As you admire the adorable puppies in the window of your local pet store, do you ever wonder where they come from? If you have no idea, you are not alone.
According to a recently released survey conducted by Lake Research Partners on behalf of the ASPCA, more than three-fourths of all adults nationwide do not know where the puppies in pet stores come from. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of those surveyed believe pet store puppies come from breeders; 6 percent guess private pet owners; 11 percent say shelters or rescue organizations, and 35 percent have no idea.
Most adults surveyed said they would not buy a puppy from a pet store if they knew the truth -- almost all puppies sold in pet stores (and over the Internet) come from puppy mills. Puppy mills are large-scale commercial breeding operations where the breeding dogs live in filthy, overcrowded, wire-bottom cages stacked on top of each other. They are often crammed in dark, poorly ventilated sheds where they are exposed to sweltering temperatures in the summer and below-freezing temperatures in the winter. In order to maximize profits, female dogs are bred at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. Sometimes these helpless dogs are even too sick to move.
What does this mean to you? Rescuers tell us that dogs who start their lives in puppy mills and who are then transported long distances to pet stores or Internet purchasers are often sick, so the dog you buy from your local pet store or through a website may be sick when you buy him or her. It means that you may spend thousands of dollars in veterinary costs due to purchasing a sick dog that was born in a puppy mill or, worse, that your new puppy could die soon after you bring him or her home. It also means that animal welfare organizations such as the ASPCA have to spend vast resources caring for and rescuing breeding dogs from abusive puppy mills.
Despite three quarters of Americans having a negative impression of puppy mills (including 58 percent with a very negative impression), the reality is that puppy mills would not exist if people who claim to oppose them did not support them financially -- often unwittingly -- largely through the purchases of dogs in pet stores or online.
I believe that our country is full of kindhearted animal lovers who would be willing to take action to stop the distribution of dogs from puppy mills to pet stores and the Internet if they knew how to do so. To that end, the ASPCA has initiated a "No Pet Store Puppies" campaign. We are asking animal lovers to take a pledge to refrain from buying anything-pet supplies, collars, kitty litter, etc. -- from pet stores that sell puppies. For this campaign to be successful, large numbers of Americans shopping for pet supplies have to bypass pet stores selling puppies for responsible stores and online outlets that do not support the puppy mill industry by selling dogs. And, of course, when it comes to actually bringing home a new pet, the ASPCA recommends adoption as the first option, or for those who want to go directly to a breeder, responsible breeders who wouldn't sell their dogs to pet stores.
In addition to our "No Pet Store Puppies" campaign, the ASPCA is taking on the puppy mill industry on other fronts. We are calling on Congress to enact the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act -- H.R. 835/ S. 707, otherwise known as the "PUPS Act." The PUPS Act would require all large-scale dog breeders who sell more than 50 dogs per year to be federally licensed and inspected. In addition, breeders at USDA-licensed facilities would be required to allow the dogs some exercise time outside their cages. The passage of the PUPS Act would eliminate a glaring loophole in current law, which exempts breeders who sell directly to the public, including over the Internet, from federal USDA regulation.
I realize that the link between the cruel puppy mill industry and the familiar pet store in your local shopping mall may be so surprising that you don't even know how to add a dog to your family without supporting the puppy mill industry. Rest assured, however, that it is possible to find a loving dog outside of the pet store/Internet distribution network. First, you can adopt a dog from your local shelter or rescue group. There are many wonderful dogs (purebreds and mixed breeds, young and old) throughout this country looking for someone to love them, and you can find one in your area by searching the ASPCA's online national database of adoptable dogs (www.aspca.org/home/adoption/dogs). You would save a life and know that you did not support a puppy mill.
But, if you really want to get a specific breed of dog that you can't find through a rescue group, do not buy a dog without doing your homework. Buy directly from a responsible breeder and not through a pet store or website. Most dogs sold over the Internet also come from puppy mills, so don't be taken in by snazzy language and cute photos. When you go to a breeder, insist on meeting the breeding dogs and touring the actual area where the breeding dogs are kept. Do not allow the breeder to meet you at an offsite location to deliver the puppy -- this is a common tactic of puppy mill operators. Responsible breeders who want the best for their dogs will want to meet you in person to make sure you are giving one of their dogs a good home. And remember: breeders who sell directly to the public are not currently regulated by the USDA.
The ASPCA will continue to rescue dogs who suffered the unlucky fate of being born in puppy mills, but we would prefer to stop those large-scale breeding operations that allow dogs to live in deplorable and inhumane conditions before dogs are harmed in the first place. The breeding dogs who never leave their cages, who suffer untold cruelties and who continue to be bred until they die need your help with this mission.
Please visit NoPetStorePuppies.com to sign our pledge that you will not in any way financially support pet stores that sell puppies. I am heartened that in the short time since we announced this campaign, more than 13,000 people have already signed on. Please contact your legislators to support the PUPS Act. And please spread the word so that the next poll we conduct shows that more Americans understand where pet store and online puppies come from. By taking these simple steps, you will be making a tremendous difference in the battle against institutionalized cruelty by puppy mills.