How Much is that Puppy in the Window?

By Caroline Squires

That too-cute-for-words puppy in the pet store window is hiding a terrible secret that it can’t tell you, and the store owners and employees won’t tell you either. Want to know the secret? That puppy came from a puppy mill. Buying a “purebred” puppy from a pet store means you are contributing to the inhumane business of puppy mills.

Pet stores will tell customers that their puppies come from licensed breeders who are inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in order to add credibility. Many of the pet stores I have visited will also go so far as to claim that the USDA wouldn’t give licenses to bad breeders. However, what they don’t tell you, and what I have discovered, is that the inspection reports, which are available due to the Freedom of Information Act, document the breeders run at substandard levels, which leaves the dogs and puppies at risk.

For example, at a pet store in Thousand Oaks, CA, one USDA breeder’s inspection report states there were 64 dogs at a mid-west puppy mill with NO dog houses, and no bedding for at least 10 other dogs when the prior morning’s temperature was in the 30’s! This breeder was issued a violation because it is cruel to leave dogs outside when the temperature is below freezing. This breeder has received numerous violations under the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates and sets the minimum acceptable standard of treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. Therefore, breeders like the one mentioned are not even meeting the minimum acceptable standard of care.

Additionally, my research has found that many of the breeders are only inspected once a year, and many receive repeat violations year after year, yet their licenses are not taken away. So, when a pet store claims their breeders are “USDA inspected” it does not necessarily mean that they are operating under conditions that we would expect from a reputable breeder.

Per the Humane Society of the United States’ website, when cruelty exists at a puppy mill, they have assisted in shutting them down with the cooperation of local law enforcement. The HSUS has assisted in the rescue of almost 5,000 dogs from puppy mills. Puppy mills are frequently deemed inhumane and the dogs have to be rescued so no further harm can come to them.

Sadly, puppy mill dogs are neglected and spend many years stuck in a cage with no chance to run around, no toys, hardly any vet care, and no name to call their own. A few lucky ones get rescued and placed into loving homes.

Harvey is one such dog. He is what you would call a puppy mill survivor. Harvey’s owners posted his story on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) website. They stated that Harvey, a fawn pug, lived eight years in a cramped wire cage in complete darkness. His owners said it took almost 6 months for Harvey to finally trust them and realize he had found his forever home. Harvey’s days are now filled with care: a warm bed, walks around his neighborhood, plenty of nutritious food and, above all, love.

Because puppies at puppy mills live in dirty and neglectful conditions, they are often times sick or become sick once they are at the pet store. USDA inspectors report time and time again that puppy mills are dirty, which can ultimately lead to parasites and diseases for the dogs and puppies. Coccidia and giardia are two intestinal parasites dogs and puppies can receive due to living in a dirty environment. Puppy mill puppies are also prone to genetic abnormalities because of careless breeding. Genetic abnormalities that they can inherit include: patellar luxation, hip dysplasia, deafness, tracheal collapse, “cherry eye,” and skin allergies.

Additionally, puppies that are born at a puppy mill live in cramped wire cages and do not have the freedom to run around. They eat, sleep, play, and potty all in the same area, which is not natural for a puppy. They often times become bored, restless, and develop bad habits. When a person buys a pet store puppy they will most likely have a difficult time house training their puppy because the puppy has been used to going potty where it eats, sleeps, and plays. Kathleen Summers, an expert on puppy mills for the Humane Society of the United States, said typically a puppy from a pet store has spent the first weeks of its life in crowded, unsanitary conditions with possibly hundreds of other dogs and improper veterinary care, another week packed into a crate on a truck, and another week or two in a cage at the pet store. As a result, these practices can cause sickness and behavioral problems with pet store puppies.

Unfortunately, when a person buys a puppy from a pet store they often spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars trying to get their puppy well. Melanie Hudson, a person who bought a puppy from a pet store, said, “I spent $500 for my Yorkshire terrier, and the employees told me she was healthy, but after I brought her home she became very sick and I spent over $1,000 trying to get her well.” Likewise, Jenny Marsh bought her maltese from a pet store and stated, “I paid $800 for my puppy and later spent another $500 to treat her for internal parasites and pneumonia.”

With puppy mill puppies flooding many pet stores, sometimes we forget that we have dogs and puppies in need of homes at our local shelters. According to the L.A. City Animal Services’ website, 29,129 dogs were brought into their shelters from 2014-2015. With so many of our local dogs in need of a home, it is of extreme importance that we don’t shop for a dog, but rather we should adopt. A person can go online and preview the animals available for adoption. You might think that you cannot find a purebred at the shelter, however, typically, 25% of dogs at the shelter are purebred. There are poodles, Yorkshire terriers, boxers, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, beagles, and Shih Tzus, just to name a few. Shelters have the same dogs and puppies as pet stores, but for less money and there are added benefits to adopting rather than shopping for a dog.

For example, the average price for a pet store puppy is $500-1000, whereas for a shelter dog, the average price of adoption is $100 or less. When you adopt, the dog comes spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and you receive a free vet exam! Above all, you are saving a life, which is priceless.
So how much is that puppy in the window? Too much. Purchasing a puppy from a pet store supports an inhumane business practice. The customer also risks bringing home a sick puppy. Lastly, local dogs and puppies are in need of homes, which means we should help our community animals first before shipping in animals from out-of-state.

If every person who chose to buy a pet store puppy instead saved a life from their local shelter or informed someone they know about the truth behind those pet store pups, thousands of lives would be saved and perhaps puppy mills would vanish and dogs would be treated with the love and respect they deserve. Just remember, dogs don’t have a voice, but we do. Don’t shop–ADOPT!