Buying a puppy online is usually just as bad as buying one in a pet store. Online puppy sale sites advertise the offspring of “champions”and use a host of fancy terms—certified kennel, AKC registered, pedigree, health certified—and picturesque photos of tail-wagging terriers, doe-eyed Chihuahuas and every other adorable breed… but most of these dogs are puppy mill dogs. When you support these sites, you’re supporting the puppy mill industry.
Don’t be fooled. An informal online survey conducted by the ASPCA reveals that just as many Americans are now purchasing their dogs over the Internet as buying from pet stores. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, hundreds of complaints are filed every year from victims who were scammed when buying a dog online. While there are some reputable breeders online, they are far and few between, and none of them will ship a puppy to you without meeting you first. Even though they may advertise online, responsible breeders will not make the transaction online. Here are some of the most common scam scenarios puppy mill breeders’use on consumers:
The Bait and Switch In this classic scam, the website depicts dozens of photos of cute and cuddly, happy and healthy puppies. What the consumer doesn’t realize is that these are stock photos taken from a clip-art file—or simply stolen from other websites. In this scam, virtually all contact is done via email, and the puppy is typically shipped without the buyer ever seeing the dog in person. The scam is revealed when the dog is delivered and the buyer is faced not with the adorable puppy from the photos, but a sickly dog, often of a different color or with different markings. Scammers count on people feeling guilty or compassionate and choosing not to send the puppy back.
Sanctuaries or Scamtuaries? Unfortunately, this next scam preys on animal lovers who want to help dogs in need. In this scenario, the puppy mill will actually set up its website as a“rescue group” or “sanctuary,” offering purebred puppies that have been rescued from shelters, bad breeders, even from puppy mills! The scam is revealed by the price tag—the “adoption fees” for these dogs often exceed $1,000! Breed rescue groups usually charge no more than a few hundred dollars—because their goal is not to make money, but to find wonderful homes for their rescues.
AKC-Registered AKC registry is a service provided by the American Kennel Club. While many people believe AKC registration means their puppies came from reputable breeders, being AKC-registered means nothing more than your puppy’s parents both had AKC papers. While there are some AKC regulations, they do not restrict puppy mills from producing AKC-registered dogs. The fact is, many AKC-registered dogs are born in puppy mills.
Never buy a dog you haven’t met in person. Make adoption your first option or choose a responsible breeder.
Puppy mill puppies are typically sold to pet shops—usually through a broker, or middleman—and marketed as young as eight weeks of age. The lineage records of puppy mill dogs are often falsified.
What Is a Puppy Mill? A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Unlike responsible breeders, who place the utmost importance on producing the healthiest puppies possible, breeding at puppy mills is performed without consideration of genetic quality. This results in generations of dogs with unchecked hereditary defects. Puppy mill puppies are typically sold to pet shops—usually through a broker, or middleman—and marketed as young as eight weeks of age. The lineage records of puppy mill dogs are often falsified. What Problems Are Common to Puppy Mill Dogs? Illness, disease, fearful behavior and lack of socialization with humans and other animals are common characteristics of dogs from puppy mills. Because puppy mill operators fail to apply proper husbandry practices that would remove sick dogs from their breeding pools, puppies from puppy mills are prone to congenital and hereditary conditions. These can include: Epilepsy Heart disease Kidney disease Musculoskeletal disorders (hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, etc.) Endocrine disorders (diabetes, hyperthyroidism) Blood disorders (anemia, Von Willebrand disease) Deafness Eye problems (cataracts, glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, etc.) Respiratory disorders On top of that, puppies often arrive in pet stores—and their new homes—with diseases or infirmities. These can include: Giardia Parvovirus Distemper Upper respiratory infections Kennel cough Pneumonia Mange Fleas Ticks Intestinal parasites Heartworm Chronic diarrhea How Are Animals Treated at Puppy Mills? Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. Puppy mill dogs do not get to experience treats, toys, exercise or basic grooming. To minimize waste cleanup, dogs are often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs—and it is not unusual for cages to be stacked up in columns. Breeder dogs at mills might spend their entire lives outdoors, exposed to the elements—or crammed inside filthy structures where they never get the chance to feel the sun or a gust of fresh air on their faces. How Often Are Dogs Bred in Puppy Mills? In order to maximize profits, female dogs are bred at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. When, after a few years, they are physically depleted to the point that they no longer can reproduce, breeding females are often killed. The mom and dad of the puppy in the pet store window are unlikely to make it out of the mill alive—and neither will the many puppies born with overt physical problems that make them unsalable to pet stores. When and Why Did Puppy Mills Begin? Puppy mills began sprouting up after World War II. In response to widespread crop failures in the Midwest, the United States Department of Agriculture began promoting purebred puppies as a fool-proof “cash” crop. It is easy to see why this might have appealed to farmers facing hard times—breeding dogs does not require the intense physical labor that it takes to produce edible crops, nor are dogs as vulnerable to unfavorable weather. Chicken coops and rabbit hutches were repurposed for dogs, and the retail pet industry—pet stores large and small—boomed with the increasing supply of puppies from the new "mills." Today, Missouri is considered the largest puppy mill state in the country.
Seeking a puppy supply source on the East Coast, puppy brokers—the middlemen who deliver the dogs from mills to pet stores—convinced many of Pennsylvania’s Amish farmers in the 1970s that puppies were the cash crop of the future. Brokers conducted seminars to teach farmers how to operate their own breeding facilities. Thirty years later, Lancaster County, PA, has the highest concentration of puppy mills of any county in the nation and has earned the dubious nickname of “Puppy Mill Capital of the East.”
How Can I Help Fight Puppy Mills? There are many ways you can fight puppy mills, starting with refusing to patronize the stores and websites that sell their dogs.
Do not buy a puppy from a pet store—in fact, do not buy a puppy from any place that does not allow you to see its entire facility and meet the mother dog. This includes websites that sell pets online. Anyone can put up a great-looking website boasting the highest standards of breeding and care, but you really have no way of knowing if such businesses are what they claim. Truly responsible breeders want to meet you before selling you one of their prized pups to be sure that he or she is going to a good home.