Don’t buy that puppy in the window

Amid the rolling farmland and scenic sunsets of the Midwest, picture this scene: German Shepherds crammed into tiny cages, elevated over piles of feces. A recent mother sits in one of these cages with pups, her coat filthy, eyes matted and her body thin and dehydrated. Neither she nor the pups have any protection against the elements. The pups wander about on the wire floor, some having already died from disease or exposure. The mother dog cannot bark in protest — a metal rod rammed down her throat has severed her vocal cords. She is bred every heat cycle, and by the time she is four years old will no longer be able to produce more pups. She will be killed, most likely by gunshot or bludgeoning, and one of her daughters will take her place.

Welcome to a puppy mill.

Puppy mills are farms run by dog breeders whose sole intent is to make a living from the dogs they breed.

When breeding dogs becomes a money-making endeavor, both the dogs and the puppy buyers suffer.

German Shepherd owners know that the cost of properly feeding and caring for even a single dog runs in the hundreds of dollars per year. Add to this the necessary preventative care for a pregnant bitch, cost of the stud fee or stud dog (and his care), shots, worming and food for the puppies, and the total can rise to the thousands.

And that cost is the minimum; an ethical breeder will take the time and money required to show her German Shepherds and have both parents screened for genetic diseases, requiring more vet visits, x-rays and blood work.

Suddenly, the money earned from the sale of puppies doesn’t look like much of a profit, especially considering a bitch should only be bred once a year for her health.

But the “licensed” or “professional” pet breeders who operate puppy mills are not concerned with the lives of their dogs. The dogs’ worth is inherent in whether he or she can produce more puppies, to be sold to the highest bidder, a broker.

Brokers gather puppies from puppy mills to sell to pet stores. Brokers are necessary because of the number of breeds in demand; a pet store likes to have several breeds of dogs available for its customers. In addition, brokers arrange for the shipment of puppies to the store.

For healthy development, no puppy should leave its mother before 6 weeks of age, and should not leave its littermates before 7 weeks. Ethical German Shepherd breeders will keep their puppies until they are at least 7 weeks old, many preferring to wait until the puppy is 8 to 10 weeks. Typically, pet store puppies are shipped between 4 and 8 weeks old to arrive “fresh” in the store windows.

Pet store owners and workers will simply lie to their customers about the dogs’ origins, claiming the pups come from “local breeders,” “professional breeders,” or “licensed pet dealers.” While any of the above might be true (after all, anyone who makes a living off his or her endeavor could be considered a “professional”), it does not mean the puppies did not come from puppy mills.

Customers, who up until that point may not have even wanted a dog, do not question what they are told and hand over their money.

Because the puppies were raised in substandard conditions and their parents were not screened for proper temperament or genetic diseases, the customer has just purchased a ticking time bomb.

The 48-hour guarantee that most pet stores offer on their puppies will not cover the life-threatening genetic diseases that won’t appear until the dog is six to 24 months old. Nor will it satisfy those customers whose puppy, having contracted parvovirus or distemper during shipping, dies within those 48 hours.

The guarantee also does not protect the consumer from a puppy’s questionable temperament. In a pet store where I worked as a high school student, a four-month-old Rottweiler puppy for sale bit and drew blood on several employees who went near his food dish. The dog was sold to a family with a two-year-old daughter. The family was not told about the bites.

In addition, pet stores that sell puppies (purebred or mixed breed) without requiring those puppies to be spayed or neutered only add to the number of unwanted dogs languishing and dying in our nation’s shelters.

What you can do to help

  • Never buy a puppy from a pet store. There is no legitimate reason to purchase a puppy from a pet store. Fantastic pets, including purebreds, are available through your local shelter or rescue group, or by searching for dog rescue groups online. If you must purchase a purebred puppy, research information on choosing an ethical breeder.
  • Educate those around you about the conditions in puppy mills. You can order educational brochures about puppy mills from the Humane Society of the United States. Write to Reader’s Digest and Dateline NBC for copies of their investigative reports about puppy mills and pet store puppies.
  • Support legislation opposing the sale of pet store puppies. Contact your state representative or senator to require all puppies sold by pet stores to be spayed or neutered, or to support legislation banning the retail store sales of puppies.
  • Write a letter to the editor. Concise and clearly written letters to the editor will let retailers know that potential customers won’t buy pet store puppies.
  • Support your local humane society or Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. These organizations work tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate the homeless victims of puppy mills.
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