‘We are so close to losing the puppy that we loved’: HSUS report details 10 years of complaints about puppy mill dogs
The moment Tamara Vucak brought her new puppy, Kiki, home, she knew something was wrong. “She had a weird breathing sound …but I just thought that was how puppies of that size breathe,” Vucak recalls. But when Kiki got worse, her mom took her to the emergency vet where she remained for three days. In the end, after hundreds of dollars in veterinary bills, Kiki’s condition got so bad that she had to be put down.
By the time Vucak contacted the puppy mills campaign at the Humane Society of the United States, she knew that she had been the victim of a puppy mill scam. The “breeder” who sold Vucak the puppy she first saw online had delivered the dog to her in an Ohio gas station parking lot and had refused to even give her Kiki’s veterinary records. After Kiki’s death, when Vucak tried to confront the breeder, she found that he had deleted all of his ads and disappeared.
Kiki’s is one of 5,118 complaints that we received between 2007 and 2017, via our puppy mills hotline, our online complaint form, and by email. A majority of these puppies turned out to have health problems. We reviewed each one of these to prepare our Puppy Buyers Complaints report that we are releasing today, with the goal of alerting future pet buyers to the common problems they should watch out for when they buy a pet, and to highlight which states these problems are most concentrated in.
Of the complaints we received, at least 15 to 20 percent of the puppies died of serious illnesses or had to be put down, and hundreds had health problems that were chronic or lifelong in nature. The highest numbers of complaints linked to pet stores involved businesses in Florida, Ohio and Illinois, followed by New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan. And complaints about breeders who sold animals directly to consumers were linked most often to breeders in Missouri, Texas, Ohio and Oklahoma, in that order.
The most common illnesses we encountered among the dogs were intestinal parasites such as worms, giardia and/or coccidia, respiratory issues such as bronchial infections and pneumonia, infectious diseases that can be deadly to puppies, such as parvovirus and canine distemper, ear problems such as infections and mites, skin disorders such as mange, urinary infections and bladder issues and hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, which can lead to seizures or unconsciousness. Some of the most commonly seen congenital defects included seizures, heart murmurs, liver diseases and deafness.
When our puppy mills campaign receives a complaint, we do our best to reach out to the buyer and share information on how they can obtain justice. We notify them about laws, such as puppy lemon laws, that can help them recover some of their costs, and agencies that might be able to look into problem breeders. Sometimes, as we did in Kiki’s case, we use an animal’s story to try to change the laws: in Ohio, where Kiki’s owner lives, The HSUS and our partners are supporting a ballot initiative to improve conditions for tens of thousands of dogs held in commercial breeding facilities in the state. The proposed measure would require, among many other needed improvements, for breeders to vaccinate breeding dogs for common illnesses such as the ones that affected Kiki and so many other puppies like her.
It is important to keep in mind that the 5,118 complaints we received represent only a small fraction of all sick puppy complaints nationwide. Many more buyers of sick puppies report their complaints directly to the seller, to local animal control or law enforcement, or to consumer groups. Many others, busy trying to provide urgent care to a sick puppy, do not contact anyone at all.
The Humane Society of the United States is hard at work to stop puppy mills, and our work encompasses a number of aspects, including working with state, local and federal lawmakers to create laws that crack down on these commercial breeding operations, pressuring the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency charged with licensing and inspecting some breeders that sell to pet stores or online, to upgrade its standards of care for such operations, and assisting law enforcement in reporting, investigating and shutting down problem puppy mills. We’ve also made tremendous progress in cutting off key puppy mill sales outlets. We have helped pass two state laws—in Maryland and California—and more than 260 local ordinances across 20 states that prohibit the sale of commercially-raised puppies in pet stores.
But this is a tough fight and the puppy mill industry is fighting back harder than ever. One of the ways they are pushing back is by proposing pro-puppy-mill bills, like one introduced just last week in Michigan that would prohibit localities from passing laws that stop the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores. We killed similar bills in Florida and Georgia this year, and we are working hard to defeat this newest threat.
Our primary goal is to end the suffering at its source, by stopping puppy mills altogether, and we need your support more than ever. You can help by shopping only at pet stores that don’t sell commercially raised puppies (find a list of stores near you by texting PUPPY to 77879), by getting your next pet from a shelter or rescue or from a responsible breeder you have met in person. You can also get in touch with your lawmakers to support bills in Congress that fight puppy mills, like The WOOF Act and the Puppy Protection Act. As always, follow us on social media and make sure you are signed up for our advocacy alerts so we can let you know if there’s a bill or an opportunity to take action in your area. Thank you for helping us fight this fight.