"Change can’t happen fast enough" declared Christopher Barrett, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau. "What’s happening in these puppy mills is atrocious." That’s Barrett’s reaction to last week’s "Oprah" exposé of the puppy mill industry, and his remarks make plain that the people in and around Lancaster County, Pa.—where some of the images broadcast on "Oprah" came from—are not circling the wagons. Barrett knows that the region he cares about and promotes is going to be saddled with a negative image unless something is done.
But how do we take on the larger problem of dogs being churned out by mills as a cash crop? Through the years, many people have condemned puppy mills, but that has not translated into systemic change. In fact, through The HSUS’s own investigations, we’ve revealed that there are probably more puppy mills than ever. At some level, that stands to reason, given that the number of dogs in homes has steadily increased year after year—in short, the mills are attempting to supply a growing market. To thrive economically, the mills merely have to capture a small portion of the market for dogs. With mill dogs going for $300 to $3,000, it’s a lucrative industry, and with little or no regulation, their operations are unfettered.
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As I’ve said before, this problem would be solved if people simply did not purchase dogs from pet stores or through the Internet. The best place, bar none, to get a companion animal is at the local shelter, or through a rescue group. Every time someone adopts from a shelter, he or she is directly helping to diminish the tragedy of animal overpopulation. We all need to do more to promote adoption in the first instance.
But the traffickers of puppy mill dogs are adept at misdirection, and succeed in selling people a bill of goods about the superiority of other sources for animals. They purport to sell dogs only from responsible breeders, even though nothing could be further from the truth. To succeed, the mills only have to dupe a portion of the public.
That’s why we’ll probably not solve this problem until we have strong laws. There are about 20 states with legislation pending that would have an impact on some mills, and many of these bills are worthy of support. But most of the bills do not address the fundamental problems associated with puppy mills. We need bolder policy solutions, and that will only happen when lawmakers hear a clamor from the public.
The government should limit the number of puppies that any operation can sell, and that alone would put a crimp on mills. Lawmakers should require that all animals be socialized. And they should place limits on the frequency of breeding for females, who are often bred every heat cycle. And elected officials should not allow imports of puppies from foreign operations, which could easily flood the American market with dogs from China, Eastern Europe, and other nations that treat the dogs as a commodity.
And the federal government should be licensing, inspecting and regulating puppy millers selling direct to the public or through the Internet. This entire class of individuals is unregulated and no minimal provision of the Animal Welfare Act applies to these facilities. Congress needs to change the law to reflect the vast lack of oversight of these puppy mills.
We need a zero tolerance policy for puppy mills, in both our laws and our consumer behavior.
It is important for every HSUS supporter to write to your elected officials at the federal and state level and demand action on puppy mills. So please take that opportunity today.