One aspect of purchasing secondhand that I have not yet addressed is one that is near and dear to my heart- adopting a pet. After personal experience with adoptable companion animals between my own adoptions and volunteering at animal shelters, my stance on this important issue has only strengthened. I truly believe that if you are looking for a pet, adopting is the way to go. My posts thus far have been mostly lighthearted, and I imagine many after today’s post will have a similar feel. However, if I am going to promote secondhand in any way, shape, or form, I feel the need to discuss the truths about this important issue here.
According to the ASPCA, each year six million companion animals (specifically, dogs and cats) enter US shelters and animal control facilities, mostly from being found on the streets and from owner give ups. While shelters and animal control facilities do what they can, the euthanization rates due to overpopulation is approximately 1.5 million for dogs and cats alone each year. This statistic equals out to 4,100 animals per day, or 171 dogs and cats killed per hour. Given this statistic, the question begs- why would you not adopt before you shop?
One of my favorite quotes goes as follows:
“A secondhand animal makes for a first-rate pet.”
My experience with adopted pets has consistently been positive, with the animals my family and friends have taken in becoming a loving and loyal part of the family.
I write this to bring to light the nature of mass breeding facilities that bring more animals into this world, when we already have so many animals that are forced to be put down each day. According to The Puppy Mill Project, These breeding facilities, otherwise known as “puppy mills”, “commercial breeders” and “puppy farms” bring 2 million dogs into the world each year. Sellers from these facilities prey on a demand for easy-to-obtain, purebred, puppies; this may seem surprising when you find out that twenty five percent of animals in shelters are purebreds, and many of those animals are still puppies, according to humanesociety.org. What may turn people off from going to a shelter is that most humane societies (rightfully) require some sort of an application process to obtain a companion animal, and they usually perform a housing inspection to make sure this is a good fit for you and your family. Shelters have seen first-hand what happens when an animal comes into a home without a lot of thought or training- they are soon brought into shelters. However, if you are looking for an “impulse buy” seeing why people go to pet stores is easy. A pet store or online advertisement only requires you to pay for the animal, and the animal is yours.
What I was surprised to find, was that according to thepuppymillproject.org, puppy mills are legal. There are approximately ten thousand of these facilities in the United States, and, as discussed above, give birth to 2 million dogs per year. Seeing as 1.5 million companion animals are euthanized each year, the fact that we are adding 2 million animals into this mix, into awful breeding conditions, is appalling.
The problem with purchasing an animal from a pet store or online is that you end up financially supporting facilities that allow animal to live in poor conditions, that you would never support should these facilities have glass walls. The USDA is tasked with monitoring the operations that they give a license to, but this is obviously a difficult task, given that there are over 10,000 puppy mills in our country. I would also like to note that the following are legal and are allowed in a USDA licensed puppy mill:
• There is no limit to the number of animals on the premises (some have hundreds, even thousands of animals confined to a small space of property).
• There is no requirement for a minimum number of staff per animal. Think about that- hundreds of animals, and likely, very few workers to give adequate care to each animal.
• Mesh wire and cage flooring are permitted. Cages are often stacked, so excrement is frequently passed down from upper cages to lower cages without difficulty.
• The requirement for cage sizes for the animals is six inches longer than their body. This does not include their tail.
• To have an animal crated for twenty-four hours a day is permitted.
• There are certainly no exercise requirements. How does your dog react when they don’t have any sort of exercise?
• Breeding females at their first heat cycle and every heat cycle after they give birth is permitted. How would you feel if you had to get pregnant at every ovulation, from the time you were twelve?
• Unwanted animals are given up for auction or can be killed.
Remember, not all puppy mills are even USDA licensed. Can you imagine what conditions those animals live in who are not even raised in a licensed facility, under these bare minimum conditions?
I would also like to discuss here that there are additional concerns about puppy mills that many people do not know about. According to the puppymillproject.org and humanesociety.org, documented conditions for these animals include overbreeding, stacked and cramped cages, little to no veterinary care, lack of adequate or even clean food and water, and little protection from external environmental conditions. Oftentimes, if the animals do receive veterinary care, this is completed without trained veterinarians or anesthesia. Mothers who are no longer able to breed are euthanized, and when animals are euthanized, this is often completed in cruel ways, such as drowning or shooting, since the humane euthanasia your vet performs can be expensive. Puppies often develop health and behavioral issues due to the way they are bred and shipped for sale, in addition to the fact that they are often taken from taken their mothers much too early in their life. This leads to expensive veterinary bills, heartbreak, and stress for the families that have already purchased the animal they took home just a few weeks prior. The bottom line is that puppy mills are all about profit- any money spent on veterinary care, quality food or shelter, or adequate staffing cuts into the profit margin. None of these facts are relayed to the person coming into a pet store or purchasing a companion animal off the internet- what is conveyed to the buyer is a seemingly healthy newborn puppy who was born into this mess.
From someone who didn’t know a whole lot about this before I started looking into it, there are a few things about pet stores that can easily blind people to this situation. First and foremost, most stores that sell a variety of puppies are often very clean and well kept. The puppies also appear to be well groomed and in good health.
I went into a pet store yesterday to confirm my feelings about this, and I could see how easy it would be to fall for the lie, and be deceived that these animals come from a sweet breeder who keeps the puppies and their parents in a living room until they are old enough to be separated.
But this simply isn’t true.
Pet stores and online advertisements sell dogs under the American Kennel Club purebred registration, which sounds great. Before looking into this, I was under the impression that AKC registration was a stamp of approval for healthy purebreds who come from first-rate breeding practices. Everyone watches that dog show and sees how well the purebred dogs show on stage, and those animals appear to be well taken care of. Sadly, this is not the case. According to humanesociety.org, the American Kennel Club consistently spends money to oppose laws that would ban puppy mills. They have their own political action committee (PAC) which spends money to now allow laws to be passed that would protect puppies in these conditions or that would ban puppy mills altogether. This sounds crazy, right? Sadly, this makes more sense than you would think. For every dog in every puppy mill that is given the AKC purebred registration, the AKC receives the fee for that registration. This demonstrates that there is no incentive for the AKC to mandate better breeding conditions for these animals, since people are still purchasing animals under the guise of “AKC= healthy, perfect purebred.”
As I walked around the well-kept pet store, I found an adorable German Shepherd puppy and I asked if I could play with him in one of the cubicles. I asked the saleswoman, who was honestly very nice, if she had met the breeder, and if she had seen any of the rest of this puppy’s family. She admitted she hadn’t, but was able to get me a copy of the animal records prior to their arrival at the pet store. The dog had some of its first vaccinations taken care of, which I didn’t expect and was actually impressed by. However, something in the paperwork caught my eye. Near the top of the animal’s records, there was a column asking about the number of dogs on the premises- 1-25, 26-50, 51-75, 76-100, or 100 +. This dog had a check mark in the box “1-25” and the sheet gave the name and address to where this breeder lived in Indiana. At first, I was pleasantly surprised by this; I hadn’t expected to see any sort of information available about the dog’s beginnings. But then I read further, where the form had a number for their USDA license number for this particular breeder. The line next to this read “exempt” with the reason being that this was a hobby breeder.
Yes, bringing this full circle, I thought the same thing. The USDA is not monitoring this breeder. There is no one monitoring the conditions this puppy came from, not even under the bare minimum standards that are allowed through the USDA. In addition, I did a basic google search for this breeder once I left the store. I tried looking up a phone number for the breeder that was listed or another way to get in contact with him. I was unable to find any more than the name and address that was listed on the paper at the store. Admittedly, even this amount of information was more than I expected, and I hope that anyone who shops from a pet store would physically drive to the address given. I am sure, sadly, that 99% of the time that is not the case.
I could make this into a five-part expose, however, I think you understand the reasons behind my passion for this issue. My purpose in writing this essay is this- if you are ready for a companion animal, please, do your research. Puppy mills are supported by people who are still willing to pay for an animal who comes from these conditions. To end this inhumane cycle of profit, as consumers, we need to stop purchasing from anyone who isn’t a shelter, animal control, or a responsible breeder. Start your search by going to an animal shelter, and looking at the animals available. There are animal shelters all over the country, and the staff and volunteers at these facilities are already familiar with the animal they have been housing, so there are less surprises when they come home with you. If you still think you would like a certain breed and are not finding a companion animal that fits with your needs, please look on the resources below, that can help narrow your search criteria if you have one. If after this you still would like to work with a breeder, please use the attached link below to help find a breeder that treats companion animals and their parents with respect and kindness.
Remember, when you adopt an animal from a shelter, you save the lives of two animals- the one you took home, and the one that can now take its place. Thank you for reading this and for considering adopting before shopping.
How to find a dog that is not bred from a puppy mill.
How to find companion animals in your area, including search criteria if you are looking for a certain animal:
If you cannot find the companion animal you are searching for after looking through from the resources listed and your local shelters, I highly suggest going through this checklist if you are choosing a breeder.
On a positive note, some pet stores are becoming “cruelty free.” See here how pet stores can actually become part of the solution, and how you can encourage your local pet store to adopt this model.
If you suspect a puppy mill in your area, report it! Do not think you are “saving” an animal by purchasing it- you are funding the organization for the future breeding of these animals into inhumane conditions. You can report your suspicions in the following ways, and you can also call your local animal control for further assistance.
Humanesociety.org (puppy mill task force)
Call (877) MILL-TIP
“Adopting from an Animal Shelter or a Rescue Group”
“ASPCA Pet Statistics”- https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/petstatistics
“How to Choose a Responsible Breeder”
“Where to Get a Puppy”
“The Puppy Mill Project” – everything you want to know and don’t want to know about puppy mills.
“11 Facts About Homeless Animals”
“Shelter VS Breeder”
“Spay and Neuter Program”