Our latest HSUS special investigation reveals that Georgia pet stores are peddling hundreds of puppies each year sourced from puppy brokers and puppy mills, some with serious Animal Welfare Act violations. The dogs are then sold to unsuspecting buyers who all too often are faced with heartbreak when their beloved animals fall sick. These kinds of bad endings are the natural outcomes of keeping animals in poor living conditions and denying them proper veterinary care.
Puppy mills are commercial breeding facilities that raise dogs in factory-farm-like conditions, putting profit above the welfare of the animals. According to USDA inspection reports, at some of the mills supplying to Georgia pet stores, animals have been found suffering with conditions such as bleeding sores and encrusted eyes. In some cases, there were feces in the dogs’ food bowls, and some animals had untreated, open wounds, or were heavily matted. One USDA inspector wrote of one of the puppy mill suppliers: “The animal was first observed excessively salivating. Closer observation revealed the animal did not have any teeth and the jaw bone on the left side was partially missing and detached from the gums leaving the bone exposed.”
Our findings are alarming but not surprising. This is an industry that, more often than not, cuts corners to get dogs to the market on the cheap, and then charges consumers exorbitant prices even as it provides substandard care. Previous HSUS investigations in Chicago, New York, Texas, and Virginia have revealed similar shortcomings: pet stores all too often buy and sell puppies who are sourced from inhumane puppy mills that treat them like products, not living, breathing animals.
Our investigation, which tracked sales at 13 of the 17 stores that sell puppies, revealed:
- Most of the puppies coming into Georgia from the Midwest during the 60-day period of our investigation came from the Hunte Corporation – a large Midwest puppy broker.
- A breeder suppying a Petland outlet, Clear Springs Kennels in Ark., was last year cited for several violations in a USDA inspection report, including dogs badly in need of veterinary care, broken wires in cages that pose an injury risk, and filth at the facility. Petland claims to have a policy of not buying from breeders with direct violations.
- The owner of one of the pet stores our investigators visited, 19 Breeders, was charged in 2009 with animal cruelty and 28 other animal offenses. He was found in violation for 18 counts of improper animal confinement.
Staff at many of the stores engaged in elaborate deception to convince our undercover investigators – as they do with unsuspecting buyers — that they were getting the dogs from responsible breeders. Some told our investigators that their stores’ puppies came from “families” or from breeders the store owners know well and visit often. A few Georgia stores even showed our investigators photos of pet store managers in posed pictures with some of the breeders. However, tellingly, there is not a kennel building in sight in these posed pictures.
The HSUS is gaining ground in the fight against puppy mills, and over the last few years we’ve secured some notable reforms passed at the federal, state, and local levels that chip away at the menace of puppy mills. We were pleased to work with the USDA to close a loophole that had allowed Internet sellers to bypass any federal inspections. In several states, we have been at the heart of battles to defeat ag-gag laws that seek to prevent the public from seeing the cruelties that go on inside factory farms and puppy mills. We have exposed the problem of puppy mills selling dogs at open-air flea markets in the sweltering heat. We have helped secure important, precedent-setting victories in federal courts upholding local puppy mill ordinances. In August, a federal court in Phoenix rejected a pet store’s challenge to that city’s ordinance banning the sale of commercially-bred dogs. Earlier this week, a New York federal judge dismissed a challenge to an ordinance in New York City that prohibits pet stores from buying puppies from commercial puppy brokers and USDA-licensed breeders with severe Animal Welfare Act violations.
But the only way we can eradicate puppy mills completely, until the pet stores and Internet sellers clean up their act, is when people choose instead to adopt dogs from shelters, breed rescues, and responsible breeders. We also call on the pet industry and the USDA to adopt meaningful standards of care for commercial, large-scale dog breeding operations. We hope that in Georgia, and in the rest of the country, this eye-opening investigation will lead more pet owners to consider adoption when they next go looking for a new family member.