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Profiting on the (broken) backs of animals
Authorities found these conditions at an AKC “Breeder of Merit” only eight days after an AKC inspection. The “Breeder of Merit” was charged with cruelty.
In a recent article, a legal representative whose law firm represents pet stores and slaughterhouses argues against the passage of laws that ban the retail sale of commercially-bred dogs in pet stores. She claims the laws “have done nothing to improve the lives of dogs bred and sold by substandard dog breeders.” Just in case you did not get that the first time around, the author repeats it: “These laws have done nothing to help dogs.” The headline says the same thing. She’s wrong, no matter how many times she retypes the self-serving statement.
There’s good reason why roughly 400 cities and four states have passed laws banning the sale of commercially-bred dogs (as well as cats and, in some cases, rabbits) in pet stores. Stores in these jurisdictions that want to offer animals can work with rescue groups and animal shelters. There’s good reason why New York, Pennsylvania, and others are also considering similar statewide bans. Pet stores generally get their animals from Commercial Breeding Enterprises (CBEs), commonly known as “puppy mills.” And as a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science found, “Common to virtually all CBEs are the following: large numbers of dogs; maximally efficient use of space by housing dogs in or near the minimum space permitted by law; housing breeding dogs for their entire reproductive lives — in most cases, years — in their cages or runs; dogs are rarely, if ever, permitted out of their primary enclosures for exercise or play; absence of toys or other forms of enrichment; minimal to no positive human interaction or companionship; and minimal to no health care.”
In layman’s terms, puppy mills engage in systematic neglect and abuse of animals, leaving severe emotional and physical scars on the victims. One in four former breeding dogs have significant health problems, they are more likely to suffer from aggression, and many of them are psychologically and emotionally shut down, compulsively staring at nothing. Thankfully, laws that ban the sale of bred animals in pet stores cut deeply into the profits of breeders. “Nebraska Department of Agriculture records show that half of the state’s commercial dog and cat breeders have left the business” because of them. This trend will accelerate as more cities and states enact similar bans.
The pet store attorney, however, argues that we shouldn’t worry about this pattern of historic and ongoing abuse because breeding facilities are “heavily regulated” by the USDA. That is false/misleading for two reasons. First, the Office of the Inspector General found that the USDA fails in its mission to protect dogs in puppy mills by choosing to “cooperate,” rather than punish abusive breeders. Historically, “the agency chose to take little or no enforcement actions against violators,” including repeat violators. In one case, USDA inspectors found “dead dogs and starving dogs that resorted to cannibalism, dogs that were entirely covered in ticks, kennels overrun with feces and urine, and food infested with cockroaches. At the facility in which the starving dogs were found, the [USDA] inspector did not remove the surviving dogs, and as a result twenty-two more dogs died.”
Second, even if there was robust enforcement by USDA, existing laws are inadequate to protect dogs or treat them kindly; as nothing in them guarantees a quality of life commensurate with the kind of lives our companion animals, as family members, have and all dogs deserve.
The attorney also argues that there is a difference between puppy mills and reputable commercial breeders who supply pet stores. No breeder of any repute would supply the pet store trade because pet stores do not screen potential homes and do not put in place socialization and healthcare agreements. “Animals, like human infants, arrive in the world ready to learn, ready to explore, ready to figure out the rules, ready to find their place.” When we fail to provide those opportunities, we harm them.
Moreover, the evidence shows that her distinction is one without much of a difference. The American Kennel Club, for example, claims it has “an ongoing routine kennel inspection program” and “a dedicated team of field agents” to certify breeders. And yet, despite certifying hundreds of thousands of breeders, including designating thousands of those as “the most conscientious and most committed breeders,” the AKC has not performed inspections of most of them.
An in-depth analysis found only 10 inspectors for 138,500 “certified” breeders. At best, the AKC is only inspecting 5% of them. Based on data provided by the AKC itself, as many as “131,575 breeders, including thousands of Breeders of Merit, would never be inspected at all.”
Moreover, “Even when the AKC does inspect a breeder, its skeletal team often misses or overlooks obvious signs of neglect or abuse…” Case in point: An “AKC Breeder of Merit… was arrested and charged with animal cruelty only eight days after an AKC inspector visited the breeder’s property and issued a report saying everything was up to par.”
Even if we accept the claim that there is a difference between “puppy mills” and “responsible commercial breeders,” dogs and puppies are not commodities — at the very least, they shouldn’t be. Not only because the forced impregnation and trade in sentient beings is inherently unethical, but because even if some commercial breeders are not overtly abusive, there’s a further supply chain that almost always is. When there is a profit to be made on the backs of dogs, those backs are strained and often broken.