Meet Maddie. She is our newest guest, and she has a story to tell. (It has a happy ending….)
Maddie asks you to close your eyes and imagine your beloved dog living his or her entire life in a small cage with little or no human companionship, without toys or treats, without soft, warm beds or any of the comforts that we all give to our pets. Imagine they are living outside, without ever feeling grass under their feet, and it’s hot, or it’s cold, it’s raining, or it’s snowing. Concrete. Mud. Dirty water. Imagine your dog living like this with little or no hope of ever becoming a beloved family pet. Imagine they are bred repeatedly until they can no longer reproduce, and then they are destroyed or discarded. Until last week, this was Maddie’s so-called life.
Breeding dogs can spend their entire lives confined in cages without sufficient protection from heat, cold, rain, or snow. Many live in dirty, unsanitary conditions. Mothers are bred every heat cycle and then disposed of when they can no longer produce. All of the caged dogs pictured in this post were surrendered to a small Louisiana animal shelter by a breeder who was “downsizing”. There were 16 dogs thrown away. The youngest were 1 year olds and the oldest was between 13 and 14 years of age. Some of them have untreated heartworms. Only the oldest dog had a name. It is not clear if the breeder had even bothered to name these dogs, or if she just couldn’t be bothered to put their names on the surrender forms. Oh, by the way, this breeder is AKC licensed. I think we have a problem.
Maddie knows what you might be thinking, not all breeders are bad. I would never support such a breeder. Of course not, but how many are bad? How many are really awful, and how would you even know about dogs like Maddie?
Breeders must be regulated, right? There must be rules to keep awful treatment of dogs from happening, right? Well, guess what?
Keeping breeding dogs in these deplorable conditions is legal.
The only way to stop it, short of changing the laws and pushing for real and consistent enforcement, is by refusing to buy the puppies that keep these breeders in business.
There are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills (both licensed and unlicensed) in the US with more than 2 million puppies bred each year. At the same time, an estimated 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in shelters annually. See: Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) 2014 Puppy Mill Facts and Figures report (available here) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Pet Statistics (link here).
Any backyard or large scale breeder with five or more breeding females is legally required to be licensed with the US Department of Agriculture. The USDA regulates commercial dog breeding and is responsible for enforcing the standards governing the care of dogs in commercial breeding facilities as set forth in the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), but just because a breeder is USDA licensed/government inspected doesn’t mean much. These are still puppy mills, housing tens to hundreds of breeding dogs in small cages for the duration of their useful breeding lives. This is legal under USDA regulations. In fact, USDA regulations require only minimal standards of food, water and shelter.
The AWA and the derivative USDA regulations and enforcement are not sufficient to protect dogs in commercial breeding facilities, because AWA’s standards are too undefined to ensure humane care and treatment, and the USDA is not appropriately resourced to enforce its own regulations under the law.
What is allowed under the AWA?
According to The Puppy Mill Project, many of the AWA’s requirements are vague and require only minimal standards in housing and care of breeding dogs. Worse, the the AWA leaves it up to the profit-motivated breeders to determine what constitutes an adequate level of care for the dogs. There is no limit placed on the number of dogs allowed and no minimum requirement for the number of staff that must be available to care for the dogs. The dogs may be caged 24 hours a day for their entire lives, confined in spaces only six inches larger than their bodies, (not including the tail), only being removed to be bred. Breeding females at the first and every subsequent heat cycle is permitted. Dogs may be kept in stacked cages, and may be forced to relieve themselves in their cages. Wire or mesh flooring is allowed. Human interaction with the dogs is not required, and unwanted animals may be killed, sold, or as these dogs in the photographs were, dumped at the local animal shelter.
This is where Maddie lived.
Thanks to many concerned volunteers and rescue organizations, Maddie and the other dogs you see here are now in rescue foster homes.
These kind of places breed puppies for profit with no concern for health or temperament. Puppies are often taken early from their mothers and sold, to minimize costs and maximize profits, and they can develop health and behavioral problems as a result. Any money spent on veterinary care, quality food, shelter, or staff to care for the dogs cuts into the breeder’s bottom line. If breeding dogs receive veterinary care, it is often done by the untrained breeders themselves to cut costs. There is no guarantee that these breeders will go to the expense of providing humane euthanasia when they are done using these dogs.
The USDA is overburdened, understaffed, inspections are infrequent, and USDA inspectors have a record of leniency towards commercial breeders. There are reportedly hundreds of USDA-licensed breeders in operation with long lists of violations of these minimal standards, but it is rare for the USDA to revoke a commercial breeder’s license or fine a breeder that has repeated violations on record. (USDA report available here.)
— You can visit the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s compilation of state animal laws available here.
Wait, what about the responsible – reputable breeders?
There are some. Responsible breeders breed only a small number of dogs, they likely are often too small to require USDA-licensure. Responsible breeders are knowledgeable about their breeds’ genetic and health issues. They test and screen their breeding dogs to try to improve the breed stock and ensure healthy puppies. They care about their dogs as much as they care about the profit of their small business.
Responsible breeders take proper care of their breeding dogs and puppies, providing appropriate food, water, shelter, sanitary living conditions and veterinary care for all of their animals. They invite buyers to meet the breeding parents and see their living conditions.
Interested in buying from a breeder? If at all possible, you want to meet your puppy’s mother and father to in order judge their potential temperament and health. If the dam and sire are healthy and have nice temperaments, your puppy probably will too. If the breeder hesitates to let you meet the breeding pair or to see where they are living, be cautious. Think about where Maddie came from: I found her breeder’s website, and it looked legitimate. It didn’t show the photos of the poor kennel conditions I shared with you above.
I am in touch with several of the fosters of those breeding dogs pictured above. These are male and female dogs who are living inside of a home for the first time in their lives. So, they aren’t house trained. They don’t know how to go up and down stairs. They are not used to human interaction and shy away from being touched. They have no idea what to do with toys or treats, let alone how to interact with other dogs or humans. They don’t really even know how to play yet. They are terrified. They tend to stay in one small area of the house and have to be carried in and out. They don’t know to relieve themselves on the grass, they do it on concrete. That is what they are used to. Some of the males have untreated heartworms. Now, let me ask you a question: do you want to buy a $1,000 puppy born from one of these dogs?
Before you decide, let me explain that how breeders raise puppies before they go to their new families has a strong influence on the puppy’s temperament. Responsible breeders make sure that mothers are bred a limited amount of times and receive appropriate veterinary care. Responsible breeders properly socialize their puppies and ensure that puppies are with their mothers for an adequate amount of time in the crucial early weeks of mental and physical development. Puppies learn a lot about healthy social interaction from their littermates and mother. Behavioral science tells us that the most valuable time for a puppy to learn from its environment is from birth to 16 weeks. Without positive experiences during this key development window, a dog can develop negative behaviors: aggression, destructive behaviors, fear and anxiety around humans and other dogs. These behaviors can be lifelong and may be difficult to change. If breeding mothers are unhealthy and/or depressed, they are unable to give their puppies what they need. Their puppies can have major behavioral issues. Maybe they haven’t met many people and dogs and weren’t handled much. They might have difficulty adapting to their new homes. Without early social interaction, a dog will remain uncomfortable with human interaction, can be anxious, and will be more likely to respond aggressively towards a human.
If you were thinking about ordering a puppy online, maybe put your wallet away. Responsible breeders do not sell their puppies over the Internet to just anyone. You would be much better off visiting a breeder near you. Ask to see the dam and the sire of your puppy. See how they interact with your breeder. Are they friendly and healthy looking? Ask questions.
A good breeder will be asking potential buyers lots of questions because they only place their puppies in safe and appropriate homes. The breeder should ask you if you’ve ever owned a dog, about your family, and who will be the primary caregiver of the puppy. They should be accessible and open with their contact information, references from previous buyers, and, if you can’t visit, photos of the puppy with its mother and its living conditions. If you are shelling out a lot of money for a purebred dog, you can and should ask to see certification that both parents of your puppy have been genetically tested for breed-related problems. Do your homework.
You can check the USDA inspection record of a particular breeder on the USDA website. I found instructions via http://www.thepuppymillproject.org/puppy-mill-faqs/
What about the American Kennel Club (AKC)? What does it mean if the breeder assures me that my puppy is registered or has papers?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that legal, licensed breeders with registration papers are a guarantee of a healthy puppy. American Kennel Club (AKC) or registration papers do not mean much with respect to the quality or conditions of the breeding of a dog. It is simply a record of a puppy’s parents and certifies that both parents were of the same breed. Registration papers do nothing to ensure that an individual puppy (or the breeding parents) are healthy or free of genetic defects (orthopedic, eye or heart problems), or that they were raised in a humane, clean environment. No one requires breeders to be knowledgeable about their breed, to health-test their breeding stock, or to socialize their puppies. USDA regulations don’t even address socialization or the health, temperament or quality of the breeding parents.
Besides, puppy mills routinely sell puppies with papers from various kennel clubs and kennel clubs have a long history of supporting the commercial dog breeding industry while opposing legislation that would improve conditions for dogs living in puppy mills, even making profits registering and then selling puppy mill dogs. You can read more here. A New York Times exposé into the AKC’s inspection program revealed that many AKC certified breeders subjected their dogs to puppy mill-like conditions.
So, the rescue people are against breeders, but, if the breeders stop, won’t there be a puppy shortage? Nope. Again, there are millions of dogs in shelters and rescues in need of homes, including puppies! Seriously, there are endless puppies. There are thousands of puppies available every day on Petfinder.com. I just got a request to some foster 6 week old lab puppies – a dozen of them were just dumped at a shelter (and puppies do not do well in a shelter. They have no immune system. It’s awful.)
Some people argue that there is no such a thing as a “responsible” breeder because they are merely adding to the overpopulation problem. Breeder puppies take homes away from animals that are waiting in shelters, animals that are being euthanized because there are not enough homes for them. ASPCA estimates that 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in shelters every year for lack of space, resources, and willing adoptive homes. Even worse, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that 4 to 5 million dogs are put down every year, and only 5% of those for medical reasons. Why? There are no homes for them.
Purebred Dogs vs. Mutts
Why do you want a purebred dog? People are willing to pay exorbitant amounts for a purebred dog, expecting that their puppy has been raised in a clean and nurturing environment and will grow up to have a friendly disposition and minimal health problems. As far as behavior and disposition go, there really is no way to tell. It’s dependent on the individual dog and its environment. Many people believe that purebreds are healthier. Though they may have a known lineage, it’s not true that they are healthier. Mixed breed dogs tend to have less inherited genetic health problems and purebred dogs actually tend to have more health problems. Reputable breeders will provide genetic health testing to make sure your dog is not likely to carry any inherited genetic problems. Again, responsible breeders are concerned with the betterment of the breed. However, purebred dogs might be inbred. Intentional breeding for positive traits may unintentionally exacerbate negative traits. Profit usually wins out in these things.
The shelter dog is often perceived as unpredictable and/or inferior to one that is bought from a breeder. Keep in mind that even though some dogs are relinquished to shelters because of a problem behavior, most are surrendered due to a change in the family situation. The ones that have behavior problems usually just need a bit of training. If owners would train their dogs to behave (and their children to behave), our shelters would be emptier. And if it makes you sad to think of seeing all of the homeless dogs at the shelter, remember how happy it makes them to see and interact with people! You might be surprised.
Animal shelters charge adoption fees. Isn’t that the same as buying an animal?
Still want a purebred dog? Be aware that buying a puppy from a breeder can be expensive, and you will be responsible for all its vetting.
Shelter adoption fees cover the cost of food, medicine, spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, microchipping. Your money is going to help animals. When you give your money to breeders, they use it to breed, and sadly all too often, abuse more animals. When you give it to a rescue group or shelter, it goes to save more homeless animals.
The cost of adopting from a shelter is much lower than the cost of purchasing a puppy from a breeder. If you get your dog from a rescue, they will already have all of their vetting completed, including a microchip and spay or neuter, and may even be house and crate trained. The rescue or foster will be able to tell you all about the dog’s personality (so, no surprises when you bring the dog home). And rescue groups will generally take the dog back if it is not a good match. They are interested in finding the best home for the dog and the best dog for each adopter.
Any type of animal you’re looking for can be found at animal shelters and rescues, just waiting to be adopted. Like Maddie!
Why Choose a Rescue Dog?
When you rescue a dog, you are saving two lives – the life of the dog you adopt and the space that opens up for another dog in the shelter or rescue. The love and gratitude you will receive from a shelter dog is unlike any other. If you follow my blog or my social media, you can see that. You may not know exactly what breed the dog you pick is mixed with, but DNA tests are widely available, and kind of fun. I have a great rescue dog that is a Lab, Chow, Dachshund, English Bulldog mix! (Thank you Wisdom Panel!)
This is Bailey.
I’m so happy that Maddie is here with us. She is very happy to have a home with us, until she finds her forever home. Her whole body wags with joy. She has learned how to use the stairs and the soft dog beds. She likes too be warm and dry at night. She loves to play with my lab Pen. She likes to be around people and dogs.
Maddie is 9 years old, she worked for a breeder. She is retired now and thoroughly enjoying it.