Many years ago a new client came to see me with his ill pet. I examined and successfully treated his dog. This new client, whom I later learned was the owner of a popular Chicago pet store, was so impressed with my skills he asked me if I would help him reduce the spread of contagious and parasitic diseases within his pet store. I said, "It would be my pleasure to be your advisor."
Over the next three weeks, I saw over 30 very young, tiny puppies with a variety of illnesses ranging from parasitism and malnutrition to severe congenital defects, like hydrocephalus (fluid accumulating around the brain) and hepatic portosystemic shunts (abnormal placement of blood vessels in the liver). My new clients were pet-loving people who just fell in love with a cute and playful puppy. Within days of purchase, many of these puppies lost their appetites and energetic personalities. These lifeless puppies required intravenous fluids, glucose therapy, antibiotics and extensive diagnostic testing. Instead of telling my new clients what an adorable puppy they had, I was discussing life-threatening illnesses with them. Many tears were shed when I told some owners that their pet suffered from a congenital defect that would require life-long medical management. Some clients were so frustrated and upset that they returned the pet to the puppy store.
My relationship with this pet store owner became very tense and uncomfortable. I was not happy with the general health of his puppies. Despite his strong declaration that these puppies were from reputable breeders, I knew in my heart that no reputable breeder would be breeding these unthrifty puppies and selling them to a pet store. In addition, he started asking me to dispense antibiotics for upper respiratory diseases and deworming medication for pets that I had not seen. I told him that I would only dispense medication to pets that I have physically examined.
I soon felt that my association with this pet store owner was like dancing with the devil. It went against everything I believed in: that only healthy, good-natured and the "best of the breed" dogs should be bred by quality breeders and sold to responsible individuals. When I initially agreed to collaborate with him my goal was to educate him on how to operate a store that had the pet's best interest in mind. But, I quickly discovered that this was not his goal for me. I found myself in a very uncomfortable position. I told him I no longer wished to be a part of his shenanigans. Even though I felt terrible abandoning future ill puppies, I could not continue this relationship in good conscience. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending how you look at it, he quickly found another veterinarian to do his dirty business.
In 2012, The Humane Society of the United States estimated that 2,400,000 puppies were sold in the United States from 10,000 puppy mills. Puppy mills are large-scaled commercial breeding facilities where breeding quantity not quality is valued. Some of these facilities house over one thousand breeding dogs. The vast majority of the commercial breeding dogs live in crowded wire meshed lined cages that are filthy and painful to stand on. They are bred at every opportunity regardless of their health status and age. Many suffer silently in severe dental pain. Frequently lacking daily environmental enrichment and human contact, these dogs are stressed and anxious. Under the Animal Welfare Act, commercial breeding facilities for pets are required to be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, licensure does not guarantee their daily compliance with minimal standards of hygiene. Most puppy mill conditions are deplorable due to infrequent inspections and owners' desires to maximize their profits. Regrettably, due to budget restraints in Illinois, there are only seven inspectors in the Illinois Department of Agriculture to inspect and monitor over 1,300 dog dealers.
I'm proud that I live in Chicago, a city that just banned the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from commercial breeders (puppy mills) to Chicago retailers. Along with increased community awareness of animal welfare, I believe that this ban will be a great step toward the annihilation of the pet mill industry. With regret, the internet is still a viable mill purchasing option which I hope will soon be deleted. It is one of my greatest hopes as a veterinarian and animal lover, that this ban in Chicago will encourage other communities to do so as well. With fewer outlets to sell their "products," fewer mills will be profitable and over time will lead to their ultimate demise.
For those who wish to purchase a pet, please consult with your veterinarian for the name of a responsible breeder, shelter organization or a representative from a breed specific association club or rescue group. At shelters and in foster homes, there exists a wonderful selection of pure and mixed breed dogs and cats available for immediate adoption. Do not purchase a pet from a pet store or online. Although you may feel that you are rescuing a heartbreaking, caged pet, what you are really doing is giving money to an operator who will then immediately turn around and put another mill pet in this recently vacated cage. Please don't perpetuate this chain of events. Don't support any pet store that sells puppies or kittens. Do not be tempted to save a cute puppy or kitten in a retail store window because in reality you are only enhancing the wealth of the puppy mill owner whom I believe is the devil.
Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.