Written by Mary K. Chelton.
"Until we extend the circle of our compassion to all living things, we will not ourselves find peace."--Albert Schweitzer.
I must be a masochist because I read the classified sections of every issue of the local papers for ads for Vizsla puppies-not that I want another one right now, but rather as a barometer of whether Vizslas are becoming too popular, which almost guarantees that they will be of interest to owners of puppy mills. This is of particular interest to our club, because outside of Lancaster, PA, where the Amish breed puppies for profit ( see www.golden-retriever.com/nypost.html), Kansas and Missouri are nationally notorious for being puppy mill states. My worst fears were realized when a notice appeared on the Internet Vizsla list recently about people in St. Louis trying to rescue three Vizslas being auctioned off as excess breeding stock by a Missouri puppy mill. All three dogs were under three years old! (The VCA recommends that no Vizsla under two years old be bred.)
These auctions are pretty ugly if the report of Hearts United for Animals, a no-kill shelter in Nebraska is correct. HUA sent two volunteers to a May 17, 1997 auction in Ft. Scott, Kansas, where "the dogs were dragged from their banks of tiny cages and displayed at the auctioneer's table. Obvious health problems and genetic defects were announced-missing teeth, skin disorders, hernias, blindness, tumors, infections, stiff arthritic legs, missing eyes and a missing bottom jaw....dismissed as insignificant because the only thing that counted was how well the dogs could produce. 'Not a tooth in her head,' bawled the auctioneer, 'but that's not where she breeds.'" The HUA people rescued 18 dogs that day whose heartbreaking stories appear on their website (www.hua.org/prison.html), but countless numbers remain behind in misery as prisoners of greed. It is important to understand what puppy mills are all about so we neither inadvertently support them nor sell one of our own puppies to them.
What is a Puppy Mill?
This is a popular name for a "commercial breeder who produces puppies hand over fist with no breeding program, little attention to puppy placement, and poor health and socialization practices. A puppy mill may or may not be dirty, but it is usually overcrowded and the dogs may be neglected or abused because the breeder can't properly handle as many dogs as he [or she] has. (Woolf, 1995, www.canismajor.com/dog/). Technically, puppy mills are supposed to operate under licenses from the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, who licensed more than 4,600 of them in 1992. (1200 were reported in Missouri alone by WTNH-TV in 1997 in an expose on Holiday Season puppies. (www.wtnh.com/news/specials/111197breeders1.html). Many, however, avoid the licensing process to escape inspection at any level.
Puppy mills came into existence when farmers after World War II were encouraged to raise pedigreed puppies as a cash crop when their traditional corn and chicken crops failed, or when family farms were bought up by corporate giants. Retail pet outlets increased in tandem with the puppy supply. These puppy farmers, however, had little knowledge of dogs, housing many of them in chicken coops and rabbit hutches, with no socialization, and only veterinary care that was absolutely necessary, let alone screening for genetic diseases. Conditions in these places were a major impetus in the passage of the national Animal Welfare Act, and local laws like the Kansas Animal Pet Animal Act, but enforcement is lax, with penalties for violations very rare. In fact, when an expose of Kansas puppy mills was broadcast on 20/20 in 1990, the legislative response was to make it a penalty in Kansas to photograph any commercial breeding establishments at all! Less than 90 USDA inspectors must inspect more than 5,000 puppy mills that produce well over 500,000 puppies a year. (paws.paws.org/arc/pn/1295pn/pets.htm). Most puppies sold in pet stores come from these puppy mills, and customers paying premium prices for them have no way of knowing that the prematurely weaned, inadequately socialized puppy may be a behavioral time bomb who is difficult to housebreak and aggressive toward people and other animals.
While all commercially licensed kennels are not puppy mills, the horror of the latter cannot be publicized too often, as this example from one in Ohio before it was raided describes: "At this mill, a mother dog is found in a shed with a litter of pups. The windows and doors are shut, there is no water, and it is 98 degrees. Two of the pups are dead....The dogs are filthy, their coats full of urine and feces. Because of the filth, there are flies; most of the dogs have missing pieces of ears, eaten away by flies. Where there is water, it is mostly green." (Smith, 1995, www.canismajor.com/dog/)
What you can do about puppy mills:
1. Boycott pet stores that sell puppies to help dry up the
market for puppy
2. Ask your legislator to support stronger animal welfare legislation that would close down puppy mills.
3. Support legislation that provides civil remedies for people who purchase sick or genetically damaged animals.
4. File formal complaints about deceptive business practices by pet storesclaiming not to sell puppy mill puppies.
5. If you must sell a puppy from your own litter to someone unknown to you, sell the dog on an AKC limited registration, so puppies of that dog cannot be registered if the dog is bred, until you know for sure whether that person is a puppy mill owner or not.
6. Be a responsible breeder and take your own puppies back
from owners unable or unwilling to care for them, for life.
8. Adopt a dog from your club's breed rescue program, or a companion for your Vizsla from the local animal shelter.
9. Write to the Secretary of Agriculture and the American Kennel Club requesting stronger enforcement of licensing and humane care legislation.
10. Support your local and national animal welfare organizations, such as the Humane Society of America and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Thanks to Adam Wathen ESU SLIM student in the Government Documents Section of the William Allen White Library, Kaite Mediatore, Emporia Public Library, and the public relations offices of the Humane Society of the US and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for help with research for this article.)