Sunday, September 20, 2009

What is a "Puppy Mill"? - Part 2

The following post was written in 2008 by Saluki breeder Betsy Cummings. I thought it would be perfect food for thought in my series on the subject of defining puppy mills. I'm most interested in your reactions, thoughts, and opinions on her points.


I got in late last nite from Springfield, MO. What is there to interest me? Well, the 18th Spring Educational Seminar and Meeting of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association. Yeah, the puppy mill folks. They prefer Professional Breeders. And after what I saw this weekend, I'm quite willing to cut them some slack.

On Friday were 4 seminars, although one was cancelled because the State Veterinarian had been bitten by a dog and the rabies vaxx was questionable, so the poor guy has to take the shots and wasn't feeling well. So another guy came and spoke on something else. On Saturday was Pat Hasting's Puppy Puzzle Seminar - which was FREE. To anybody. How many have paid $150 or more to a kennel club to see this seminar?

I'm now going to propose a viewpoint that I know full well isn't going to be popular, nor is it going to win me friends. Many of you will scoff and criticize. It's ingrained in "us" to do so. Say the words Puppy Mill, or Commercial Breeder and most of us have a knee jerk reaction of total horror. We picture "bubba's" on Walmart parking lots and highway corners selling puppies to anybody who comes along. Not that that doesn't happen. However, those folks tend to be wannabe's and illegal puppy mills. There were only a few people there I'd call "Bubba's" this weekend. MOST of the people were people just like you and me. You couldn't have told by dress or manner what these folks did for a living. Most even spoke "educated beyond the 1st grade" english. And it was obvious from the gal with the poodle died pink to the gal who came in with a sheltie she'd rescued off an 8 lane highway and wanted her put somewhere safe, that these folks live and breathe DOGS. In that respect, they aren't that much different from you and me.

Friday's program included one that has me shaking my head and asking where "we" ("we" being the show dog fancy) are. The MPBA has no less than 3 professional lobbyists. One in Washington DC, and 2 in our state capital. Even more, the State Representative from Salem, MO is one of "them." These 4 folks stood before a room of about 300 people and gave us a list of the legislation they've had a part in killing altogether, or getting changed to something reasonable. My question is...where the hell are WE??? If the MPBA can have THREE full time professional lobbyists...what's OUR problem??? My next question is...Why the HELL aren't we working with these people???? They know how to do it. They aren't starting from scratch. They've been working in the trenches for quite awhile. And all supported by the puppy millers! These folks are fighting for OUR rights as much as for their own, but the end results are the same - I can still own dogs in the state of Missouri, and they don't have to be spayed or neutered either.

Saturday's program was Pat Hasting's seminar. It was not quite as well attended as some of the Friday seminars since it was a 'voluntary' program. (I'll explain that in a minute.) However, the room was probably over half full - call it 200 people give or take. She played the angle toward "If you're breeding better dogs structurally, you make more money." It was a good call. She went over 7 lab puppies - some were from show bred lines, and some from a commercial kennel. She wouldn't say which were which. And based on the strengths and faults she found I certainly couldn't tell. One had an ewe neck which she demonstrated by flipping that puppy's head over onto its spine - no distress to the puppy! One had no muscling on the inside of it's legs so when she stacked it and pushed just a teensy bit from the side the puppy fell over. 3 had slipped hocks. One had a herring gut. The gasps when each of these faults were demonstrated were...quite loud. And she flat out asked why they weren't breeding away from these faults - they'd make more money providing a quality, well bred dog than ones with health and structural issues. There were some good questions from the audience, and some questions that are so basic as to be laughable...except nobody laughed. These folks are putting forth good effort, and I for one am willing to give them some credit for that. (And btw - Pat commented that each puppy was in it's own crate and that when she does show litters they usually come in ONE crate. And those crates were scrupulously clean, with food and water. *G*)

Having said this, I'll also state I'm not willing to sell to them, or breed with them. But there are show folks I can say the same about, so that's nothing different. These folks are however, policing themselves. They don't tolerate sub-standard kennels and they turn them in immediately. That's better than "we" can say when we tolerate folks we KNOW have starving animals, or worse. And just who is it on most of the news when a rescue makes the news? More often than not it's a "rescuer" or show breeder turned in by a neighbor...NOT by US.

Anyway, these folks are working to improve their industry. For 18 years they have continually raised the bar for their members. They provide seminars on everything from puppy nutrition to health in their kennels to structure - FREE. Not just for their members, but to ANYBODY. It was a very strange feeling to be in a building full of people I have always thought of as the "enemy." So much so I was very reluctant to admit I'm a show breeder. But when I did once or twice, these folks never blinked. And just who was there? The AKC. Bil-Jac. Eukanuba. Royal Canin. Hunte Corp - who btw, had fully 1/5th of the room for their booth.

And let me detour on Hunte Corp a minute. They were handing out information on their standards for buying puppies. IE, the breeders must meet some minimum requirements before Hunte will purchase their dogs. On top of those minimum requirements they pay a bonus for such things as health tested parents, Ch parents, and something else that escapes me at the moment. So they too are not only raising the bar, but leading the way in doing so.

APRI was there. With videos of their events. I always thought they were just a paper registry. Well, they're not. And lemme tell ya, the shutzhund and agility events looked pretty tuff. And not only that, but APRI alone gave $10,000 to the legislative fund - IE, the fund that pays for the lobbyists. Our little fledgling groups, PetPAC, etc would KILL for that kind of money right now.

And in all of this, I have to wonder...where are we? What are WE doing? If we choose to attend such a thing, it's voluntary. These folks are requiring it of their members. You want to be considered a top breeder...then you MUST have continuing education. Not when I feel like it, but MUST, every year, have so many credits of education. Not even our JUDGES have to do that beyond what they do to earn more breeds. We watched folks spend THOUSANDS on equipment, food, meds, and by god TREATS. Just who gives treats to their dogs? Those who LOVE them. That's who.

I had a conversation with a guy this weekend about his kennel. He proudly told me he is a "Blue Ribbon Kennel" - meaning he's met the standards for the MPBA to earn that. He gets his education credits, etc, and I assume, has met some standards of health and cleanliness in his kennels. He said he's *never* had an outbreak of anything in his kennel. Not even kennel cough. His "bio standards" are set so high that even his family must follow them in the house not just in the kennel. So I asked him what happens when the dogs leave his kennel. Their immune systems have never been challenged and suddenly they're out in the big bad world being hit with everything all at once. He went, Oh. I never thought of that. Hm. He said "What do you do?" And I had to admit I'm a show breeder, so I breed once every few years and I do take extra precautions while the bitch is pregnant and when the pups are less than 9 weeks old, but that after that I have those puppies out and about every week or two so that not only do I immunize but I give their immune systems exposure to things outside of home so that when we do go on the road to shows and such they aren't suddenly overwhelmed and have a chance to fight. I'm not sure I changed his mind exactly, but I did give him something to think about.

I admit, I went for the chance to see Pat Hasting's seminar for free. Beyond that I was prepared to keep my mouth shut. Instead, I found myself Just how many of us would goto this level of effort to keep our dogs? These people put their money where their mouth is. And I am quite willing to allow them the title Professional Breeder and to stop having a knee jerk reaction and give them some credit for things even "we" don't do. That doesn't mean there aren't "Bubba's" in this world, or that I include those folks in the term Professional Breeder. A professional of any kind be it lawyer, doctor, handler, veterinarian, engineer, architect, etc has professional standards to meet. These folks do too. And since *I* don't care to provide puppies for every home that wants a dog I'm willing to allow the professionals to do so. It keeps MY dogs safe in the hands of those I feel will have respect for the dog, treat it the way I want my dogs treated, and HOPEFULLY they never end up in a shelter or dumped on the side of the road or as bait for a dog fight.

And I refuse to slam or denigrate these folks further. They are providing a service not ONE of us wants to do. And they have been working for at least the last 18 years to improve what they do - both in what they produce and the conditions under which they produce it. That JQP tends to treat dogs as a throw away commodity isn't entirely their fault. It's not ours either. It's a societal thing and ALL of us must work to change that. Somewhere between dogs in shelters and puppymills lies the answer. I don't know what it is. But JQP wants dogs - that much is obvious. And right now, even our basic rights to HAVE dogs is under attack. I for one am willing to work with the folks who have the experience and the know how to fight these things. And I'm willing to give credit where credit is due - here in Missouri at least, we have come under LESS attack than other areas and I recognize that a good part of that is because of the professional breeders and their lobbyists efforts.


Betsy & Kevin Cummings
Tribute Salukis

Copyright © 2008 Betsy Cummings

Document may be reproduced in its entirety (not in sections), as long as the author is credited.


Susan said...

This is a very interesting piece. Show breeders put a lot of effort and money into adhering to the breed standard (and what's popular with the AKC judges at any given time), while these things may not be of great concern to someone who wants a pet bulldog, or poodle, or beagle. They may just want a healthy dog. If the dog is speutered and healthy, a caring breeder -- even if not a show breeder -- need not be branded a puppy mill. My image of a puppy mill is filthy wire cages, lack of human contact or stimulation outside the kennel, little or no health care or health testing, removal of the pups from the dam before they have had opportunity for adequate maturation and socialization -- you get the idea. But that is not necessarily what a commercial breeder has to be.

Pai said...

There are people who will say breeding for money is evil and wrong FULL STOP. Why do they feel that way? IF the dogs are cared for properly and loved, why is it evil to want to make dog breeding your life's business?

AR folks believe selling puppies is like selling children into slavery, so that kind of bias is expected, from them. But from folks who will say they believe in the rights of pet owners and responsible breeders? It makes me wonder sometimes how much people actually THINK about these issues before adopting an opinion about them.

Mar said...

It is amazing what a bit of "education" can do to make the traditionally two sides of this industry realize that they have much more in common than they realize. I am really in the middle of all this.... as I AM an AKC show breeder, but in my state my kennel is considered "commercial" as I have about 15 to 20 dogs at any one time. I ALSO do "rescue" on a regular basis--seeing THAT side of things also. Breeders that have clean and caring operations, but do not just breed a litter every couple of years should not have to "apologize" to anyone for this..Any GOOD breeder hates to see dogs raised in substandard conditions and becasue of the ones that have done this we ALL are going to suffer if we do not get involved. We have too long stood in our little "groups" downing anyone who does not breed or interact with dogs just as WE do. It is time to open our eyes and get involved before the left wing activists get their way.

Faithless Wonder said...


They are providing a service not ONE of us wants to do.

What "service" are they providing? If someone wants a not-show-quality, spayed/neutered, not-registered purebred puppy, they can adopt one from a shelter or rescue. I have three older purebred small-breed dogs, and during my search for them, I came across many puppies that needed homes.

And since *I* don't care to provide puppies for every home that wants a dog I'm willing to allow the professionals to do so. It keeps MY dogs safe in the hands of those I feel will have respect for the dog, treat it the way I want my dogs treated, and HOPEFULLY they never end up in a shelter or dumped on the side of the road or as bait for a dog fight.

I get the impression that this woman really thinks that people who don't like, respect, or care for dogs NEED to have dogs, and they should buy them from pet stores and for-profit breeders.

Why on earth isn't the logical conclusion "Some people don't need to have dogs, and good breeders, shelters, and rescues need to make sure they're screening adopters very stringently"?

I can't believe that in Missouri (my home state), this person has never actually SEEN a USDA-licensed kennel. They are filthy hellholes, which I have seen with my own eyes. There are also photos available online for people fortunate enough not to live in the Puppy Mill State. USDA licensed kennels are mills that operate with the sanction and blessing of the government. This is the only difference between an unlicensed mill and a USDA-licensed one.

Katie said...

Even if they're *not* filthy- even if they're squeaky clean and have never had an outbreak of anything- I just cannot condone mass-producing puppies as cash crop. I don't care if there is health testing. I don't care if there are papers. Mass production of puppies fails the dogs and it fails the puppy purchasers. You cannot give puppies what they need at the beginning of their lives raising them in crops in a big kennel. You cannot track your puppies and how they turn out if you're mass producing them. And I've yet to come across a USDA blah blah blah kennel that gives a crap where their puppies go, provided they get paid. Hunte Corp. sure doesn't care.

This gave me the heebie jeebies. The reason these people can band together and put pressure on politicians is because they've all got a common goal- money.

Pai said...

You know, not everyone who would want to breed as a business would want to do it as a high volume battery cage puppy mill. Just sayin'.

The way people talk, there is no grey area between 'responsible show breeder who goes 20 years and only breeds 4 litters' and 'disgusting filthy commerical mill'. However, reality is not that black and white.

Heather Houlahan said...

Seen it before. Not impressed.

Yeah, so, they are an "industry" and are well-organized. Some of them are diligent about protecting their business interests and have medium-term goals to increase profits.

So the fuck what?

I breed occasionally. I'm a breeder. I'm not part of the "industry." Call it a profession, avocation, or hobby, but once something becomes an "industry" forget about people holding themselves to standards that are not based in increasing profits.

This year I didn't breed, because I (along with hundreds of other people) have spent all my discretionary time and much that wasn't, all my discretionary money and much that wasn't, on rehabbing and placing 240 dogs of my chosen breed finally seized from a "high volume breeder." One who could damn well talk the talk, and would also have seemed quite credible at such a conference, away from the shit and chains and emaciated cannibalized corpses and cowering, nameless, degraded beings who produced lil' cuties for her website sales.

Which, in the end, doesn't even matter. What if the 189 live dogs seized had all been vetted, fed, and in clean kennels with full water buckets? They'd still be feral and insane. Their pups would still be born of parents whose temperaments were at best an unknown quantity.

Here's a decent litmus test.

Walk through your kennel, which may or may not be your house. Tell me the name of every breeding animal there, and how long you have had her. Can't do that? Making up names on the spot? Checking the cage card? Fuck you.

Now, for every animal who has been with you more than a week, open the kennel door, if there is one, step back, and call her by name.

What happens?

This tells us the difference between a dog and a production unit.

YesBiscuit! said...

Thank you all for your interesting comments. While there are good points surrounding the issue, I guess for me it boils down to the idea of a dog as companion/pet. Even with the understanding that "pet" can encompass a wide range of lifestyles, I can't see how living life primarily in a cage (even a very clean one) falls within that category.
As for lobbyists, that's another can of worms entirely but the fact that we even *have* lobbyists in this country and that politicians openly cavort with them turns my stomach. So no, I wouldn't be too keen on getting a lobbyist to represent my interests to the deciders.