Most of us are fairly careful about where we make our major purchases. When we want a new refrigerator, for example, we head to a well-known retailer of large appliances, not to the corner newsstand or the beauty salon.
Yet we'll be walking through a mall and see a kitten in a pet shop window, and common sense falls by the wayside. We want that cute little ball of fur and we simply throw caution to the wind.
Pet store kittens and puppies are most often sourced from puppy mills, the quiet horror of America's heartland. All across Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Missouri and several other states, dogs and cats are locked in small cages from birth onward, bred over and over again until they die. Never exercised or socialized, these animals receive neither love nor pity during their short painful lives.
These mills are money machines for those who operate them. Pet stores and puppy discount shops are their customers, and the demand is constant. Every puppy we find too cute to pass up when we're at the shopping center creates the demand for another litter. Every time we purchase a kitten on the way to the dry cleaners, somewhere another cat is doomed to a lifelong imprisonment.
Many puppy mills do not directly retail their animals. Instead, they sell their puppies to a broker, and it is the broker that sells to pet shops and stores across the country. One of the larger brokers calls itself a purveyor of quality puppies and boasts of having sold 85,000 pups in 2002.
To stop these crimes, we must stop these purchases. Capitalism is what created this market; it is also the way to destroy it. When no pet store can sell a puppy, the last puppy mill will shut down.
Where to buy your pet
Millions of animals in shelters across the country need homes; at any time, roughly 25 percent of those strays are purebreds. So please, begin by trying to save a life since these shelters are forced to euthanize over 10 million pets each year.
If you don't find the pet you desire at the pound, seek a professional breeder. These are compassionate individuals dedicated to improving and maintaining the best of a particular breed. To find one in your area, contact a local veterinarian, or the American Kennel Club. Or visit a website like www.pets4you.com where many breeders advertise and those that do comply with all the highest standards and practices.
When you visit the breeder, be sure to see all the dogs, not just the puppies. Find out what genetic testing the breeder offers, and what sort of guarantee is included. Ask how many litters are produced each year, and how they are sold. Get references – call several folks who have purchased animals and see how they are doing. Review their sales contract (top breeders will most assuredly have one). Listen carefully – professional breeders will have lots of questions about you, too! They want to place their animals in the right homes, with people who understand the responsibilities of such an undertaking.
Most professional breeders concentrate on one breed of dog; those featuring hybrid pups (LabraDoodles or Golden Doodles, for example) will have two. More than that should send up alarm flags.
Reputable breeders are just that: breeders with a reputation for excellence. They will be known by veterinarians in their area, they will have a clean record with the Better Business Bureau, they will have satisfied customers with whom you can meet or consult. All of their dogs – not just the puppies – will be kept humanely and comfortably, with areas for exercise and opportunities for socialization with humans and other dogs. Those producing pedigreed animals will present the history of the line, its champions, its show winners.
Brokers often take out newspaper ads, announcing the availability of hundreds of puppies at discount prices, listing lots of different breeds. These animals have most often been purchased from out-of-state puppy mills, trucked to your city or town to generate quick cash. Don't be drawn into such promotions! Remember, every time any one of us purchases a dog from a puppy mill, we condone and extend the horrors these animals endure.
In many areas today, consumers are organizing protests, demanding change. In Orange County, California, dog rescue group members picketed a mall management company, demanding they cease renting to businesses that sell pet mill animals. In Boston, Massachusetts, consumer rights activists have demanded full disclosure on the origin of each animal featured for sale in local pet shops. Visit the Humane Society or ASPCA websites for information on legislative efforts and protest (www.humanesociety.org or www.aspca.org) or head to www.pets4you.com to find a reputable breeder today.