DEAR DR. FOX: Why haven’t puppy mills been closed down after all these years of documented abuses? My neighbor has taken in two poor dogs who’d been kept in small cages for years to produce puppies. They are slowly coming around and enjoying life, but don’t know how to play, and one is still very scared outside her new home. -- R.G., Minneapolis, Minnesota
DEAR R.G.: I asked my old friend and colleague Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation (www.maal.org), to answer your important question.
“Inhumane conditions have been exposed at commercial dog breeding facilities, aka puppy mills, as far back as the 1960s. Congress finally took action in 1970 and amended the federal Animal Welfare Act to specifically address concerns about puppy mills. Congress mandated that commercial dog breeders be licensed, regulated and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Since this federal involvement in addressing puppy mills, more than 20 states have also enacted some form of legislation to regulate them, and three states and over 350 local municipalities have outright banned the sale of dogs in pet stores.
“Animal welfare organizations have made great strides in closing down some of the most egregious puppy mills over the years, and have significantly increased the standards of care for the breeding dogs who are confined in puppy mills. In several states, such as Missouri, the standards of care have been improved dramatically. In Missouri, 1,200 puppy mills voluntarily shut down rather than comply with the new standards of care enacted with the passage of the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act in 2011.
“In addition, there have been countless media exposes on the cruelties of puppy mills, and numerous consumer warnings on the risks of purchasing a puppy from a pet store.
“Regrettably, puppy mills continue to flourish. Without a doubt, the vehicle and the stimulus for the continuing sale of these puppies is the internet. E-commerce has become the principal marketplace for the sale of puppies from large commercial dog breeders. It has allowed breeders to avoid the stigma of marketing dogs through pet stores, which have been so widely criticized. In addition, for many years, internet sales of puppies have been ignored by USDA and currently are only given minimal oversight and thus are allowed to operate with impunity.
“E-commerce also allows puppy mills to camouflage the substandard housing and the wretched living conditions of the breeding stock. Most of the websites display cute puppies in idyllic settings, often showing dogs running free in spacious yards and fields. The adorable puppies pictured in such beautiful, serene backgrounds prove too much for a prospective puppy purchaser. Oftentimes, the purchasers are fully aware of the risks of buying a puppy over the internet, and have been cautioned to visit the breeder to ensure that their new puppy only comes from a reputable source. The almost universal response from such consumers is, ‘The puppy pictured on the website was just too cute to resist.’
“What is the answer? Undoubtedly, we need to continue to aggressively lobby for stronger laws and we need to advocate for much stricter enforcement of our current laws, especially by the USDA. And we need to incessantly remind consumers that they are not ‘rescuing’ a puppy when they purchase from an online seller, but rather, they are sentencing the mother and father of that puppy to a lifetime of misery in a puppy mill!”
Dr. Fox here: I would add that appeals to the American Kennel Club to become involved in inspections and accreditations have not been responded to, beyond the AKC saying that it is not a regulatory organization -- even though it registers and provides “papers” for puppy mill breeders’ pups.
Puppies are often imported from abroad, sometimes illegally, an issue that calls for constant vigilance -- especially since diseases and parasites new to the U.S. dog population could be carried by these dogs. (For details, see cdc.gov/importation/bringing-an-animal-into-the-united-states/operation-dog-catcher.html.)
People considering bringing a dog or puppy into their homes should either adopt from shelters or visit the breeder to see the parents and how well they are cared for.
EXPANDED PET FOOD RECALL
The FDA has widened a recall of Sportmix products that contain corn and were made at the Midwestern Pet Foods’ Oklahoma plant. Seventy dogs have reportedly died after eating Sportmix products contaminated with aflatoxin, and at least 80 more have been sickened. Anyone whose dog or cat has eaten one of the recalled products should contact a veterinarian, even if the pet does not appear to be ill. (Full story: CNN.com, Jan. 12)
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