Puppies in Cage

I’m sick of writing columns like this one. Multiple times a year, I feel compelled to engage in a subject that deeply disturbs me: pet shop puppies and online pup sales.

It’s not fun to write about, and it sucks to have to dwell on the subject of people who are willing to buy purebreeds, half-breeds and hybrids from pet stores and sight-unseen online outlets. And don’t even get me started on the heartless cruelty that puppy millers, shippers and pet shop workers are willing to engage in for the privilege of turning a buck.

But if you think that writing about the topic is bad, it’s nothing compared to what vets have to suffer through as the year moves inexorably toward its holiday climax. That’s when half of all my new pup visits devolve into uncomfortable discussions with owners about why I think buying pet shop or online puppies is a uniformly bad idea — for the puppy, its parents and all the other animals the purchase will ultimately affect.

Why am I so harsh on these buyers? I think people should know better. And if they don’t, they need to be made aware of the error of their ways, so they never, ever do it again. Here’s what I usually tell them.

Despite most pet shop claims that pups come from “breeders,” the reality is almost always the opposite — unless you consider a USDA-certified commercial breeder (aka a puppy mill) a breeder.

And that online breeder with all those gorgeous “mom” and “dad” photos on that slick website? Chances are high — very high — that you’re looking at a puppy mill’s favorite way to sell puppies: direct to the consumer, with no need for a middleman.

After all, a reliable supply of year-round pups (and especially around the holidays) doesn’t happen without an agriculturally minded approach to puppy production. And that’s what puppy mills do best.

The problem is that, as good as the mills are at making babies, they’ve got a terrible track record when it comes to bringing a good product to market in a morally defensible way. Here’s a rundown of how they abuse the animals in their care.

As bad as the nightmarish, wire-bottomed cages may be — living conditions vary, but the USDA only rarely enforces hygiene and exposure standards — the worst is what living in a social vacuum does to these animals. The dogs are usually scarred beyond repair.

Puppy mills are also largely unconcerned with genetic or hereditary diseases, except for when such conditions limit litter sizes or manifest in the first few weeks of life. The mills know that they’re unlikely to get any flak, unless the owner connects the pup’s issues with their production. Plus, most owners don’t like to admit that they’ve made a mistake.

The transportation and housing of puppies is yet another welfare issue. Most of them are shipped too young, before vaccinations can be reliably and safely administered. Then they live in cramped quarters in pet shops, which may not adopt reasonably humane standards before they sell the puppies to the highest bidder. In other words, parasitism and infectious diseases run rampant in these places.

It’s revolting. And yet this industry wouldn't exist were it not for the lack of enforceable animal welfare regulations, the systematic fraud perpetrated by the industry when it comes to sales tactics and the ignorance of the I-want-a-puppy-now crowd.

It’s enough to make a vet want to scream. But screaming isn’t usually a good policy for a professional who wants to get her point across effectively. So I try to take the subtle route by telling clients where they went wrong and how never to fall for it again — and by writing about it as much as I can.

Luckily, there’s something you can do, too. Not only can you tell all your friends to boycott retail puppy sellers, but you can also make a difference by visiting nopetstorepuppies.com. This ASPCA campaign asks people to promise that they will refrain from buying anything at pet stores that support the puppy mill industry by selling puppies.

Whatever your political leanings, how can you not speak out against something so deplorable? I couldn’t. I hope you’ll agree with me and pledge!

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