When I was 13, my parents bought me a puppy. A trusted veterinarian recommended a pet store, promising us the dogs there were healthy. Not two days after bringing the lively pup home, we woke up to find her listless on the floor. As I sat down next to her, she mustered up enough energy to find her way into my lap, where she lay until I got up to go to school.
When I came home, the dog was gone. My mom had brought her to a different vet, who told her the puppy was so sick there was no way we could keep her.
I was too young to know this at the time, but I would now put money on this assumption: Our maltese puppy came from a puppy mill. And if you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s time to educate yourself.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog-breeding operation that places profit over the well-being of its dogs — who are often severely neglected — and acts without regard to responsible breeding practices.”
Puppy mill puppies are sold to pet stores and directly to the public, including via the Internet, through newspaper ads, at swap meets and flea markets.
The puppies are taken from their mothers at 8 weeks old, which means their mothers do not have the chance to care for them, says the Human Society of the United States. And when the mother dogs can no longer breed, they are discarded or killed.
Puppy mills are overcrowded and unsanitary, according to the ASPCA. The dogs housed there do not receive adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. There are no treats, toys, exercise or basic grooming.
In addition, the dogs are kept in cages with wire flooring to minimize waste cleanup, which injures their paws and legs. Breeding dogs often live out their lives outdoors or stuffed inside filthy structures without fresh air.
So it’s no wonder that many puppy mill puppies are purchased with any number of health problems. Here are some listed on the ASPCA website:
The pups can also display behavioral problems due to lack of socialization, including shyness, aggression, fear and anxiety.
If you’re looking to add a pup to your family, always consider adopting from your local shelter or rescue group. Check out Petco’s adoption website here. And never buy from a pet store or website.
If you want to buy from a breeder, make sure you find a reputable one. Ask your vet or a professional dog trainer for a referral, contact a local breed club or attend a dog show.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve found a trustworthy breeder, look for these signs:
Here are just four of the many organizations working toward ending puppy mills. And there are many ways you can help.
The Humane Society of the United States
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Americans
North Shore Animal League America
United Against Puppy Mills
Need even more convincing? Check out HBO’s documentary, “Madonna of the Mills,” which chronicles Laura, an office manager from Staten Island, who has made it her mission to save as many breeding dogs as possible. She has rescued more than 2,000 dogs from Amish and Mennonite farmers in Pennsylvania. Learn more here.