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The Poop on Puppy Mills

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If you're thinking about getting a dog, there are some important things you should know before making that final decision.  First and foremost, take a deep breath and reflect honestly about if you have the time and can afford to take on the responsibility of having a dog.  Equally as important is where you find your furry friend as you want to  avoid buying one from a "puppy mill." 

What is a "puppy mill?"

Puppy mills are large commercial breeding operations that produce large volumes of purebred or designer puppies for profit.  Housed in the worst possible environmental and social conditions, puppies are often kept in wire "coops" piled one on top of the other, allowing excrement to pass through and accumulate on the dogs below.  In order to maximize profits, dogs are bred over and over again until they can no longer produce, at which time they are either dumped or killed. 

These puppies are purchased by brokers for resale - most commonly in pet stores or via the Internet - after being cleaned, graded, and vaccinated.  The brokers show little to no discretion about who purchases these puppies.  The only question a purchaser may encounter is verification of their credit card number; vastly different from the in-depth questions a responsible breeder will ask in order to qualify the buyer's ability to provide a good long-term home for the dog. 

Beware Internet "scams" and backyard breeders

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) warn consumers of situations where buyers are encouraged to send money orders to purchase their puppy, only to find out later there never was one.  Unfortunately, these prospective buyers come up completely empty-handed -- no puppy and no money. 

Backyard breeders also pose a significant threat as they breed dogs for profit and often sell them to puppy mills.  Most of these breeders lack knowledge about their particular breed - and breeding in general - and will breed their dogs every time they come into heat, shortchanging the time necessary for the female to recover.  Additionally, genetic testing, which is important to ensure good health, is often overlooked and spay/neuter contracts are not typically required allowing the cycle of unchecked breeding of unhealthy dogs to continue. 

Responsible breeders aren't in it for the money

Breeders who are in the business because they truly love the breed, often only break- even financially due to the tremendous amount of time they commit to ensuring the genetic health of their litters.  Responsible breeders are registered with an AKC-affiliated breed club that establishes strict guidelines and standards for its members.  Each club has a volunteer member responsible for breeder referral through which buyers can confirm their puppy will come from a member in good standing. 

These breeders will ask many questions and provide answers concerning the health and welfare of their dogs.  Additionally, they may require a spay/neuter contract as well as basic obedience training for the dog in order to guarantee the puppies adjust well to their new family.  Most importantly, responsible breeders will take a dog back regardless of the reason. 

Alternatives to breeders

There are many other resources to help you find the right dog for your family, including local shelters and breed rescue groups. 

Adopting from a shelter can provide many benefits to new pet owners including adoption counseling, obedience training and follow-up, and discounts on spaying or neutering your puppy.  Plus, the adoption fee is typically far below the prices pet stores and breeders charge.  According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), one in four dogs in animal shelters is a purebred. 

Another option for prospective owners looking for a purebred pup is breed rescue groups.  These organizations care for the dogs -- often in foster homes -- until a permanent home can be found.  Some dogs are relinquished by their owners, while others are rescued from puppy mills or found as strays. 

Make a responsible choice

Whether you find your four-legged family member through a responsible breeder, breed rescue organization or at your local shelter, the most important thing is to make the right choices for both you and your pet.  Be sure to ask questions about their housing, socialization, temperament and health evaluation and also be prepared to answer many questions about the type of home you will provide.  Visit www.aspca.org for more information.


Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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