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Cover Story August 24, 2006



by lyle e davis

Next time you pass a pet store and see these beautiful faces of puppies looking out at you, be very, very, careful before you buy.

That cute little puppy most likely came from a large-scale, substandard commercial breeding operation, commonly known as a puppy mill. Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. The breeding stocks at puppy mills (possibly your new puppy’s mom and dad) are bred as often as possible in order to increase profits. Unlike your lucky puppy, the mom and dad will probably never make it out of the mill.

Starting at six months of age, the female is bred every heat cycle. She is often weak, malnourished, and dehydrated. The females are kept pregnant constantly but receive little veterinary care due to the costs. Smaller breeds of dogs often require surgery to deliver their pups, but don't get it. This leads to the agonizing death of many females and their puppies. Most females can’t maintain their productivity past their fourth or fifth year and are then a drain on the mill's operation. If she's lucky, she'll be humanely euthanized. More often than not, she will be shot or bludgeoned to death. The puppies produced are frequently of poor quality and ill health. They are often taken from their mothers before they are old enough, in order to be shipped across the country to pet stores. Many die of starvation, dehydration, and/or fatigue on the journey.

An estimated 300,000 - 500,000 puppies are sold annually at petshops, 52% come from Missouri, 13% from Florida, 11% from New York. California, tied for 5th highest in puppy mill sales, represents 6% of puppies sold nationally. Just eight states are responsible for 93% of puppies that are brokered, meaning only 7% are coming from the remaining 42 states.

Puppy mills are found all over the U.S., but are concentrated in high numbers in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. If you learn that a puppy originates from one of these states, your caution lantern should be burning brightly. This is a multi-million dollar industry supporting 5,000 puppy mills found across the country.
Many of these puppies are not even of pet quality and harbor birth defects and other deformities. The puppy mills exist to feed the pet store chains. They are connected and something must be done on both ends.

A puppy mill is simply a business. One that mass-produces dogs for a profit with minimal regard for the quality and welfare of the animals. Thousands of dogs are bred for profit, valued not for their companionship or for improving the breed, but for the cold hard cash they bring.

In a typical puppy mill, the adult dogs spend their entire lives in tiny cages in deplorable filthy conditions that promote viruses and disease. These cages are often stacked on top of one another so that the waste from one cage falls into the cage below. Often the dogs go without food or water for days and are likely to be underfed and in poor health. Dogs lay and sleep in their own excrement on wire bottomed cages that cut into their feet. The most basic grooming care is non-existent and their hair grows matted and is often infested with fleas. Skin infections, open wounds, ear and eye infections are common and usually not treated.

Even though all 50 states have anti-cruelty laws to prevent neglect and mistreatment of dogs, such laws are seldom enforced in rural areas, where most puppy mills are located.

The Animal Welfare Act, enacted in 1966, should ensure proper care, feeding, housing, and veterinary care for dogs in puppy mills, however, due to the shortage of inspectors, the United States Department of Agriculture fails in its responsibility to enforce these laws.

Overbreeding dams, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, poor quality of food and shelter, lack of socialization with humans, overcrowded cages, and the killing of unwanted animals is common.
The Pet Animal Welfare Statute of 2005, if passed, will help the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforce the Animal Welfare Act by encouraging swift and strong action against repeat violators. It will also address the problem of incessant overbreeding by commercial breeders and require that dogs be adequately socialized, enhancing their well-being and helping to ensure fewer behavioral problems in the future. In the latest major action on this bill, as of 11/8/2005, the Senate committee/subcommittee referred the bill to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Hearings were held.

Our national legislators have also asked the USDA to correct inhumane conditions through new regulations. Two changes were adopted: plastic-coated wire for cages is now required, and the tethering of animals is forbidden. But, many other recommendations—like increasing cage size, requiring constant access to water, limiting the number of times a female can be bred, and stipulating stronger sanitation requirements—were not adopted.

Marshall Smith, a former USDA investigator who resigned in February 1997, says the agency "tends to go lightly on violations of the Animal Welfare Act." The main reason, according to Smith: "One of the USDA’s major functions is to promote the economic welfare of the farmer rather than the health and welfare of dogs." In other words, there’s a direct conflict of interest.

How Can You Help Stop Puppy Mills?

Do not patronize pet shops!

That’s the admonition from animal rights activists.

They argue you should purchase puppies and other pets from reputable breeders, or from animal shelters, the pound, animal rescue agencies - not from pet shops.

The Humane Society, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and many other animal welfare organizations urge consumers never to buy a puppy from a pet store.

They are simply a farm crop to wholesalers who can earn anywhere from $85,000 to $225,000 a year by non-stop overbreeding of bitches. Responsible breeders do not sell their dogs through pet stores.

Chances are very good that these cute puppies are not only from a puppy mill but may also be sick . . . with worms or other diseases.

These pups are often fed a minimal amount of food so that sales personnel are selling dogs and not spending their time cleaning cages. 1/4 cup of food per day per dog only.

According to former employees of pet stores, they were trained to sell sick puppies by showing how calm (sick) they were. Many puppies died within days of reaching the store or were so sick and malnourished that they died within days of being bought.

The store has no motivation to correct this because they get "credit" for all puppies that die. All stores that sell puppies are said to work this way. They buy a puppy for no more than $100 usually closer to $60, and sell it with often worthless AKC (American Kennel Club) papers, for $600 or more. The customer often will not get their money back if the dog dies or becomes ill but must take a credit for another puppy. The warranty frequently states this in very clever ways.

Many stores will not spend $100 in vet bills for a $60 pup so they get minimal or no vet care. Medications, if any at all, are not always done by a vet but by the sales people and store workers themselves. Mostly older teens and young people trying their first job.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) registration papers that usually come with purebred pet shop puppies often impress buyers and provide a false sense of security. This registration doesn’t guarantee proper breeding conditions, health, quality, or claims to lineage. The AKC registers thousands of puppy mill puppies each year without questioning the horrendous conditions in which these puppies are raised.
As to the AKC registration papers, they are also suspect. There appears to be a major conflict of interest. The AKC takes in hefty revenues from registering animals according to breed. The AKC collects registration fees well in excess of $26 million annually.

"A conflict of interest arises when the group responsible for enforcement benefits financially from the same groups that it’s investigating," says Richard Johnston, president of the Connecticut Humane Society.

In North San Diego County there are two major pet stores that sell puppies, both owned by the same company, California Pets. They have locations in Escondido’s Westfield Shopping Center and Westfield’s Plaza Camino Real Shopping Center in Carlsbad.

We went to the Escondido store to check it out. The store was packed with customers Sunday, with about four private booths filled with potential customers holding puppies, getting acquainted.

The facility was clean, well lit, airy, and attractive. The first thing we noticed, however, was most of the dogs had been imported from Jerico Springs, Missouri, Freeburg, Missouri, Ava, Missouri, Talala, Oklahoma, . . states that have a high concentration of puppy mills.

The manager, Brian Spraker, assured us their dogs were obtained through Hunte Inc., a major dog broker, out of Goodman, Missouri. They house 1000 to 1500 dogs at a time. Hunte Corporation, which also exports dogs overseas, is the largest puppy broker in the United States. If you Google the Hunte Corporation you’ll find a number of glowing, positive websites . . . owned and funded by the Hunte Corporation. Even their critics, however, acknowledge that their facility is effectively managed, with new equipment, steam cleaned every week as one week’s inventory of dogs move out and another group prepares to move in. There are, however, a number of blogs and various media reports of problems with puppies that were supplied to pet stores by the Hunte Corporation. The company has been linked to a number of negligent pet stores and breeders such as the Ohio-based Petland, Inc., which corporation has drawn the ire of animal activists. Complaints from pet stores in Reno, Nevada, also have been fielded and investigation showed the puppies had come from Hunte Corporation.

At California Pets, we noticed 39 glassed in cages, filled with a wide variety of puppies. Mr. Spraker assured us that they had their local veterinary group, Mohnacky Veterinary Clinic, check over all their dogs and that all dogs had their vaccinations and had been wormed. Mohnacky Veterinary Clinic declined to return our phone calls or to make a statement, though they were offered several opportunities to do so.

Brian showed us a breeder list for one dog, as an example. The breeder was Paul Wilson of Poteau, Oklahoma. They also enclosed a pedigree chart. He claimed they provided a variety of guarantees for the puppies they sold, including coverage for hereditary issues as well as congenital issues . . and a limited, 100 day guarantee for infectious diseases. In a later conversation with one of the owners, Joe Shamore, he confirmed all that Mr. Spraker had told us and urged us to contact the Hunte Corporation, which we did.

We asked for the veterinarian, a Dr. Oxford, but he did not return our calls. We were most anxious to allow the Hunte Corporation an opportunity to state their case but did not contact us prior to press time.

There are a number of alternatives to pet shops that will help ensure that a family obtains a healthy, happy companion animal.

Check the Escondido Humane Society, or the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), or your local Animal Shelter.

Perhaps the best choice, shelters provide a number of animals to choose from, ensure that animals and adoptees are compatible, and are an affordable choice. Adoption fees are usually quite low, and adoption packages usually quite generous.

If you’re looking to make a puppy part of your family, check your local shelters first. There are so many amazing dogs who need homes. If your heart is set on a specific breed, keep in mind that one in four shelter dogs is a purebred. Additionally, you can do an Internet search for breed-specific rescue organizations.

In a study of 1086 pet stores selling puppies and 89 separate breeds, the most popular puppies sold are Yorkshire Terriers (55), followed by Labrador Retrievers (48) Italian Greyhounds (47), Dachshunds (46), Chihuahua (40), Shih Tzu (33), Affenpinscher (32), Pug (31), Cocker Spaniel (30), Maltese (29), West Highland White Terrier and Golden Retriever,(tied) (27), and Boxers (26).

Responsible Breeders

Responsible breeders are individuals who have focused their efforts on one or a select few breeds and through breeding, historical research and ongoing study, mentoring relationships, club memberships, showing, raising and training of these breeds have become experts in the breed’s health, heritable conditions, temperament and behavior. Responsible breeders are well suited to educate and screen potential buyers or adopters and provide follow-up support after purchase or adoption. Responsible breeders take lifetime responsibility for the animals they have bred.

Families can contact a national breed club or a local dog club for a referral to a reputable breeder.

ASPCA Position

The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) advocates the following best practices for responsible breeders:

- Never sells puppies to a dealer or pet shop.

- Screens breeding stock for heritable diseases and removes affected animals from breeding program. Affected animals are altered; may be placed as pets as long as health issues are disclosed to buyers/adopters.

- Removes aggressive animals from breeding program; alters or euthanizes them.

- Keeps breeding stock healthy and well socialized.

- Never keeps more dogs than they can provide with the highest level of care, including quality food, clean water, proper shelter from heat or cold, exercise, socialization and professional veterinary care.

- Has working knowledge of genetics and generally avoids inbreeding.

- Bases breeding frequency on mother’s health, age, condition and recuperative abilities.

- Does not breed extremely young or old animals.

- Often breeds and rears dogs in the home, where they are considered part of the family.

- Ensures neonates are kept clean, warm, fed, vetted and with the mother until weaned; begins socialization of neonates at three weeks of age.

- Screens potential guardians; discusses positive and negative aspects of animal/breed.

- Ensures animals are weaned (eight to ten weeks of age for dogs and cats) before placement.

- Offers guidance and support to new guardians.

- Provides an adoption/purchase contract in plain English that spells out breeder’s responsibilities, adopter’s responsibilities, health guarantees and return policy.

- Provides accurate and reliable health, vaccination and pedigree information.

- Makes sure pet-quality animals are sold on a limited registration (dogs only), spay/neuter contract, or are altered before placement.

- Will take back any animal of their breeding, at any time and for any reason.

Reputable breeders love and care for their animals as pets, not as gainful property. They diligently maintain records of their litters, vaccinations, vet care and general health of each animal. The genetic soundness of their animals is of the greatest importance to them. They breed for health and temperament, and are concerned with quality, not quantity. The mother will be on the premises and the cages will be clean and sheltered. Puppies require human contact at an early age to make good pets. When you buy a puppy from a good breeder, you can expect it to be well on its' way to socialization and used to being handled and loved. Good breeders will want to know if you’re responsible and if you’ll provide a good home for their puppy.

Rescue Organizations

In addition, there are rescue organizations for just about every breed of dog with purebred dogs for adoption. The animal shelter and humane organizations also often have purebred dogs. Consider adopting a dog from one of them and save a life in the process.

Purebred Rescue Group

There are many breed clubs that run rescue groups for animals of particular breeds. This is a good way to obtain a purebred dog and make sure he or she is a dog who really needs a home. Rescue groups can be found by contacting a national breed club or a local animal shelter.

While it may be difficult to resist buying a pet who is looking at you longingly from a pet store window, you can in fact, animal activists argue, help animals throughout the country by boycotting pet shops. They encourage you to let them know that each person who refuses to give business to a pet shop is helping to stamp out a cruel "business" and reduce the number of healthy animals who must go without a home.

If you suspect someone is operating a puppy mill, report them to your nearest animal shelter or to governmental agencies which handle animal cruelty cases, or even to local tv stations, radio talk shows, anyone you think will be concerned.
Determine if the pet store you see even has a license to sell pets.

Below and to the right: Dogs, pups and adults, typical of those found in puppy mills

Basically, anyone breeding and selling a significant volume of animals must be licensed as a Class A Dealer.

Anyone brokering, transporting or handling a significant volume of animals or using animals in a research setting must be licensed as a Class B Dealer even if it is only a small part of the business. So, airlines, for example, are registered as Class B Dealers. This is because the passenger can bring a cat, dog, lizard, or bird on board the flight. Universities are also registered as Class B Dealers if they use animals in scientific, medical or psychological experiments.

Notify the pet store or auction place that it must register with the USDA in order to legally sell live animals. Give them 24 hours.

Send an e-mail to the Breed Club with the details of the breeder and the auction/pet store name. Most clubs have a breeder code of ethics which specifically prohibits the intentional sale of dogs at auction and/or pet stores. If the breeder IS a member, the club would want this information. To find breed-specific clubs use one of the Internet Search Engines and search on breed name+club and the website will be provided if it exists. Usually these sites have an e-mail address listed for


We spoke with a number of people locally. Chuck Dotson, Director of Animal Control for the Escondido Humane Society reports that the society has not had a major impact from puppy mills. Often, what happens is they come up against ‘hoarders.’ These are often older people who are so soft hearted they acquirepet after pet . . . the pets get pregnant . . . and the net result is much like that of a puppy mill by default.

“If we get a complaint, we’ll investigate both puppy mill activities and cruelty to animals generally. Our animal control officers have full peace officer status and are able to investigate and have the powers of arrest, if necessary.”
Dotson also counsels to be wary about buying puppies out of the newspaper as these are often the product of puppy mills. “Be particularly wary if the seller who wants to meet you in a parking lot. You should be able to visit the seller in his home and see how well the animals are cared for and that this is not a commercial operation.”

Sgt Christ Carter, Escondido Police Department:: “If we get an urgent call where someone is abusing an animal, we’ll respond. If it’s a chronic problem we would likely refer it to the Humane Society, and then cover them. We, and they, operate under the authority of the California Penal Code, Section 597, dealing with Cruelty to Animals.”

Sgt. Pete Miranda, San Marcos Sheriff’s Office: “We’d likely turn it over to Animal Control, then back them up, unless there was an urgent matter where the dog or other animal was being violently abused and its life and safety was threatened. Then we’d be first responders.”

Dr. Gary Gallerstein, Acacia Animal Health Center: “We saw a number of puppy mill problems 10 years ago. Today, with all of the publicity it almost appears they’ve gone underground. I’ve been in practice the last 17 years and during the last five to 10 years I haven’t seen a lot of puppy mill problems.

Most of the dogs we see, the owners got from a breeder; some from a pet shop. Usually, the pet shop has medical records.”
Once stores stop selling puppies the mills will
die out too.

Humane Society of US -
Personal inspection of California Pets and interview of store manager and owner
Sgt Chris Carter, Escondido Police Department
Sgt. Pete Miranda, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
Chuck Dotson, Director of Animal Control, Escondido Humane Society
USDA. Phone: 202-720-2791 (this is the USDA contact number, ask for APHIS)
US Mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250





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