An effort to curb ‘puppy mills’

A pair of dogs in a cage, awaiting freedom.(Photo: Kitsananan, via Shutterstock)

Bringing a new puppy or kitten home should be a wonderful and rewarding experience, but consumers who purchase their new family member from a pet shop may not be getting the dog or cat they’ve been promised. Despite enticing claims that they only source from humane, small-scale breeders, pet stores across the country supply unsuspecting consumers with animals from puppy and kitten “mills.”

Many mill dogs and cats spend their entire lives in small, filthy, wire cages without adequate veterinary care, food, water or socialization.  These facilities are designed to maximize profits, with animals viewed as nothing more than commodities.

The USDA does a poor job of licensing and inspecting commercial breeding facilities that should be regulated, leaving thousands of puppy mills with no oversight.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency charged with regulating the industry and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, does little to ensure the welfare of the animals in commercial breeding facilities. The standards of care are shockingly low, and USDA enforcement of these minimal standards is weak, resulting in breeders with multiple and egregious violations remaining licensed year after year.

To make matters worse, the USDA does a poor job of licensing and inspecting commercial breeding facilities that should be regulated, leaving thousands of puppy mills with no oversight. California pet stores currently source from both licensed and unlicensed mills.

In response to the inherent cruelty in these mills and the public’s increased awareness that pet stores serve as a significant supply chain for the industry, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, has introduced Assembly Bill 485, which would eliminate the sale of commercially-raised cats, dogs and rabbits in California pet stores, and encourage partnerships that promote adoptions of homeless pets.

The bill would protect animals and consumers, and set an important precedent for the rest of nation. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Best Friends Animal Society, and The Humane Society of the United States, along with other local animal welfare groups, enthusiastically support this bill.

The law would protect consumers from ending up with unhealthy animals. Puppies and kittens in pet stores are often sick because they are born into deplorable conditions, taken from their mothers too soon and exposed to a wide range of diseases due to inbreeding or a lack of early veterinary care.

It is not uncommon for a consumer to spend thousands of dollars on veterinary bills caring for a sick animal they purchased at a pet store. It is also well documented that dogs and cats purchased from pet stores often have behavior problems and trouble adjusting to life in a home.

The model proposed by the bill is a win-win for California. With broader access to adoptable pets, families can more readily provide a good home to a homeless dog or cat. This, in turn, reduces the burden on our public animal shelters, and on taxpayers who ultimately bear the cost of housing and caring for homeless animals.

Californians who choose not to adopt will still be able to seek out responsible breeders who sell directly to the public and who are proud to show consumers where their animals are kept. California has the opportunity to set the bar for the rest of the nation in standing up against an immensely cruel industry.

To date, 35 diverse municipalities in California—ranging from rural towns to large cities—have enacted similar ordinances. Those cities did so to take a stand against allowing inhumanely-bred animals to be sold in their communities.

Assembly Bill 485 will help break the supply chain so that “mill” operations are unable to profit from their abusive practices and could help save the lives of thousands of shelter pets in the state.

Ed’s Note: Amy Jesse is Puppy Mills Public Policy Manager for the Humane Society of the United States. Elizabeth Oreck is the National Manager of Puppy Mill Initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society. Susan Riggs is Senior Legislative Director for the Western Region for the ASPCA.


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