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Pet Stores, Puppy Mills, and Responsible Adoptions

There are more dogs than homes in North America. There are more dogs than homes in North America.


Many of us consider our pets to be members of the family, so the idea that thousands of animals just like our own are quietly killed each year because of human selfishness is difficult to bear. Yet the statistics are plain: five to seven million dogs and cats a year enter shelters, and of those, three to four million are euthanized (that’s 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). Call me a weepy girl all you like, but take a good look in the eyes of your pet (or someone else's) and tell me that it isn't an incredibly sad statistic.

There’s no question that we have an excess of dogs and cats in this country, and not enough willing and able pet owners to handle them all. That is why it is so important that people spay and neuter any animals that they own or find, and learn as much as they can about foster programs. One of the main reasons people buy from a breeder or a pet store is because they want a certain breed. However, 25 percent of dogs that end up in shelters are pure bred, and they often end up in the hands of foster organizations who specialize in one or two breeds. You can easily adopt your breed of choice from a foster organization, without supporting breeders.

So, What's Wrong With Breeders and The Pet Store?

The main problem with buying from a pet store, either a brick and mortar building or a website, is that you have no idea where your animals have come from. Sure, they probably look adorable playing there in the front window of the store, but if these animals came from a warehouse known as a "puppy mill," they could have any number of illnesses, not limited to:

• epilepsy
• heart disease
• musculoskeletal disorders
• endocrine and blood disorders
• deafness
• eye problems
• upper respiratory infections and "kennel cough"
• Parvovirus (a potentially fatal virus common to feral puppies)
• Fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites, heartworm

The best way to make sure that you are buying a healthy puppy is to visit the place where it was born, meet the parents (canine and human), and assess the situation. You should be able to tell if the living conditions are healthy. If for some reason the sellers won't show you their place of business, or where the dogs are kept, then move right along, and consider reporting them.

As far as breeders, many are very nice people who are about their pets. However, why should be we be breeding when there are more dogs than homes? For now, breeding seems to be on its way out – at least until the population gets back under control. There are hundreds of great dogs of every breed waiting to be adopted. There is no need to make more of them.

But, I Have Papers. Doesn't That Mean My Dog is Made of Gold?

Unfortunately, no. The only thing that "papers" ensure is that your dog's mother and father were both pure bred. It has nothing to do with the conditions in which your prospective pet grew up. And realistically, the only reason having papers matters is if you are planning to enter your furry friend into a dog or cat show, or if you want to start breeding as well. If that is the case, there are plenty of places for you to do your research, just not here.

I Want To Adopt, But I Don't Want An Emotionally Damaged Pet

You are not alone in this concern, but let me try to alleviate some of it.

First, both dogs and cats are amazingly forgiving creatures. The majority of them, even if people had not been the nicest to them in the past, will move right along and you will be a whole new experience. Of course, there will be that few that are just too angry and shut down to ever make a good pet. These will never be an option to you when you are going in to adopt. The animal shelter does a variety of tests (especially with dogs) to determine temperament. The chances of you adopting a vicious pet are very unlikely.

In fact, you will probably end up meeting one or more of the sweetest, most grateful, amazing dogs and cats ever. That has been the experience for just about everyone I know who visits an animal shelter. I, of course, want to take home all of the cats and end up with about 40 of them in my small apartment, but that's a theme for another time, and my therapist and I are currently working through this urge to hoard.

If you do adopt a dog or cat and notice that it is being triggered by something – loud sounds or flashes of light, perhaps – just keep Fido or Fluffy away from those things. In a thunderstorm, keep them close. It sounds silly, but they truly know that you are there to protect them.

So, what the Heck is a Puppy Mill?

I know, it sounds like a place where puppies are turned into grain. The reality is not much more pleasant. Puppy Mills are traditionally USDA-sanctioned breeding facilities where pure-breed dogs beget more pure-breed dogs. The regulations only require that a dog have an extra six inches of moving space, and can be stacked, allowing for the bodily fluids of one dog to drip onto the one below.

But puppy mill business isn't about the adult dogs, it's about the puppies, which are typically torn away from their mothers at about 16 weeks, the earliest possible moment. Dog behaviorists strongly recommend letting the pups spend this critical time for cognitive development with their mom and siblings. Puppy mills are in no way in business to help animals – their main goal is to make money. When we spend hundreds of dollars on a puppy because we want a certain breed, this is the situation that we are supporting.

There are currently between 2000 and 5000 USDA-sanctioned Puppy Mills, which can run the gamut from well-maintained to egregiously unsanitary, and unfortunately there are very few groups that will do anything about it. A few animal rights groups have done some undercover work, which has been less than flattering to the Puppy Mill operators, but the government has yet to actually do much of anything to protect the animals.

However, what we can do, as consumers, is use our cash to adopt a fantastic animal from a local shelter. Trust me, once you get inside one of these places you will want to take home every animal. And your adoption fee goes to the cost of immunizing and caring for your new companion, as well as helping other animals to get a shot at life. And where your money doesn't go is to the horrible conditions that many puppy mill inhabitants have to endure.

It may be a cliché bumper sticker, but since I read it at age eight, the phrase "don't breed or buy while shelter pets die" has stuck with me. Perhaps it will stick with some of you.

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Charlize Theron explains the cruelty of pet stores.
Last modified on Thursday, 21 February 2013 18:25

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