems.
I agree we need to be more aggressive in campaigns against the appeal of buying from a pet store. We are going to be meeting with representatives from humane groups across the country to develop a national strategy to discourage people from buying a dog from a pet store. We have to educate people that every time they purchase a pet store puppy, they are contributing to the cruelty of puppy mills and are sentencing a breeding animal to a lifetime of misery in a puppy mill.
Would there be better control over these horrific puppy mills if there were better legislation to control these types of breeders? We have the FDA for food and drugs, so why not a federal bureau to govern what happens to our domestic pet companions? Also, do you think that the veterinarians are doing their part to report abuse and neglect that they see, especially in counties where puppy mills are prevalent?
There is a federal law to protect dogs in puppy mills: it is the Animal Welfare Act, and it is enforced by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. In reality, the USDA has not vigorously enforced this Act and has too few inspectors on the job. Most state laws regulating puppy mills are also supposed to be enforced by state departments of agriculture. But these departments of agriculture often side with the puppy millers because many of the puppy mills are operated by “farmers.” The departments of agriculture believe their primary purpose is to help the farmers, so they turn a blind eye to the deplorable conditions at puppy mills.
There are many veterinarians who do report abuse. Unfortunately, many veterinary organizations defend the practices at puppy millsas well as other forms of abusedue to conflicts of interest. A number of vets have puppy millers as clients and don't want to lose the money they make off these clients.
What can I do in my community to stop puppy mills?
The most important thing is to make as many people as you can aware of where pet store puppies come from. When people stop buying dogs from pet stores, the puppy mills won't have any place to sell their puppies and they will go out of business.
Then I would encourage you to write your governor and ask for better enforcement of laws protecting animals and for legislation to better regulate large commercial breeders that sell dogs to pet stores.
Please check out ASPCA.org for other things you can do to help stop puppy mills.
Why not stage protests in front of stores that buy from puppy mills? Stores like that don't like to get bad press.
Such protests certainly raise awareness of the problem and can have a significant impact. There is a website dedicated to this: petstorecruelty.org.
As a practicing veterinarian, I am endlessly frustrated with the reluctance of my colleagues to speak out against wholesale dog breeding. I believe a campaign to educate veterinarians (yes, many are unaware) AND create a level of confidence in them to report sick animals to proper authorities would be helpful. Vets can put the fear of god into local retail pet shopsand into the breedersIF we put our minds to it.
Thanks for your interest and your courage, Lorna. If more veterinarians would do this, there would be enough complaints on file to help the authorities take action against these pet stores who deal in puppy mill puppies.
Many years ago, a committee in the California Legislature contacted veterinarians across the state to ask if they had instances of treating sick animals from pet stores. Due to the large number of responses, the Legislature was able to pass several laws regulating pet stores. The resultant publicity forced the largest pet store chain in the country to close all 18 of their California shops.
Complaints from veterinarians are so important in addressing this issue. I would certainly encourage you to do everything possible to persuade your colleagues to also become involved, and to make sure their clients know to whom to report these instances of sick puppies from pet stores. Possibly a letter to one of your veterinary journals would be helpfulI think it would be important to hear this request from a fellow veterinarian. Thanks again for your willingness to become involved.
Don't buy ANYTHING from a pet store that uses puppy mills, and tell the manager why you will not spend your dollars there. Urge your friends to do the same until the store stops selling mill animals.
I spend over $2,000 a year on food, litter and toys for my five cats. That's a lot of money. If we all stopped buying from stores that sell animals from mills, they'd go out of business. Vote with your dollars. Hit them where it hurtsthe bottom line.
This is a great idea, Cynthia. Many of the larger pet store chains don't sell puppies and kittens and do very well financially. Pet stores don't need to sell puppies. Once they realize that their overall sales will go down if they continue to sell puppies, they will be forced to reevaluate this practice.
When are the laws regulating puppy mills going to be changed? The USDA allows dogs six inches to move in their cages; this alone is horrendous. Then having to live on wire makes their nails grow into their padssome come out of those cages and cannot even walk! The whole industry should be banned. How much longer will this continue to go on? I pray it will stop in my lifetime, and I'm 60 years old, so I'm praying hard.
Dear Anne, we need an amendment to the current Animal Welfare Act, which currently states that the USDA must establish minimum standards for wholesale breeders of dogs. The word “minimum” needs to be deleted. The USDA uses that one word to justify not strengthening their regulations. The ASPCA is also working on better state laws to protect the dogs in these establishments.
I understand your frustrations. I have been investigating puppy mills since 1980. Things have improved in some states, but we need to do so much more. Thanks for your prayers on this cause.
I read that in Pennsylvania, farmers are not only allowed to kill dogs when they’ve outlived their usefulness, but that they then can fertilize their fields with the remains. Can we at least work to stop this? I loathe the puppy mills and would love to see them stopped, but in the meantime, I certainly don't want to eat any produce that was fertilized with these poor creatures’ remains.
Sharon, there will soon be legislation introduced in Pennsylvania that will prohibit puppy millers there from shooting their dogs. It is a comprehensive piece of legislation banning many of the worst practices commonly seen in puppy mills.
[Editor’s notethe bill Bob refers to was introduced as PA House Bill 2525. This bill addresses the treatment of dogs only while they are alive. Once deceased, they fall under the purview of dead animal disposal laws. We are not aware of any Pennsylvania laws or regulations prohibiting the composting of dead animals.]
How are puppy sales/regulations handled in other countries? I've traveled in Central Europe and can't remember seeing a single puppy store.
American Eskimo Dog
I think most people in other countries are reluctant to pay the high prices that pet stores charge for puppies, so there is no incentive for people to mass produce dogs for European consumers. Interestingly, many Eastern European countries are now exporting puppies to the U.S., where disreputable middlemen are selling the dogs over the Internet. We have had many complaints about sick dogs bought over the Internet who originated from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.
There has been an amendment to the U.S. Farm Bill to prohibit the importation of dogs younger than six months of age for the purposes of resale. We are hoping this amendment will pass. [Editor’s noteit did!]
If we are telling everyone to stay away from dogs in pet stores, what happens to the dogs who are already there? What will happen to all the dogs in the disgusting puppy mills if nobody goes to pet stores anymore? I'm thinking that the pet store dogs will end up in shelters if these places go out of business, but will the dogs in the puppy mills end up sacrificing their lives to pave the way for a better future?
The puppies in pet stores who don't sell are gradually reduced in price until they finally sell. It is rare that one of these puppies will end up in a shelter. When it becomes uneconomical for pet stores to sell puppies, they will stop selling them; the puppy mills will lose business and eventually will go out of business. As far as the breeding dogs in the puppy mills that go out of business, I work with many rescue organizations that take in these older dogs and place them in loving homes.
In the early 1990s, Docktor Pet Centers (300 pet stores across the country) went out of business due to the large number of complaints against them for selling sick puppy mill puppies. Their dogs were all sold by drastic price reductions, and dogs did not end up in shelters.
Do all puppy millers keep their animals in cages? I have neighbors who have a zillion dogs in their yard. Could they be a puppy mill? I picture a mill to have lines of cages stacked on top of each other. If they aren't a mill, aren’t there laws that limit the amount of pets one person can have?
Billie, most counties have zoning laws that might address the legality of your neighbor’s quantity of animals. I would start by asking your county officials.
However, this person might be a backyard breeder, a hoarder, or just an animal lover! Are the animals in poor condition? Do they seem neglected or unhealthy? Are they always tethered or left outside in extreme weather? If you suspect cruelty, then I would report it to the local humane society or animal control agency. These organizations should also be familiar with local zoning ordinances.
If you suspect someone is running a puppy mill and there is neglect and abuse, whom should you contact?
I would start with your local humane society and animal control agency. The individual can also be reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And many states also regulate large commercial breeders, so you could also check with your state’s department of agriculture. If you still can't get anyone to investigate, please contact the ASPCA and we will try to assist you.
Hi Bob, we are in full support of what you do every day. My wife and I have had the honor of living with two former puppy mill breeding dogs, Mia and Nellie. I put together a documentary about them entitled “I'm Alive For The Very First Time,” which is available for viewing at PetStoreTruth.com. There are a number of other puppy mill videos linked there as well. We set up this site to be a central location for people to view these videos and become educated about pet stores and puppy mills. We tell everyone to NEVER BUY A PUPPY FROM A PET STORE. If you stop the demand (purchasing from these stores), you will end the supply (millers will have no one to sell to). Please keep up the good work, and we'll continue to spread the message.
What a great website! Thanks for all you do.