Puppy Mill Horrors and the PAWS Bill
by Ardeth Baxter
In early 2005, after a pet sale at Expo New Mexico that Mayor Martin Chavez tried unsuccessfully to shut down, Albuquerque passed an ordinance establishing a moratorium on any new pet shops selling cats and dogs within the city. When Morningstar Expositions, representing Arkansas commercial breeders, requested space at the state fair grounds for a pet fair in April, Chavez asked Governor Richardson to instruct state fair officials that any activity on state property must comply with city ordinances. Since the event was, in effect, a two-day pet shop, space was denied. Undeterred, in May Morningstar sold puppies at the county fair grounds in Santa Fe. County officials did nothing to stop it, despite protests from concerned citizens.
Why all the fuss? Because pet shops and pet fairs sell puppy mill puppies. A puppy mill is an overcrowded, dirty place where one or several breeds of puppies are continuously produced and sold with no formal breeding or placement programs; the dogs are in poor health; and there is no attempt at socialization. Puppies, as well as breeding females and “studs,” spend their lives in small hutches or crates, often with no bedding, no protection from the weather, and no veterinary care. They may suffer from eye, ear and skin infections as well as genetic defects from inbreeding and behavioral problems from intense confinement and neglect. Their food and water is substandard. Mothers are killed when they can no longer be bred. Puppies are sold at 4-8 weeks to brokers, who ship them in crates to pet stores or research labs. About half die in transit. Puppy mills produce about half a million puppies a year.
The Humane Society of the United States was the first to shine a light on the dark world of puppy mills. It led to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (AWA), which authorized “… the Secretary of Agriculture to regulate the transportation, sale, and handling of dogs, cats, and certain other animals intended to be used for purposes of research or experimentation, and for other purposes.” All breeders that sell wholesale must be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Puppy mills, and on a much smaller scale kitten mills, are kept in operation by the profit motive and poorly enforced regulations. The USDA inspects kennels for compliance with minimum standards, which include adequate space, shelter, water, food and a veterinary care program. But even the USDA admits that 25% of licensed commercial kennels are substandard. Inspections are not done often enough, sometimes inspectors are refused admittance, and violators often just get a slap on the wrist, like a small fine or a short suspension. The pet industry is huge and profitable, with a strong lobby in Congress to discourage regulation. For example, the Puppy Protection Act of 2002 limited breeding and empowered the USDA to revoke the licenses of puppy mill operations with serious repeat violations. It was defeated because the American Kennel Club didn’t want to lose registration fees from puppy mill operators.
State and local governments are largely unwilling to oversee puppy mills. Anti-cruelty laws, on the books in all 50 states, are rarely applied to them. Some states have puppy lemon laws to protect consumers against defective puppy mill dogs, but they are largely ineffective. Local humane societies or government agencies occasionally try to confiscate puppy mill animals, but it’s a costly undertaking.
Currently under consideration in Congress is PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Statute) (S. 1139 and H.R. 2669) an amendment to the AWA which would close a loophole by requiring large-scale breeders, who sell animals retail through the Internet and ads, and raise more than six litters of cats or dogs or sell more than 25 kittens or puppies annually, to be licensed by the USDA. The HSUS estimates that there are at least 3,000 retail breeders evading AWA regulations. PAWS also requires the licensure of any retail pet store that sells imported dogs and increases the temporary suspension period of AWA violators from 21 to 60 days.
To the surprise of many, the AKC supports the bill, allying itself with the HSUS, the ASPCA, and the Doris Day Animal League. But businesses that profit from mass-produced puppies, as well as many small breeder interest groups, oppose PAWS, mostly because of the dropping of the distinction between “wholesale” and “retail”. Private breeders fear federal intrusion into what they consider a harmless hobby if they breed more than the stated limit of animals. Others claim that rescue groups and shelters who charge a fee for the dogs and cats they adopt out, as well as people who sell dogs for hunting, security or breeding, will be adversely affected.
Responding to claims that PAWS is targeting rescue groups, its sponsor, Senator Rick Santorum, stated recently that, “True rescue and shelter organizations who do not sell dogs or cats in commerce, for profit, will not be brought under regulation by PAWS, whether or not they are formally incorporated as not for profit organizations.” He also announced his intention to work on the language of the bill when Congress reconvenes to clear up any misconceptions.
But the tragedy of puppy mills and over-breeding continues. The Puppy Patch, an Albuquerque pet store that closed down last year after its unhealthy puppy mill dogs were confiscated by animal control, has just reincarnated in Río Rancho as Caesar’s Pets and Exotics, selling dogs, cats and wild birds.
Ardeth Baxter is an animal rights advocate and ethical vegan with four dogs and five cats.