Last week while others in Norwalk and the surrounding towns were wondering about the whereabouts of a 'champion' bulldog puppy from a local pet store, I was wondering where the puppy actually came from…
Fortunately the cute little guy was located and safely returned to the store (where he was no doubt sold to the next person to fork over $4,000). Also last week, The Humane Society of the United States released a report which documents ways in which the American Kennel Club supports large-scale breeding facilities, sometimes called puppy mills.
Could these two stories be related?
Puppies of Westport owner Monty Kaufman often deflects accusations that his puppies come from puppy mills by saying they come from USDA-licensed and AKC-registered breeders.
I agree that this sounds very impressive -- and is enough to convince many that it is ok to purchase a puppy from a store with such seemingly high standards.
But let's look at exactly what USDA-licensed means (we'll look at the AKC next). In 1966 the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was passed to regulate certain animal activities including the commercial breeding of dogs and cats. They set bare minimal standards -- far below what most of us consider humane. For instance, under federal standards a dog can spend its entire life in a cage that is only six inches longer and taller than its body. So a bulldog in a breeding facility can live in a cage that is thirty inches by thirty inches. For reference, I just measured my dishwasher -- it is 24" x 26" -- so a little too small to house a bulldog, but legal for a slightly smaller breed (pug?). Furthermore, breeders are not required to interact with the dogs or to let them out for exercise, if they double the size of their cage.
According to PetShopPuppies.org, USDA annual reports to Congress reveal that 48.5% of licensed facilities are substandard. That means they don't even meet minimum standards of care for pet dogs.
As I mentioned, I don't know where the stolen 'champion' bulldog puppy came from. But several months ago a friend and I went to Hartford to review paperwork filed with the Department of Agriculture and we learned that last fall Puppies of Westport made multiple purchases of bulldogs from a breeder in Arkansas. Some of these puppies were born in August, the same month the breeder, Brittney Middleton, was cited by inspectors for improperly storing pet food, for failing to have containers for dogs to eat out of, and in thirty-four of the kennels there was
"…more than one days accumulation of waste material. The dealer stated the enclosures had last been cleaned two days prior." In addition, on nineteen of the metal doors which separate the interior and exterior of the kennels there was "…a buildup of dark matter which needs to be cleaned, sanitized and maintained. Excreta must be removed from primary enclosures daily to prevent an excessive accumulation of feces, to prevent soiling of the dogs contained in the primary enclosures, and to reduce disease hazards, insects, pests and odors."
That means she was feeding the dogs kibble that may have been exposed to insects and vermin, and she was pouring this kibble directly onto the kennel floor, which was covered with several days worth of feces and urine.
Remember, this is someone who is USDA-licensed and who breeds and sells 'purebred' puppies to pet stores, including Puppies of Westport. If you purchased a bulldog, either French or English (she breeds both) from Puppies of Westport in October or November, or even late January and February (another litter was purchased from her), then Brittney Middleton was likely your dog's breeder.
But how about the AKC? Surely the 'pedigree' dogs they register come from puppy paradises, right? I'm picturing adorable puppies frolicking on a hillside of green grass and wildflowers, when they aren't snuggled in a warm bed inside a country-style kitchen…
Sadly, according to the HSUS report released last week, the AKC is criticized for pandering to the interests of large-scale commercial breeding facilities (i.e. puppy mills) instead of supporting smaller, high-quality breeders. The report further states that some puppy mill operators who were charged with animal cruelty violations had passed AKC inspections. In addition, over the past five years the AKC has opposed more than 80 different state bills and local ordinances designed to provide stronger protections for dogs in puppy mills. This from an organization which bills itself as 'The Dog's Champion.' Please take a minute to watch the very moving video produced by the HSUS to accompany their report.
So we can't rely on government 'licensing' or private 'registrations' to control neglect at breeding facilities. The bottom line: If you want to purchase a puppy and are at all concerned about where your puppy comes from, or what conditions its parents are living in, then you need to visit the breeder in person.
If you've purchased a puppy from a pet store and want to learn more about where it came from, you can get a free report here.
And if you don't want to contribute to the abuse at puppy mills, the ASPCA recommends you not purchase anything -- not food, supplies nor toys -- from any store that sells puppies (www.nopetstorepuppies.com).
Of course, I hope you'll consider adopting. If you're looking for an adorable bulldog of your own, check out the cuties available at Long Island Bulldog Rescue -- you can meet them in person at theUnion Square Petco this Saturday from noon to 4pm.