By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
Published in the Englewood Sun on March 8, 2015
The term "puppy mill" has raised its ugly head once again in the local media. The newest twist is this cruel industry's use of the Internet. The commercial breeding of dogs became well-known in the 1950s when some small farmers in the Midwest, who were unable to continue making a living raising livestock, started instead to breed purebred dogs.
Soon the financial success of commercial breeding establishments spread throughout the states like Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and others. Amish communities in Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania followed. Thus the term puppy mill, coined by animal protectionists and humane society personnel, became popular, meaning the milling, or mass production of puppies.
My first introduction to puppy mills, unbeknownst to me at the time, was reading a Montgomery Ward catalog as a kid and being in awe of the pages of beautiful puppies being advertised for sale. Yes, you could buy puppies, born in a puppy mill, through this popular department store chain.
Puppy mills needed outlets to sell their puppies. Chain pet stores began to spring up in shopping centers and malls. Large corporations, including pet food manufacturers, candy makers, and even other large department store chains poured money into the industry and financially supported or owned pet stores that sold puppy mill puppies.
The selling of sick and inferior puppies became very well-known as people purchasing these poor puppies were filing complaints with local and national humane societies. However, the public, being the animal lovers we are, could not resist the advertising or the cute "doggie in the window" routine, of these pet stores. Finally, the USDA, through the Animal Welfare Act, began to regulate commercial breeding establishments, by providing minimal standards, but very minimal standards. Soon, we had agricultural people and farmers investigating other agricultural people and farmers.
In my opinion, the real boom in the puppy mill pet store business was the creation of the credit card. People now could charge the purchase of a puppy on a credit card, regardless of whether they had the money for the veterinary medical bill that most likely would follow.
This allowed even more money to be poured into the industry.
A real deception in this cruel industry is the fact that puppy mills often sell the puppies to a broker for a small amount, who sells to the stores for a little more, who sells to you or me (no, not me) for a very large amount. The public actually is paying much more for an inferior-bred puppy than if they purchased a purebred puppy from a reputable breeder who actually knows and care about their particular breed. I'm referring to a reputable breeder, not a backyard breeder.
Puppy mills are a very complex issue. The breeding stocks of puppies are often subject to unbelievable neglect and cruelty. They often live in filthy, cramped conditions, and are seldom if ever exercised, socialized or given needed attention, love or compassion. And now they are being exploited and sold via the Internet.
Sadly, as long as people remain uneducated to the suffering of these poor creatures and to the deception of the whole puppy mill industry, it will continue to flourish. A much, much safer idea, when ready to add that new four-legged member to your family, would be to visit your local humane society, animal shelter or rescue group.
Did you know that more than 25 percent of dogs surrendered to shelters are purebred? And just think, you will come away feeling better knowing you have just given a pet a second chance at life.