Sunday, July 26, 2009

What is a "Puppy Mill"?

Although I'm not prepared to put as much thought into this post as would be required to answer such a question, I am ready to put down a few thoughts on the subject. I'm sure at some point I will add on to these and hopefully eventually come up with an answer, albeit a subjective one, to my own question. Perhaps this can be viewed as an installment series or some similarly lofty sounding endeavor.

To me, dogs are pets. What constitutes living a good quality life as a pet is interpreted differently by individual owners. For me, it means living in the house as part of the family, and receiving daily personal care, exercise, discipline, affection, and good food. I can however, understand how another owner, for example someone who keeps a dog to protect his sheep from predation, might specifically want his dog to live primarily outdoors. So long as adequate shelter is provided in conjunction with meeting the personal needs of the dog I mentioned previously, I can agree that this is good quality life for a pet, even though it's different from my personal choice. Similarly, I can imagine other variations outside my individual choices where the dog is ultimately treated as a member of the family and as such, I would agree that the dog has a good quality of life.

There are some practices though that fall so far outside my comfort level, I view them not just as different but as cruelty. In a broad sense, that would include any dog who is not treated as a member of the family. Specifically, a dog who spends most of his day to day life unattended in a cage or kennel, on a chain or roaming the streets. Keeping the area of confinement clean, while a good practice, does not make up for the dog's social deprivation. Nor does putting out a bowl of food for a dog allowed to roam the neighborhood - again, good practice to feed a dog regularly but that doesn't make the dog a family pet to my mind.

This is not strictly a numbers issue for me. I can envision a family with plentiful resources being able to provide a good quality of life for a large number of pets just as I know that an owner of a single dog can be neglectful. Put another way, where numbers come in is anytime there is neglect. If a family is neglecting some or all of their dogs, there is a problem. If a breeder is neglecting some or all of his stock or pups, it doesn't matter to me if that breeder produces 2 litters a year or 2 litters every 10 years - there is a problem.

What I think would be helpful:

Educate the public about responsible breeding and buying including the importance of having a personal relationship with the breeder and the benefits of getting a shelter dog.

Encourage more responsible breeding. The demand for responsibly bred dogs far exceeds the supply. This is the main reason people I know have turned to pet stores - they couldn't find the pet they wanted in a shelter and/or were turned down by rescue and/or didn't want to be placed on a lengthy waiting list with a responsible breeder with no guarantee of getting a pup ever. My vision is to increase the supply of responsibly bred pups while promoting the benefits of adopting shelter dogs. If we could convince the public that these are the two best ways to obtain pets, we could reduce (eventually eliminate?) the demand for pet store pups. It's not like it's a hard sell: going to a shelter saves a dog's life in many cases and buying from a responsible breeder means having a personal relationship with someone who cares about what happens to their pups enough to screen buyers and provide support for the life of the dog.

I know lots of people hate these ideas. Some people are stuck on the "don't breed or buy while shelter pets die" mantra. The reality is that, while we can and absolutely must do everything possible to promote shelter adoptions, some owners will not adopt from a shelter. Rather than ignore that fact or condemn those folks, I'd rather provide them with an alternative: buy a responsibly bred pup. Right now, there are not enough of those and so people turn to other sources. I'd like to increase the supply of responsibly bred pups.

Other people hate the idea of promoting breeding for pets. Breeders who compete with their dogs often consider the only justifiable purpose of breeding to be the production of more competition dogs with "pets" being a leftover effect. The reality is that most owners do not want competition dogs - they want couch snugglers, jogging partners, ball chasers, etc. Ignoring that fact or condemning those folks to wait indefinitely on your waiting list in case you have a "leftover" at some point in future drives people to other sources.

I often use a personal experience as an example. I once wanted a Papillon. In fact I'd still like to have a Papillon someday (in case you are reading Santa). I checked every shelter in my area for a Pap or even a Pap-ish mix - no luck. I applied to Pap rescue but the number of applicants far exceeded the number of available dogs and honestly, the process seemed humiliating to me. I am all for screening buyers but there has to be some reasonable limit on that. My experience turned into a competition - literally. I bowed out. I inquired to several responsible breeders but it was explained to me that Pap breeders are breeding to supply themselves with a new pup. Sometimes they make an agreement with the stud dog owner to give a pup in lieu of stud fee. As such, one or two pups from each litter were already spoken for. Since Paps have small litters and many breeders have just one or two litters per year, the best I could hope for was to be placed on a waiting list and perhaps in some future year, I might get a call about an available pup. I didn't want a Pap in some future year, I wanted one at the time it was appropriate in my life. Should I be condemned for wanting a Pap within a reasonable time frame? Should I be condemned for not taking a shelter dog instead? I know some people would answer "yes". For the record, I did end up adopting a shelter dog instead. But I know more than one person who has turned to alternate sources when faced with the situation I was in - they bought from pet stores or irresponsible breeders. Like me, they wanted to rescue a dog or buy from a responsible breeder but the supply fell short of the demand. I do not condemn them. Rather, I want to see the supply of responsibly bred pups increased in conjunction with education about the benefits of rescue.

OK obviously my random thoughts did not wind up answering my title question. Good thing I said that "installment" thing at the beginning. I'll try to answer my question eventually and I hope if you have some answers, questions, or random thoughts, you'll join in the discussion. I always enjoy hearing different views.


Fred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fred said...

I just wanted to pop over to say thanks for that comment on my blog. I'm not posting any comments for legal reasons but yours might come in handy.

And good post here too. Some people will buy pups from where ever as long as the price is right so I suspect puppy mills will always be around unless there's some way to legally define them and outlaw them or at least proper regulate them.

Jan said...

You make some good points and i have no area of disagreement.

I got all of my present dogs (two purebred, two not) by letting people in dog circles know I was looking and then I was contacted by people who could no longer keep their dogs for four different reasons.

Jorge Guzman said...

I disagree with those that say that we must adopt from shelters. Though the shelter population needs to be reduced, there is a place for breeders. In general though, I believe those two groups, advocates for responsible breeders and advocates for shelter adoption, should focus on fighting puppy mills instead and realize that their disagreement is much smaller than what brings them together: The fight against irresponsible breeders.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

you should have a look at for a Papillon (or any other) search.

Katie said...

One thing I've seen friends running up against lately with puppybuying is cost. They aren't prepared to plunk down a grand or more for a well bred puppy. But they want that purebred puppy of that specific breed, so instead, they go to lousy breeders, and they KNOW they're lousy sub-par didn't even bother to xray hips on the GSDs breeders, but they're affordable.

I understand that good breeding costs money. I had no trouble at all handing over my hard-earned dollars for my well bred puppy from a breeder I trust to do right by her dogs.

But I also understand wanting a breed and not being able to afford the huge pricetag. And I don't believe that not having a thousand dollars to plunk down as purchase price means that the dog will not receive good veterinary care or whatever he needs through his life. I'd love a Standard Poodle someday but the pricetag is more than I can afford, and they're few and far between (though they do show up) in rescue.

What do you say to these people, who have written off shelter/rescue for whatever reason (lack of available pups of that breed, rescue won't adopt to a family with young kids, etc)? My own ethics would never allow me to go to a crappy breeder and bring home a puppy because I had to have one now now now!!!, but apparently that is not shared by a lot of people around me at the moment.

YesBiscuit! said...

You bring up an excellent point Katie. I am now one of those who could not afford to pay any significant amount of money for a dog so I can relate. I used to breed but haven't been able to afford to do so in awhile. It's costly, even if you are getting some return on your investment via puppy sales.

One way *theoretically* we could help reduce costs for breeders is to encourage more responsible people to breed. With more hats in the ring, breeders would have a better support network and could help each other out with trade services and such.

Another thing (and perhaps this will get filed under my 'unpopular ideas') to consider is that some of the expensive screening tests performed on the dogs are unnecessary. For example, in Flatcoats, it is now frowned upon if the breeder doesn't do gonioscopy testing. I have done it on several dogs and have personally spoken to several Veterinary Ophthalmologists about its usefulness as a tool for predicting glaucoma. I have yet to find any Vet Ophth who thinks it's a valuable tool. I know there are many such tests out there which come about as a result of rumor mills (Did you hear so and so's dog has X?) and people feel they've got to get the test done to prevent people gossiping. I'm not saying there are no valuable screening tools - not at all. I'm saying that some are of less value than purported and others are of very little value.

At any rate, it's a dilemma. Breeders who have been screening their stock and weeding out unsound stock - which is where you'd want to get your stock from - are often vehemently opposed to the idea of breeding for pets. They won't sell stock for such a purpose and therefore they drive buyers to other, less desirable sources. A shift in attitude is required and I'm not sure how feasible it is to expect that.

The lower classes will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to making financial investments, even if it is for a community service type endeavor, which is how I view dog breeding.

YesBiscuit! said...

So what I was getting at there was that if we could reduce costs for breeders to produce responsibly bred litters, we might be able to bring down the price of a responsibly bred pup.

BlueDogState said...

"if we could reduce costs for breeders to produce responsibly bred litters, we might be able to bring down the price of a responsibly bred pup."

If by "responsibly" you mean "hobby" then. . .possibly. But you'd still have the limit laws, intact dog regulations and restrictions, and laws which would lay the homes of small-time breeders open to warrantless searches, aka "inspections" by volunteers operating at the behest of private corporations.

I don't know why any person in their right mind would even consider life under those sorts of pressures. Who needs it?

All of which is why the median age of "responsible" dog breeders is. . .what? 50? 60?

"One generation and out" takes on a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

YesBiscuit! said...

No definitely not equating "responsibly" with "hobby". One could conduct a hobby irresponsibly. I mean specifically "responsibly".
The HSUS and other anti-breeder efforts to regulate dog breeders out of existence are something I've written quite a bit on but didn't want to bring in to the discussion in this post simply because it's too broad.

Jess said...

Interesting discussion, sorry I missed it when it was fresh. IMO, most 'reputable' breeders are lousy salesmen. People will often pay more for something if they clearly understand what they are getting for their money. For instance, my puppies are weaned specifically to avoid both food allergies and picky eaters. Most people hate picky eaters, but they don't know enough about breeding to ask how the pups are weaned. Pups are socialized with both little and big dogs from an early age, which is very important to people with households that contain different sized dogs. Pups get plenty of exercise outdoors and grow up athletic with good proprioperception. This is important to people who want an active companion. and so on. If you want people to think the pup is worth the price, you have to tell them why. Breeders are conditioned to think their dogs are so great because they 'responsible' or 'reputable' that the pups will sell themselves. That's not true. You have to figure out what your market is (families who want a small docile dog, athletic people who want a running companion, etc.) and sell to that market. That means letting people know that you have pups, or are planning to have pups, which means advertising. another taboo among 'responsible' breeders.

On buyers who want a pup now, without knowing why a pup from an ethical breeder (I prefer that term to responsible or reputable) is a better choice and worth the wait and extra money, all puppies are pretty much the same, so why wait? There are lots of things wrong with the current 'model' of 'responsible' dog breeding. The taboo against breeding to supply the pet market is just the tip of the iceberg.