When you pass the local pet store, it's hard to ignore the cute puppies playing in the window. While some pet shop puppies come from accidental litters produced by family pets, most are sourced from puppy farms.
Also known as puppy mills, these farms are businesses that produce purebred dogs and designer mixes purely for profit. They are sold mostly through pet stores or online advertisements. Their aim is to produce many puppies, often with little regard for prevention of genetic diseases or what happens to their puppies after the sale. There are thought to be as many as 10,000 of these puppy farms in the United States.
Puppy farms are considered unethical for many reasons, but mainly because of their dogs' living conditions. Females are bred repeatedly so they don't have time to recover from one pregnancy before being mated again. Dogs are typically confined to cages and may not receive enough exercise, socialization, or cuddles. Those dogs that appear to be particularly good examples of the breed are often used frequently leading to inbreeding and possible genetic health concerns.
Many organizations worldwide are committed to putting a stop to large-scale puppy producing operations. The Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which was passed in 1966, requires those that have more than three breeding dogs and produce puppies for sale to be licensed. This allows inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, there are limitations to this law. Not everyone complies with this and even if they did, the standards set by the Act are very low and they're not enforced.
Fortunately, individual states and municipalities are starting to develop their own animal welfare laws, which mostly take the form of managing pet shop puppy sales. In May, The Humane Society of the United States published their findings in a report called The Horrible Hundred 2016. It showed the reality of puppy farms in the United States; however, similar conditions occur worldwide. In each country, there are organizations dedicated to educate people about puppy farms and advocate for the dogs that live in such facilities.
If you're considering adding a dog to your family, how do you know you won't be supporting a puppy mill? Firstly, work out if you want a purebred dog or a mixed breed pup. If you choose a purebred, then talk to your pup's breeder. An ethical breeder will ask you many questions to make sure their four-legged baby will have a good home. You, too, can ask for information about their pup's parentage and any health tests that have been performed. Look for breeders through breed clubs affiliated with the American Kennel Club. Rescue groups have many dogs of all ages, shapes, and sizes, you're sure to find one that suits your family. They, too, will have an application process and are likely to ask for a home check.
The best way to avoid buying a puppy mill dog is to do your homework and don't buy on impulse because you've been tempted by the soft brown eyes gazing at you through the pet store window. If the market for their puppies disappears, then puppy mills will stop being profitable, which ideally will reduce their numbers. The keys to improving the quality of life for puppy mill dogs are the education of puppy buyers and the enforcement of dog-breeding regulations.