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On Puppy Mill Awareness Day (and Everyday), Remember to Adopt, not Shop

caged puppy mill dog

At the Humane Society of Utah, we live and breathe the motto “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” This is not only because we house, care for, and adopt out companion animals who are in need of families. This is also because pet stores and online classified ads often sell animals from large commercial breeding facilities, colloquially known as “puppy/kitten mills.” Puppy and kitten mills place profit over animal welfare, leading to cruelty, neglect, and long-term consequences for the puppies and kittens they produce as well as the families who are duped into buying them. 

What is a puppy/kitten mill?

A puppy/kitten mill is a high-volume commercial breeding operation that puts profit over animal health and welfare. The focus is creating as many puppies or kittens as possible in the shortest amount of time. The operation may be small or large, unlicensed or licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). If licensed by the USDA, the facility is subject to the Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”), a piece of legislation that has not been significantly updated since its passage in the 1960s, despite considerable advances in what we know about companion animal care. Unfortunately, licensing by the USDA means very little, as the department is significantly underfunded and understaffed, leading to a lack of inspection, oversight, and enforcement of the lax regulations in place for these facilities. 

puppy mill dog in a cage

What are the conditions for animals in a puppy/kitten mill? 

The conditions of these facilities are deplorable at best. The cage size is usually six inches larger than the animal being bred (on each side of the animal) with slatted metal flooring to allow the animals to excrete freely without ever leaving the cage. The cages are usually stacked vertically, one on top of another on top of another. Breeding females usually spend 24 hours a day in their cages, requiring them to urinate and defecate in the cages, causing urine burns to the feet and stomach of the animal and allowing waste to rain down onto animals below. The wire flooring needed for this design often causes ulcers on the paw pads of both cats and dogs. 

Veterinary care is virtually nonexistent. These facilities often simply treat the animals with antibiotics, but do not provide vet checks or grooming. This leads to significant matting that can be painful and cause a lack of movement, curled claws that grow into the pads of the feet and cause significant pain to the animal, and severe dental disease that can become infected, causing oral-nasal fissures that can kill an animal in a horrifically painful manner.

What does this have to do with adopting instead of shopping? 

Everything! Retail stores often source the animals they have available for sale from puppy and kitten mills. Retail stores sell dogs and cats from puppy and kitten mills for two main reasons: 1) the animals are cheaper to procure, leading to a higher profit margin for the pet store and 2) reputable breeders would never sell to a pet store, as it is an industry-standard (and often a trade association requirement) not to do so.  

While the Humane Society of Utah will always promote adoption over other methods of bringing a new pet into your home, we do recognize and acknowledge that families may have special needs that require them to seek a breeder. In such a situation, we recommend avoiding pet stores and online classifieds, opting instead for a reputable breeder in your area. For some tips for finding a reputable breeder, check out this position statement on breeding standards from our friends at the ASPCA. 

puppy mill puppy in a cage

What can I do to fight puppy and kitten mills? 

First and foremost, adopt, don’t shop! Second, help shut down the demand for these facilities by ending sales of dogs and cats in retail pet stores. Find out if your community is one that has banned the sale of dogs and cats in retail pet stores. If it is not, contact your local officials (city council, mayor, county council, etc.) and let them know that profiting off of the suffering of animals is not to be tolerated in your community. 

If you need help with getting in contact with the decision makers in your community or need advice on how to start that conversation, contact us at [email protected]. We are happy to help in any way that we can.

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