Dogs are suffering and dying in puppy mills across the country, but the agency in charge of regulating animal breeding facilities is doing next to nothing to help these dogs, according to an eye-opening report just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general. In one Oklahoma puppy mill, inspectors found five dead dogs lying among other dogs who were so starved that they were cannibalizing their cage mates. The USDA didn't rescue the survivors, and 22 more dogs perished.
Dogs in other puppy mills were found living on piles of feces. Some dogs were crawling with ticks and suffering from open wounds, but puppy mill operators were rarely penalized for first offenses--even serious ones--and repeat offenders were frequently let off the hook.
As this report shows, we can't rely on a government agency to ensure that breeders treat dogs decently. It's up to each one of us to stop dogs from suffering in puppy mill hells by never buying animals from pet stores, classified ads, parking lots or over the Internet and by always having our animals spayed or neutered.
The vast majority of puppies who are sold through these channels come from mass-breeding facilities where dogs are treated like puppy-producing machines and are never given any love, attention or even a chance to roll in the grass. Dogs in these facilities are typically confined to outdoor hutches or stacked in small crates or wire cages, often one on top of another, so that dogs on the lower tiers become soaked with urine and covered with feces from the dogs above.
Many of these dogs are sickly. They often have crusty, oozing eyes and suffer from ear infections, swollen teats, gangrenous skin and foot abscesses that are caused by constantly standing on the wire floors of their cages. Many dogs who suffer from pneumonia, kennel cough, mange, ringworm and other diseases will never see a veterinarian.
Female dogs who are used for breeding may spend their entire lives in these hellish conditions. They are typically bred every time they go into heat. The intense confinement, lack of exercise and boredom of life in a cage drives dogs crazy. They spin maniacally, cower in fear or slump in severe depression. When they are no longer "producing," they are killed or sold for a few dollars in massive auctions.
This terrible abuse is enough to make any dog lover's hair stand on end. But ironically, it is often people who claim to "love" dogs who keep puppy mills in business by buying puppies from pet stores. Even well-meaning people who buy a puppy to "rescue" him or her are only perpetuating the cycle of cruelty, because puppy mills will simply breed another puppy to replace the one who was sold.
If we all stopped buying puppies from pet stores, Web sites and other seedy outlets, there would be no market for mass-produced puppies and puppy mills would go out of business. For the sake of dogs suffering in puppy mill prisons--as well as the thousands of healthy, friendly and loving dogs waiting for someone to adopt them from animal shelters--let's make this a reality by boycotting pet stores, adopting from animal shelters or rescue groups and encouraging everyone we know to do the same.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.HelpingAnimals.com.