Buddy is a 10-week-old Labrador Retriever puppy. Purchased at a pet store for a "sale" price of $399, Buddy has been in his new home less than two days when his new family noticed that he was lethargic, wasn’t eating, and had bloody diarrhea. He was rushed to the veterinarian and was put on IV fluids. Buddy was diagnosed with Parvovirus, a virus that attacks the digestive system with a vengeance. After several long days at the veterinary hospital, Buddy died during the night.
Buddy is just one example of the thousands of purebred puppies sold each year at pet stores. For Buddy’s new owners and for other consumers, it’s love at first sight when we see those cute little puppies wagging their tails in the windows of pet stores. With pet stores strategically placed in malls it’s hard to pass one without stopping in. Once you’re inside the store, the likelihood of an impulse buy increases, which the pet store business depends on. Though pet stores charge exorbitant prices for their puppies, there is no shortage of consumers willing to shell out the money to own a purebred.
The willingness of the consumer to pay such enormous fees is due, in part, to the fact that these puppies come with American Kennel Club (AKC) registration papers. People mistakenly believe that AKC papers mean quality. The truth is that having "papers" does not guarantee the health, quality, proper breeding conditions or claims to lineage of these puppies.
The irony to this story is that while puppies are being sold at pet stores, tragically there are millions of healthy, adoptable, unwanted dogs being killed at animal shelters each year due to the pet overpopulation problem. In addition, many consumers, like Buddy’s owners, are unaware that nearly 20,000 puppies sold at pet stores each year come from puppy mills.
Puppy mills, or commercial breeders, are facilities that mass-produce purebred puppies. They beget as many purebred puppies as possible with little regard to the health, well being and socialization of the defenseless animals under their care. The adult female "studs" are incessantly bred to exhaustion and are often too weak to care for their newborns properly. They live very long, lonely lives in miserable cages. When old age or poor health prevent the delivery of ample numbers of puppies, they are shot to death.
Though undercover investigations by various organizations such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the TV newsmagazine DateLine have revealed the true horror of puppy mills, they still continue to exist today, churning out puppy after puppy as if on an assembly line. Puppies like Buddy who are born to the breeding females at puppy mills live in deplorable conditions. Three and four puppies are crowded into dilapidated cages that would be considered small for one dog. The coats of these unfortunate creatures are matted, eyes are crusted from infection, and open wounds on their tiny, frail bodies ooze with neglect. These animals have no comforts, no bedding, no regular vet care and no way to protect themselves from the freezing cold winters and the blistering heat of the summers. Many die agonizing deaths long before they can get to a pet store.
These inhumane conditions are often the direct cause of health and behavior problems that can plague these beautiful animals for the rest of their lives. People insisting on buying that doggie in the window should prepare themselves for the likelihood that they will be faced with astronomical veterinary bills that can incur when they bring their sick puppy home. Unfortunately, it is after the family has become emotionally attached to their new family member that the health problems or sickness become apparent, making the tough decisions about the pet’s future even more tragic.
There are laws designed to protect puppies like Buddy; however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) poorly enforces them. Inspections by the USDA are too infrequent and are often announced ahead of time, allowing the puppy mills ample time to clean up their act. Legislation proposed in October 2001 called the Puppy Protection Act (PPA), was created out of a need to protect purebred animals from exploitation. Added as an amendment to the farm bill, the PPA was vigorously opposed and eventually met an untimely death following a House-Senate Farm Bill Conference. Had this bill passed, there would have been limits to the number of litters a breeding female can have, it would have created a "three strikes and you’re out" policy that would allow the USDA to revoke the license of chronic violators, and the bill would have required that all dogs be socialized with other dogs and people. Sadly, the group barking the loudest against this bill is the AKC. The AKC argued that, among other things, allowing the federal government to set limits on the number of litters a dog can have would set a "dangerous precedent" if it became law. Since when is setting limits on the number of unwanted puppies being born a bad thing? Animal shelters are full of unwanted dogs, with only a small percentage of them being adopted. Animal humane organizations campaign tirelessly to end the overpopulation problem by encouraging spaying and neutering of all animals. This stance by the AKC sends the wrong message that the pet overpopulation problem is a mixed breed problem not a purebred problem.
Without the Puppy Protection Act, what can we do as animal lovers and consumers to protect the future "Buddys" of the world? First, as long as there is a high demand for purebred puppies, pet stores will keep supplying them to the public. The only way to end the sale of sick and genetically defective animals is to STOP purchasing puppies from pet stores. Once we make the choice to no longer support the pet stores, we can STOP the economic propagation of puppy mills.
Second, most people are unaware that up to 25 percent of the population at animal shelters are purebred animals. Many are adults that make great companions as they are past the chewing and digging stages, and are sometimes housebroken.
Third, why not consider adopting a mixed breed dog or puppy? The other 75 percent of animals at the shelter are mixed breed animals. Mixed breed dogs and puppies are happy animals who give unconditional love just like the purebreds. They are wonderful animals, great companions and they make great pets. They come in all shapes and sizes, making it easy to find one that fits your lifestyle. The animal shelters are just overflowing with these incredibly beautiful animals. I guarantee you will find one that is just "dying" to go home with you.
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