Best Friends Animal Shelter Wants to Make Puppy Mills a Thing of the Past
Puppy mills have been around for over 60 years, but a growing demand for purebred animals has spread across countries like Canada, Russia, China, Korea and the United States.
“In the U.S., it is estimated that there are as many as 10,000 licensed and unlicensed puppy mills,” says Elizabeth Oreck of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. “They are concentrated primarily in the Midwest, where there are large expanses of agricultural land to accommodate large numbers of dogs.”
One of the biggest non-kill shelters in existence, Best Friends, began in Arizona during the 1970s, when a group of animal-enthusiasts made it their mission to end the long-held belief that unwanted or unadoptable animals should be destroyed. The company is a widespread leader of the no-kill movement, with the motto “Save Them All.” The organization has designed extensive life-saving programs, fought breed-discriminatory legislation and formed countless coalitions of animal welfare groups.
“The Best Friends Sanctuary is home on any given day to about 1,600 animals,” Oreck explains. “Many of these are dogs and cats, but there are also horses, burros, birds, rabbits, goats, pigs, and an assortment of other creatures.”
Oreck serves as the company’s national manager of puppy mill initiatives. Sitting down with Planet Experts, she described the deplorable circumstances surrounding mills’ functions.
“Puppy mills are substandard commercial breeding operations where profit takes priority over the health, comfort, and welfare of dogs,” she says. “Puppies are produced primarily for sale through pet stores and online retailers, but they are also sold directly to the public. Most commercial breeders are required to be licensed and inspected by the USDA, and to comply with the 1966 Animal Welfare Act, but the federal standards do not ensure healthy or humane lives for these dogs.”
Puppy mills confine dogs to tiny wire cages for years at a time. Forced to breed continuously, mothers are given little rest between cycles, deprived of food and often subjected to low-quality care and living conditions. Many of the dogs never leave their cages or go outdoors. When they can no longer breed, the dogs are usually killed, sold at auction or abandoned in shelters. Oreck says that puppies bred in these factory-like settings are regarded as little more than a “cash crop commodity.”
“Because the public never sees the parents of those cute puppies in the pet store or being sold online, it doesn’t matter to the mills if those breeding dogs are suffering in any way,” she claims. “As long as they are able to produce puppies, those dogs are useful. It’s really just about producing as many puppies as possible. It’s a constant cycle, and it creates a dangerous public disconnect between the mills and the retailer.”
The problem also extends to buyers. Dogs will often inherit diseases and other health-issues down the line from their unsanitary births and living quarters, and it’s the owners who get stuck shelling out the funds for expensive veterinary bills.
“There are very few protections in place for the buyers,” says Oreck. “When those buyers can’t afford the care, these dogs are often surrendered to our overcrowded shelters, most of which are subsidized by all of us, as taxpayers. The puppy mill problem really impacts everyone.”
If you’re looking to purchase a dog, Oreck advises against pet stores and websites, as the chances that the animals come from mills are very high. She instead suggests hobby breeders, which allow buyers to directly see the homes the dogs are coming from. Best Friends has also created additional standards for people to follow.
In the long run, Oreck says that adoption is always the most humane choice.
“We encourage everyone to consider adoption first when looking to bring a pet into the family,” she says. “Thousands of wonderful, healthy dogs of all ages, breeds, sizes and temperaments are killed in our nation’s shelters every day, simply because there aren’t enough people adopting them. Puppy mills are only adding to the crisis. As long as there is a demand for these puppies, the mills will continue to thrive.”
Oreck feels that members of the public have a responsibility to educate themselves and take necessary action.
“Puppy mills only exist because people are buying what they’re selling,” she explains. “If people opt to stop buying, the mills will have no reason to produce these dogs and cause countless dogs to suffer, and the shelters will start to empty out. We, collectively, have the power to put puppy mills in the past.”