« How to treat -- or not treat -- giardia in your dog | Main | Living the dog days of summer »

25 June 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I am not a fan of assigning a number. No matter what number you use, it really is arbitrary right? Because similar to pet limit laws, there may be some kennels that are able to hire staff and perfectly capable of running a shelter with 100 breeding dogs, where some other clowns can't adequately do it with 5.

So here's my suggestion. Let's adequately define what is cruelty. Let's raise the licensing rates for commercial breeding operations, and put all of that money back into the costs of inspections and enforcing cruelty laws.

I'm not sure how it is in California, but in Missouri, the cost of licensing hasn't gone up in over 20 years. I figure most commercial breeders who are doing it right should welcome the higher licensing fees because it will create better enforcement which will a) shut down much of their competition from people who are doing it wrong and b) thus take pressure off of them when they are doing it "right" in the first place.

I think how we define "cruelty" will be a little bit dicey, but I do think that people who work in rescue should be careful how they want to define it because the same standards will likely be applied to the shelters and rescues some day....


My two cents: Have the USDA *do their jobs*. If we need to fire all of the inspectors and start fresh and/or hire additional inspectors and/or get more funding - whatever. Do it. Enforce the laws already on the books. Then, after that's been going smoothly for a year or two, sit the inspectors down withe some smart people and go over the laws with a fine toothed comb. See if any need tweaking or outright removal, see if we need anything new and what specifically, that would be.

Christie Keith

Shirley, love that idea!


The laws need to be enforced, for one, because they sure as heck aren't now, according to both the BBB and the USDA itself:



It's scandalous how the very people who are supposed to have been ensuring BASIC animal welfare standards have done basically nothing. They all need to be fired, refunded, whatever it takes to get the laws we have NOW actually being put to work, before we start trying to make new ones.


<Not “Oh, I got my wonderful Maltese Bixie from that lady, Mrs. Smith, and she was SO NICE!”

There are mostly always nice.

And Heather wrote:

In a way, the best breeders will seem more paranoid and secretive than the worst.

Well, that pretty much sums it up. I've heard SO many people excuse their puppy mill purchases by saying "But they were so nice, and the 'good breeders' I phoned were so *mean*".

Puppy Mills *are* nice, because for them, it's all about making the sale. They're a business - it's about getting those puppies out that door, and that means saying what prospective buyers want to hear. You want to breed? Of course! Just a hundred or so extra dollars for 'full papers'. Do pugs make good guard dogs? Oh, for sure! They're great at it.

On the other hand, some of the best breeders I know have ZERO people skills, and work on the automatic assumption that 99% of everyone who contacts them is an idiot who doesn't deserve to own a stuffed dog, let alone one of their puppies. Even the nicer ones who don't mind answering questions tend to be 'fussy' (so far as the public is concerned, at least). We ask all those questions! We want to know all that information! We want references! We want you to fill out applications!

So, the mills get the sales, because the mills just come across as 'so nice'.

I also agree that most legit breeders could sniff out a 'secret shopper' in about two minutes flat. And the kinds of people who impulse buy from mills are also the kinds of people who probably can't be bothered to read a review site - so we're back to where we started.

elaine BHC

Brent said "No matter what number you use, it really is arbitrary right?...Let’s raise the licensing rates for commercial breeding operations..."

What is a "commercial breeding operation?" I don't recall ever seeing a law or regulation that defines this by anything other than numbers. Either of "breeding females" (usually, intact bitches over 4 months of age); or of number of puppies produced; or of # of litters produced. Or occasionally, some combination thereof.


I agree with Shirley - it's not about numbers, it's about enforcing standards of care. You can be a crappy, shoddy operation with only two dogs, or a shiny, well cared for operation with 100.

Almost twenty years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the last 'old time' Grand Kennel operators, who had about 100 dogs in her kennel, including retired dogs, active dogs and pupppies. She also had an in house staff which included a cook, a puppy nurse, kennel hands, dog trainers and a vet tech. She also had her own, fully equipped, in house surgery - the vets came to HER, not the other way around. Her facility was immaculately spotless, her dogs were happy and they were all well exercised.

Last summer, I had the DISpleasure of meeting a local 'hobby' breeder who has less than ten dogs, all of who live in squalor in a mud soaked chain link back yard with chewed on plywood dog houses for shelter.

Anyways, every dog breeder think that the definition of a 'puppy mill' is anyone who bred more litters last year than *they* did.

Christie Keith

I don't disagree with you, but what WOULD you do to stop puppy mills? Because I'm done with analyzing the problem ad nauseum, and picking every potential solution apart for what's wrong with it. What do we DO?

H. Houlahan

I don't have a problem with setting a number beyond which inspections are required, provided that the standards are both rigorous and flexible and the inspections the same. (None of the above is true now under USDA.

I mean, daycares that take in more than a certain number of kids have to be inspected. That doesn't make them babymills.

Let's say the threshold is 50 pups sold a year, and the breeder keeps his six very prolific border collie bitches in the house as pets. He has to be licensed and inspected, but the inspection consists of a quick look at all the dogs, a look 'round the place to insure that no dog is living like, say, this:


And that everyone is in good body condition (or being treated if not), has water available, no disease or signs of abuse, and the house is in compliance with normal health codes, fit for habitation. No nit-picking. You can have both carpet and a whelping box in your bedroom.

If you are running a hound kennel and the dogs are kept as a pack in a fenced pasture with a shelter and fed half a dead cow a day -- the litmus test is the health and welfare of the dogs, not whether the same husbandry would be humane for a pack of pugs.

Also, there's an absolute Inspector-Loses-His-Job-If-He-Doesn't policy that any witnessed animal cruelty violations get reported to the appropriate authorities.

The point is, laws about animal cruelty apply to *everyone.* And when someone is keeping and dealing in a large number of animals, making it a business, it's not unreasonable to require inspections to ensure that the law is being followed.

If regulations and inspections became both commonplace and common-sense, the well-deserved onus of "If you are big enough to require a license, you are a puppymill" would drop, along with reasonable people's resistance to inspection of breeding facilities.

Maybe one way for ethical breeders of good faith to show leadership is for them to volunteer for inspections, whether or not they are above the threshold in numbers.

I've long advocated third-party accreditation for dog breeders -- sort of like organic certification. A Good Dogkeeping Seal of Approval that we tell buyers to insist upon, one that is earned by inspections as well as pledges to do the right thing.

H. Houlahan

The secret shoppers would have to be pretty savvy and have a long attention span to get past the radar of the BEST breeders.

Most of a really good breeder's screening goes on months before the pups are ready to go home, and involve long conversations about the potential buyer's needs and resources, what they are looking for in a dog, their knowledge of the breed and whatever special needs it might have.

The vast majority of my pup inquiries do not result in a visit, because I determine, or the inquirer and I determine together, that the person is not a good match for one of my pups. I may suggest a different breed, or a different breeder's dogs, for example. (You want a soft, reserved English shepherd -- not likely to emerge from my breeding. You want a sharp, stranger-suspicious ES -- ditto. You want one that will do well as a pet only -- few candidates among breeders. You want a really big one -- another breeder. One with a collie head -- I know where to send you.)

In a way, the best breeders will seem more paranoid and secretive than the worst.


Consumer education is an important step, and one that needs to be emphasized more than it generally is.

A lot of my clients spend more time deciding which pair of jeans to buy then they spent looking for a puppy - and they typically spend little or no time researching its breeder.

Consumers not only need to know what to look for (or look out for, as the case may be) in a breeder, they need to be held accountable for buying a puppy from a crap breeder to "rescue it", "because we just fell in love with it", or because the timing / coat color / cost fit conveniently into their needs.

A friend's sister wanted a smallish pet dog for her family. After much searching she ended up making two or three trips to a place about three hours away to buy some kind of designer mix. I admit that I rolled my eyes when she told me this but after the woman described the breeder's practices, place, dogs etc I realized that (a) the woman had really done her homework and (b) the breeder was putting a lot more time and mindful effort into breeding and raising her dogs than most people do. The woman ended up with an adorably cute, healthy, well socialized 8 week old puppy who fits her needs.

I think we should help all pet owners learn to be ethical, well-educated shoppers instead of relying on secret shoppers.


I hadn't thought about the time investment necessary for a secret puppy shopper to invest but Heather makes a good point. It's not like walking into JC Penney's and asking if they have this t-shirt in pink. A secret puppy shopper would have to be prepared to invest in multiple phone conversations and/or e-mails, have references willing to be called over and over, have home photos to send to the breeder, etc. This is all typical stuff before a stranger is ever invited over to my house. And to be frank, if I invested all that time in discussing home environment, training, contacting references, etc and found out the person never had any intention of buying a pup, I wouldn't be too thrilled. I wonder what kind of review I'd get after telling the secret shopper off with colorful language?

Mary Mary

I’ve long advocated third-party accreditation for dog breeders — sort of like organic certification. A Good Dogkeeping Seal of Approval that we tell buyers to insist upon, one that is earned by inspections as well as pledges to do the right thing.

Comment by H. Houlahan — June 25, 2010 @ 9:56 pm


I think most of the public believes the AKC designation serves this purpose.


I agree with third party accreditation. Like a “good housekeeping” seal of approval or some sort of endorsement to teach consumers to look for when considering a breeder.

Mary Mary

OK, here's my big idea. And I can't believe it hasn't been done yet.

YES there are inherent problems with it. But no solution is perfect.

We have the internet. We have lots of riled up dog lovers feeling helpless. We have millers advertising on Craigslist and in the newspaper, selling direct to the public, with phone numbers for contacting them. We use secret shoppers in retail. We have "rate your professor" websites.

How hard would it be to create and manage a website that lists puppy sellers by zip code or county with ratings? Ratings that are based on standard criteria "Allowed me to come to the house (not meet in parking lot). Allowed me into the house / barn / backyard. Allowed me to meet the mother of the puppies. Had [fill in number] dogs on site."

Etc. And the only people who could rate the puppy seller would be the secret shoppers, who would be recruited through breed clubs or rescue groups or using some other screening / recruiting.

I understand that there is opportunity for abuse in this method, but wouldn't it have helped to put that Poodle breeder linked in Heather's post out of business a lot sooner?

[By the way ... SHAME on all the people who bought puppies from that woman. Why didn't anyone turn her in before April 2010? Did nobody SMELL the stench before April 2010?]

Well if one of the secret shoppers had visited (not to buy but to browse), maybe just maybe a red flag would have been raised a year or two ago.

I don't think this would require a whole lot of "staffing," either. How many millers, big or micro, could there be per county? If one secret shopper focused on, say, two or three breeds, it shouldn't take very long to visit all the breeders.

OK, there it is. My solution. Grass roots inspectors. Because the official ones are too busy or few or indifferent.


And we could use the slogan I came up with months ago:

"Show me the mommy!"

Mary Mary

Gina, that's funny! I've been asked about my garden's growth nonstop since I was four years old.

The thing I like about standard criteria is that it's based on observable measures.

Not "Oh, I got my wonderful Maltese Bixie from that lady, Mrs. Smith, and she was SO NICE!"

There are mostly always nice.

And accent on OBSERVABLE. If I am not allowed to observe your breeding quarters, then right away you are suspect.


"And the only people who could rate the puppy seller would be the secret shoppers, who would be recruited through breed clubs or rescue groups or using some other screening / recruiting."

Comment by Mary Mary — June 26, 2010 @ 4:40 am

We sort of have this system going, unofficially as it may be, and it's been around for as long as dog breeding. It's called gossip. Breed club members and/or rescues with axes to grind regularly "rate" dog breeders and spread the word far and wide. There are no figures as to what percentage of the info is rooted in actual facts, but having a guess, I'd say around about zero.

Gina Spadafori

We sort of have this system going, unofficially as it may be, and it’s been around for as long as dog breeding. It’s called gossip.

Comment by YesBiscuit! — June 26, 2010

True, but that's for the "secret handshake" club.

Mary Mary (quite contrary? All this time and I just NOW got it? Duh!) may be on to something. Trained volunteers, checklist of what to look for ... Yelp for puppy-buyers?

Christie Keith

Well, then we're doomed. Because IT SHOULDN'T BE THIS HARD TO GET A NICE PUPPY!

Gina Spadafori

True, especially if ethical breeders continue to damn the HSUS for any effort at all to not group all breeders as "bad," including a recent piece in its own magazine that quotes Terrierman, of all people.


Well, then we’re doomed. Because IT SHOULDN’T BE THIS HARD TO GET A NICE PUPPY!

I agree, but like everyone else, I draw a blank on how we fix it.

A few years ago, I noticed that there was a kind of gap - I was getting email from all these nice owners, who'd bought dogs from these AWFUL breeders, because the awful breeders were the ones who had saturation advertising, and were nice on the phone (and returned emails promptly).

At the same time, I was getting email from breeders (good ones, with nice pups from health tested Ch parents), lamenting the fact that they had unsold puppies.

So, I created a website for Frenchie breeders. The breeders were to fill out a sort of questionnaire - how long they'd been breeding, health tests they did, litters produced, etc. For a minimal cost, I'd donate my time, and use the proceeds to buy them google ad space and get them SEO'd so that they'd be competitive with the commercial breeders.

No one was interested. Pay? Not a chance. Why should *they* have to work to find buyers? Buyers should work harder to find them. Answer questions? That's for *buyers* to do.

I gave up. I am out of ideas. Of course, they still email me, whining that their puppies aren't selling.


It's depressing that when I look at the post Christie linked to, it feels like we've all already had this conversation, and we're still no closer to a solution.

I do think that there needs to be some SERIOUS enforcement by USDA, especially now that the CFIA has screwed Canadian breeders into a corner by telling us that USDA bred puppies are the only puppies we're 'allowed' to import. Seal of approval FAIL, CFIA.


This is a tricky issue. I tend to agree with you that legislation might not be the best course. I would rather see information like this be more readily available to the general public. Unfortunately, when I talk to people about things like this, I see their eyes glazing over and looking at me like I'm preaching to them.

Maybe some kind of petition/letter writing campaign to get some enforcement?

Original Lori

You're trying to educate a society who doesn't think anything should be hard, for whom instant gratification isn't fast enough. People who go to Wal-mart to buy their fruit because they needed a pair of shorts too, and why make a trip to the farmer's market when it's all right there AND cheaper.

The only campaigns that seem to work have figured out a way to vilify a product or practice in a widespread fashion--like cigarettes or not using a seat belt.

Maybe somehow we need to make it embarrassing that you got your puppy from a pet store or an Amish "farm." That's not a solution I know, and I've seen it backfire on shelters where they try to make you feel like you are Killing Doggies when you buy from a breeder.

H. Houlahan

You know, I went to college in the 80's.

And first, those of us who cared were told "Oh, American colleges and pension funds and investors will never divest their investments from South Africa."

But we didn't listen, and they did.

And then we were told, "Well, a few pinko universities and lily-livered unions and such have divested, but this will never change things in South Africa except to make people more miserable. That country is doomed and we might as well have a policy of 'constructive engagement' to try to hold off the blacks setting all the Afrikaners on fire."

I believe that the protesters, the divestment actions, and the nation of South Africa have, shall we say, exceeded expectations over the past 25 years.

(Cue annoying vuvuzela soundtrack.)

How fast might it take to accomplish a complete sea change in how Americans think about acquiring a dog?

Chris Shaughness

I completely agree that this discussion of legislation is getting nowhere. And we have very little control over the inspectors who may or may not be doing their jobs. Puppy mills will exist as long as there are consumers wanting specific puppies. It's a supply and demand issue. Reduce the demand and the suppliers go out of business. Public education must be the number one priority. We need to get people to CARE about where their puppies are coming from. We can talk about puppy mills forever and people nod their heads that they get it - but many really don't get it. They haven't put the connection together that 1) pups in most pet stores come from mills, 2) farmers selling pups are likely to be millers, 3) rarely would a reputable breeder sell their dogs over the Internet. These are the messages that we need to spread around so that people begin to make the "connection." Hey, Pet Connection, we can do this!


I think the most positive impact we can have on this issue is to change the way consumers purchase pets. I know it seems like this has been tried to the nth degree but maybe “humane education” isn’t enough when you’re talking about consumer behavior.

Generally speaking, people don’t put a whole lot of effort into thinking about the purchases they make; big or small. They might WANT to make ethical purchases (and would if given a straight shot at it) but they aren’t necessarily going to go out of their way to do it.

Research that has been done on consumer behavior tells us that you kind of need to create the opportunity for pride in the buyer’s choices along with (and this is crucial) making it relatively easy for them to choose the ethical purchase over the one we want them to avoid.

Like with Dolphin Safe tuna for instance. The organization that created the Dolphin Safe seal of approval (I think it was Earth Island Institute) does a whole lot of education and awareness campaigning so that “Dolphin Safe” has become a widely recognized concept. But AS important, they make the purchase process very simple. These days Dolphin Safe labeled/approved tuna is merchandised right alongside the regular tuna with a nominal difference in price. So, all the consumer needs to do is make an on-the-spot choice. They can choose the ethical product without a whole lot of work and go home feeling proud that they did their part to help prevent cruelty to dolphins.

This might be a flawed comparison but my point is just that we need to try to tie the education & awareness campaigns into the actual immediate purchase process of the puppy buyer. Maybe we just need to simplify things for the people looking to add a pet to their family.

We say “choose an ethical breeder” but maybe that’s just too vague and feels overwhelming to people who have no idea where to even start defining "ethical” much less finding that sort of loosely defined breeder. Maybe the trick is to have an organization choose the ethical breeders and then let consumers “shop” that approved list.

The organization would need to do some serious promotion of their “seal of approval’ so that “ethical breeder” (or whatever its called) would become a widely known concept. From there, create a database and start taking over the internet with links to the database site. And the message is simple; If you’re going to buy a puppy, buy him from one of these approved breeders. Otherwise, you may be buying from a puppy mill.

Again, there needs to be the opportunity for pride; “I got him from a “______ approved” breeder (I made an ethical, humane choice), because I chose not to support a puppy mill.”

Does that make any sense?

H. Houlahan

They can choose the ethical product without a whole lot of work and go home feeling proud that they did their part to help prevent cruelty to dolphins.

Well there's the rub.

The suppliers of dolphin-safe tuna have pretty much no interest in ensuring that their product goes to a good home.

Mixed with mayo on a sammitch. Used to bait a raccoon trap. Salted on a cracker. In a casserole. Fed to the cat. Stockpiled in the fallout shelter. The producers of dolphin safe tuna simply do not care what you do with the product once you purchase it. Why should they?

(Actually, totally as an aside, now I want tuna for lunch -- on crackers, if you must know.)

One of the hallmarks of an ethical breeder is that they ALL care DEEPLY about what happens to their "products" once you take them home.

So it will never be very little effort to actually acquire a pup from an ethical breeder, especially compared to the ease of a cash-only flea market transaction or the paypal button on the puppymill's website.

I agree that it should take less consumer effort to identify an ethical breeder, and we can do something about that.

But actually buying a pup from someone who gives a rat's fanny will always involve extra effort.

The comments to this entry are closed.