Velogal's Blog

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

For some people, Holiday time means buying a puppy as a gift. These folks have good intentions, but a puppy or kitten is not just a cute present, it should be a lifetime committment to training, protecting and caring. A Ride for the Roses buddy, Branan, just sent along this warning about puppymill presents and sleazy breeders (such as Peter W. Rapp in Los Gatos). Thanks to USA Today...

Beware of Doggie in Window

Puppy mills make a comeback; sleazy breeders sell sickly pets.

Last December, Mary Klein wanted a Westie pup as a Christmas surprise for her three children. She saw a breeder's newspaper ad, called him and agreed to meet him at a Wal-Mart near her home in Chantilly, Va., after he told her the kennel would be too long a drive. Mary Klein instantly fell for the little ball of white fur, paid $500, and left with a sheaf of documents and a puppy that she named Kipper.

Almost immediately, Kipper fell ill. She vomited. She had diarrhea. She didn't eat. Kipper was diagnosed with parvovirus, so sick she had to be euthanized. Two days after being bought and three days before Christmas, the puppy died in Klein's arms.

Like thousands of other pet buyers each year, Klein fell victim to a puppy mill — shadowy operations throughout the nation that churn out puppies in inhumane, often unsanitary, conditions. The breeding dogs spend their lives in wire cages, giving birth twice a year. The puppies, frequently inbred, are often sick, unsocialized or prone to genetic diseases.

But Klein didn't know any of that when she started her puppy hunt. What she discovered when she dug into Kipper's documents was that her dog came from a mass production kennel in Bland County, Va. — one that later came under scrutiny when a fire killed 200 of its dogs. It is now closed.

In the early 1990s, investigations by animal welfare groups, media attention and raids shut down some of the worst mills, but they are on the rise again, according to the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Virginia, along with Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio and Indiana, are considered hotbeds of puppy mill activity. Earlier this month, authorities raided an operation in Hillsville, Va., seized 1,000 dogs and sent them to shelters. The raid revealed the suffering of these breeding animals. Many didn't know how to walk on solid ground, never having been out of a cage.

In a nation of dog lovers, how could such operations thrive? Explanations include weak laws, lackluster enforcement and demand for pedigreed dogs.

Under federal rules, a beagle could legally spend its life in a dishwasher-sized cage. Nor are there enough inspectors: 105 are charged with overseeing about 10,000 facilities, including kennels, zoos and research labs. High-volume operations that sell directly to the public don't need a federal license, and most state laws and enforcement are weak.

The hopeful news is that some of this is changing. In the past year, Pennsylvania has beefed up inspections and prosecutions. The state has proposed more stringent regulations, including doubling the minimum cage size. Incredibly, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, which represents breeders and pet stores, has balked even at that minimal attempt to better the dogs' lives.

States are best positioned to address the problem, but as the regulatory battles drag on, the best weapon is consumer knowledge. Animal advocates ( recommend that prospective pet owners avoid stores that get puppies from mills. Owners should look for dogs at shelters or insist that breeders show them a puppy's parents, medical history and home.

As Mary Klein sadly learned, reputable breeders don't meet buyers in parking lots.

Posted at 12:21 AM/ET, November 30, 2007 in Animals - Editorial, Business issues - Editorial, Lifestyle issues - Editorial, USA TODAY



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