THE BLOG

Ca-Ching: Puppy Mill Sales Continue to Ring

07/23/2010 01:36 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In an exclusive interview with Wayne Pacelle, president of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Pacelle spoke of the most current Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) scathing report on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Inspections of Problematic Dealers (Puppy Mills), the Durbin-Vitter PUPS Act, the upcoming Missouri ballot measure and the sorry state of the puppy mill industry in general.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has Animal Care officers that enforce the Animal Welfare Act with about as much bite to protect animals as the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, responsible for mine safety inspections or the oversight required with the approved drilling of that offshore well, Deepwater Horizon -- and we all know how well that is going.

Page 15: Picture of a suffering live dog with a mutilated leg: Oklahoma repeat offending breeder that provided inadequate veterinary care to a dog with an untreated animal bite that festered for at least seven days, the dog was brought to the vet only after the inspector's investigation and was immediately put down.

Each year an estimated two million puppies are purchased, bought, sold or adopted with an overwhelming number of pet store puppies coming from large commercial breeders in the mid-west and southern states. The inspectors that enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to inspect those establishments that had previously been inspected and failed in compliance of the laws to provide humane treatment continued to operate in an inhumane manner without consequence. The mind-boggling lack of enforcement and fines by the inspectors of the most egregious violations is more than a major concern. To be fair, there are 100 inspectors for the entire country, there are an estimated 10,000 sites that need inspection, you do the math.

Page 37: Penalty reduction for a breeder who had multiple repeat violations: Ohio breeder of 62 dogs failed to inform his veterinarian of the birth of dead puppies, and for medicating animals without the vet's knowledge. Despite 16 significant and 12 serious violations, the breeder received a 25 percent penalty reduction for "No prior history of violations."

To be clear: Not all breeders or broker/dealers are bad nor should they be accused of operating a large scale puppy mill. Just those breeders that inhumanely confine dogs, poor breeding of animals, are housed in substandard conditions, denied proper veterinary care, allow feces and urine to build up or drop down onto another animals living space, are sick when sold or just flat out skirt the laws. With little regard to their puppy's placement, their parents are condemned to a life lived within the confines of a small cage and the vicious cycle continues without abatement.

Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is a national organization separate and distinct from the state/ local organizations that has the ability and charge to focus on the big picture issues and they have the resources to help call attention to inhumane practices, animal cruelty and to help implement change at a state or national level through investigations, lobbying and legislation in Congress. They are one of many animal rights groups that specifically target animal welfare in the United States.

And who can forget the video of the felled cow being electronically prodded at the processing plant? Or the raids of the puppy mills and follow up investigations? They supported the 2008 Farm Bill that bans the importation of foreign dogs into the U.S. and increased the maximum penalty up to $10,000 per violation. Now the agency just has to start leveling the charges to fit the violation.

Page 23: picture of a dog food bowl with cockroaches: Oklahoma repeat offender with 525 adult dogs had excessive insects crawling on the floor, walls and an infestation in the storage and food. "Cockroaches have been linked to the transmission of Parvovirus and Salmonella and could be a physical carrier of diseases" said the director of Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California at Davis.

Ideally Wayne Pacelle would like to see enforced state and national puppy mill legislation, not to end puppy sales, but to keep the breeders accountable for humane treatment. This would include: A kennel cap to limit overall numbers of breeding animals so the puppy mills don't get to a huge overwhelmed scale (currently, there can be dozens or even hundreds of dogs and puppies in a small kennel) and establish a standard of care (no wire flooring where puppies feet fall through and can be injured, no stacking of cages and increasing space requirements for exercise.)

Pacelle spoke of his concerns regarding the internet sales loophole; there currently is no regulation of internet sites which allows breeders or brokers to escape any regulatory requirements. Just as you can find a bookcase on Craigslist, you can also purchase a dog.

With the increase in internet sales of puppies and in response to the USDA Inspector General report critical of the government's handling of puppy mill investigations, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator David Vitter's (R-LA) Durbin-Vitter PUPS Act -- Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act -- called for immediate changes at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) and promised to work with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on administrative and legislative reforms. One of the most important aspects of this reform, other than regulating and ensuring the humane treatment and well being of puppies, is to require licensing of dog breeders that sell directly to the public (internet & classified sales) and that dogs in commercial breeding facilities have appropriate space and opportunity for daily exercise.

Page 38: Unlicensed Breeders selling directly on the internet: Without a USDA license, these breeders operate without oversight or inspected for the animals overall health and humane treatment. OIG Hotline Complaint: "A puppy received with serious medical problems including parasites: Giardia, Threadworm, Roundworm and Coccidia. The pup had low glucose levels and was immediately placed on IV therapy.

Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act in Missouri, a ballot initiative, gives Missouri voters chance to tighten up regulations to protect puppies. MO is home to an estimated 1,700 plus (or roughly one-third of USA's puppy mills) breeders including backyard, hobby to uber-large commercial breeders who may have hundreds of dogs housed in cages stacked high.

So while one so-called hobby breeder of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in Georgia (with 10+ females, she is out of the hobby and into the commercial league, the USDA limit is three breeding females) informed me that HSUS is a terrorist organization, she believes the HSUS fakes inspections to take dogs from breeders, obviously she hasn't read the OIG report, I'll be forwarding it to her.

As there are always more than two sides to every argument, for all of the great work and support for the Humane Society of the United States and others helping to promote responsible and humane animal care, you have the NRA and Rick Berman's astroturf king with faux issue groups including Center for Consumer Freedom and Humane Watch, yes, the same Rick Berman mis-info commercials in defense of tanning beds, high fructose corn syrup and other equally ridiculous affronts to common sense supported by big tobacco, big pharma, big food and drink manufactures. Astro-King Rick, on behalf of "farmers" breeders and brokers hate the HSUS.

There are millions more that support animal rights in their work on behalf of animals without a voice. HSUS is committed to supporting Oklahoma and Iowa state laws protecting animals. HSUS was a proponent of Pennsylvania's ban on surgical procedures i.e. de-barking where the vocal cords are cut and limited surgery to a licensed vet only.

HSUS volunteers and staff along with thousands of other volunteers have been assisting with the wildlife cleanup in the Gulf Coast states and is as frustrated as everyone else that for each bird, turtle or duck saved, thousands are not.

What can you do?

Speak, write and call your local, state and U.S. legislators, regulations not only need to be enforced, the loopholes need to be tightened. Intrastate transportation of puppies needs to be better regulated, not just from the puppy mills but from the animal rescue groups that bring thousands of puppies, dogs and cats from one state to another. Permanent Certificates of Origin and Health need to be issued for each dog to eliminate the shadowy transfer of puppies from a commercial breeder to a purchaser or rescue group to eliminate the shell game of newly issued certificates.

Like abuse of children and other protected groups, animals need the same protections like mandatory reporting of serious illness and abuse to each state's departments of health. Currently there is the checkered maze of requirements without a central core gathering the information. According to Lemon Laws, which many states have, purchasers need, in writing, what their rights and protections are for themselves and their newly acquired pets.

Aside from not purchasing from a pet store, refrain from purchasing supplies from a store that sells dogs and cats. Adopt from your local shelter or rescue group as your first choice. Purchase from a reputable breeder who wants to know as much about you as you want to know from them. Foster a stray from a no kill organization. Spay or neuter your pet, support agencies or organizations that promote healthy, humane pet ownership.

Map of the breeders and brokers by state: provided by the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation.

Do you have a puppy mill or pet store story you want to tell me?

Next post: The rescuers.