Mutterings: How Much is That Puppy in the Window?

ASPCA efforts aim to shine a light on the public’s understanding of "puppy mills.”

Pet store puppy In dollar amounts, that puppy might clear your wallet of $400 to $2500. But the cost in suffering for that one bouncy puppy isn’t calculable. That’s the theme of the ASPCA’s new website, No Pet Store Puppies, a complied database of USDA registered commercial dog breeding facilities, along with thousands of photos of breeder dogs and the conditions they endure.

There’s lots of information on the site about puppy mills and pet stores that sell puppies, and there’s even a pledge that you can take: I pledge that if a pet store sells puppies, I won’t buy anything there. Not pet food, kitty litter, or squeaky toys – Nothing! And I pledge to tell everyone I know not to shop there either.

The ASPCA – and many other groups and animal advocates, myself included – would like to see pet stores “carry” only rescue dogs that are up for adoption. Recycled dogs. Upcycled dogs. Dogs who, if they were old flowerpots, would end up on Etsy with a drawing of an owl on them. Recycling is cool, but somehow many people have missed the message.

Yes, a dog is not a flowerpot. But a dog shouldn’t be a commodity either. Dogs have feelings too. A professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, did brain scans on dogs and found that they use the same parts of their brains as we do for enjoyment and anticipation, and concluded that they have the same level of emotions as a human child.

If you haven’t been in a shelter in a while – or ever – it’s easy to dismiss this kind of research as wishful thinking. But walk into any shelter and you’ll find that one dog – there’s always one – who is trying to tell everyone who walks by that she should not be there, that a dreadful mistake has been made. She’s howling, crying, whining, and jumping for attention. She’s making eye contact. Maybe she’s sitting quietly at the front of her cage, as her former owners taught her, to show that she’s a good dog. She will lick your hand and give you her paw when you turn your attentions to her. Maybe she’s dirty, or ungroomed, and everyone passes her by. In a few days, she will be dragged to the “bad room” and her life will be extinguished in one of a few painful ways.

She was once a pet store dog.

The ASPCA’s valiant effort to shine a light on USDA licensed puppy mills is another step toward the public’s understanding of the definition of “puppy mill.” The pictures of filthy dogs in small cages tell only part of the story.

“Unfortunately, people often don’t realize they’re supporting the puppy mill industry by shopping at pet stores or websites that sell puppies,” says Gina Miller, manager of the ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign, from Baltimore, MD. “Consumers who purchase a puppy from a pet store or website run the risk of taking home an unhealthy puppy in addition to the likelihood of unknowingly supporting a cruel industry.”

According an ASPCA’s survey, 78 percent of consumers are unaware that most pet store puppies come from puppy mills. The poll also reveals that nearly 80 percent of consumers would not purchase a puppy if they knew it came from a puppy mill.

“We know if people make the connection between pet stores and puppy mills, the demand for pet store puppies should decrease,” says Miller. “Adult breeding dogs in puppy mills are often kept in unsanitary, overcrowded, and sometimes cruel conditions without sufficient veterinary care, food, water, or socialization. They are typically bred at every opportunity to produce as many puppies as possible and maximize profits for the breeder.”

I know that some people reading this have bought their puppy from a reputable breeder, one who has a couple litters a year and has a stringent placement policy with a questionnaire a yard long for prospective buyers. One who keeps his dogs in the house, impeccably groomed, well fed, and loved. Maybe the dogs are even Westminster champions. I don’t think these kinds of breeders are the ASPCA’s target.

The ASPCA’s “No Pet Store Puppies” site’s message is simple: Do not buy a puppy from a pet store and do not buy anything from a pet store that sells puppies. Period. If the public can hit the puppy mills where it hurts – in the wallet – dogs as a commodity won’t be as profitable any more, and they can go back to where they belong – as our best friends.


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