Pets: Michigan woman on a mission to end puppy mills everywhere
flickr photo courtesy of Bruce McKay
Could you ever envision having your own dog living in a small cage with little or no room to move around, much less an area to defecate, with no contact from humans, nothing enriching or fun to do as a way of life?
Of course not.
But, that is life for a dog in a puppy mill. They lack veterinary care, excercise, a normal life. Sometimes, there are hundreds of canines stacked in small cages side by side, on top of one another.
The noise. The smell. The environment. Can you imagine how it must feel to be in that situation?
So, with Saturday designated as Puppy Mill Awareness Day nationwide, the question is: ‘Why do puppy mills exist?’
Pets are big business; there is a vast consumer demand for dogs — especally designer dogs — and that has created a very lucrative market and has allowed puppy mills to flourish nationwide. A female dog can produce up to four litters per year, and, depending on the breed of dog, litter size can vary. The people who run these facilities capitalize on that, breeding the females as frequently as possible, with no break between litters.
Puppy mills, though they have no legal definition, simply put profits above the welfare of the animals.
Some puppy mill operations are large, others are not so large — small mills can exist on properties that you wouldn’t suspect. And, some of the individuals who are operating these seedy breeding facilities do so in inconspicuous places, like their own backyards, flying under the radar, so to speak. These are sometimes referred to as ‘mini-mills’.
Puppy mills with upwards of a thousand dogs that you might have read about in the news are rare in our home state; most of what has been discovered in Michigan have been the mini-mills. In fact, the largest puppy mill in Michigan that was discovered and busted housed more than 200 pets, according to Pam Sordyl, with Puppy Mill Awareness Meetup of Southeast Michigan.
But, that doesn’t mean that these small mills are any less of a problem. They are still unethical and need to be weeded out.
“Consumers have a list of requirements, like a specific breed mix that is popular, or that the dog be hypoallergenic, and that is helping to give the the puppy mills a reason to produce more dogs,” remarks Sordyl.
Some of the breeds that are commonly produced by puppy mills are YorkiePoos, Daisy Dogs (various mixes of Shih-tzu/Bischon/Poodle), Puggles, and two that have gained immense popularity in recent years: the Goldendoodle and Labradoodle.
“Pure bred dogs are easy to get because the market has been saturated,” Sordyl adds. “The designer dog market is booming.”
The biggest problem, aside from the awful conditions that these puppy mill dogs are being forced to live in, is the overall well-being of not only the mothers, but the offspring that results from using sick dogs to breed: puppies that are infirm. Disorders can result, usually hereditary, affecting the heart, immune system, the eyes and more.
Illnesses are common; distemper, upper respiratory infections, diarrhea, heartworm, not to mention parvovirus. The ramifications clearly go beyond the physical for some: canines who grow to clearly have behavioral problems due to poor breeding, less-than-ideal husbandry practices and lack of proper socialization.
These puppies are plucked from their dismal living conditions; scared, sometimes too young — and shipped off to pet stores, sold online, or even sold by putting up flyers that we all see on bulletin boards. They're marketed, like a commodity, as sound, loveable pups that are ready to meet their new families.
Many unsuspecting families find themselves in a very difficult situation when their new puppy needs extensive medical care, or worse, when they don’t survive the illness that they are afflicted with. What kind of recourse does a pet owner have in that case? Read more about a proposed Lemon Law to protect pet buyers by clicking here.
A 2009 study done by Puppy Mill Awareness looked at 83 counties in Michigan, and 1,800 kennels were reviewed. Out of 639 confirmed breeding kennels, 25 of them had more than50 dogs. Additionally, 927 facilities were ‘unclassified’: private kennels, and it’s not known what activity is occuring. (Some may be a household with several dogs who find it more cost-effective to apply for a kennel lisense, rather than individual dog licenses.)
There are five licensed commercial kennels in the state of Michigan.
Some of the licensed breeding kennels have been involved in animal abuse or seizure cases, often with 50 or more dogs in each kennel.
Puppy mills in the state of Michigan can sometimes escape the boundaries of the regulations in some counties due to loopholes in the law. For example, in Barry County, one case alleged that one registered kennel had 10 more dogs than the 140 dogs that they were allowed. The problem is that they actually had 232 canines in total — 82 of those being puppies under 16 weeks old.
Dogs in that county that are under 4 months of age are not counted under provisions of the permit that was issued to the facility. You can see how easy it can be for instances like this one to slip through the cracks. Zoning laws in some outlying areas are more lax, making it easier for these unscrupulous breeders to keep things under wraps.
The ability to go unnoticed doesn’t always pan out for some. In 2010, 31 whippets were seized in Washtenaw County that were believed to be part of a backyard breeding operation. An anonymous tip helped that case.
Prospective pet owners can be empowered to not only avoid buying a dog from a puppy mill, but to be the eyes and ears — an advocate for these animals with a few simple guidelines:
- If you see activity that you think might be suspicious, contact animal control, as well as your local zoning department to see if a faciliity is cleared to operate in that capacity. Local police, and of course the Cruelty and Rescue Department of the Humane Society Huron Valley are also there to help.
- Don’t buy from pet stores, or from online sources. Some pet stores are actually supplied by puppy mills, and with an online source, it’s easy for people to pawn off puppies born into less-than-desirable situations. In most cases, pet stores will not (and do not have to) disclose information about where the puppy got its start. As Sordyl says, “Adopt, don’t shop! There are so many homeless pets, who are quite wonderful, that are waiting at your local shelter.”
- If you want a pure-bred, Sordyl gives sage advice: If you can’t see the parents of the puppies, that’s questionable. Responsible breeders come highly recommended and are usually more than happy to show off the parents — and normally legislate their clients carefully.
Sordyl, who is director of Puppy Mill Awareness, says that the grassroots effort to end puppy mills is growing. She started the meetup about three years ago and a group of 60-75 people are active online, with 40 or so who are active in-person regularly, conducting “Adopt, Don’t Shop!” demonstrations outside pet stores that are supplied by puppy mills, and educating the public through other outlets, like social media.
By writing letters, talking constructively with pet store owners — even trying to get them to opt for holding pet adoption events instead, she has been successful: a handful of stores in Michigan have pledged to not sell puppies, including those in the Ann Arbor area.
Sordyl is also part of the National Puppy Mill Project.
For information on Puppy Mill Awareness Meetup, including becoming a member, click here.