“The Puppy Industry” Part I

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Missouri has issued a new report which discusses and summarizes its research on the breeders, buyers, sellers and enforcement of the laws around what it terms, “The Puppy Industry.”

The BBB indicates it is doing this report due to the large number of complaints it has recently received about animals purchased in pet stores or online that subsequently become ill, low resolution rate of those complaints, and the consequent medical expenditures involved when one purchases and then is compelled to care for a sick animal.

Under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the USDA licenses and inspects all dog breeders.  Based upon statistics from the USDA there are currently roughly 4,000 licensed breeders; of those licensed breeders 1,200 (30%) are located in Missouri.  The latter figure equates to one breeder per every 3,000 residents.  Of the respondents to the survey undertaken by the BBB, the average was one breeder per every 100,000 residents in other states.

The BBB report provides and overview and discussion of the 352 complaints filed against either breeders or sellers in Missouri within the last year.  Of these complaints only half have been resolved vs. the national average of three-fourths.  Complaints consisted of a puppy becoming ill after a sell, buyers not being reimbursed for thousands of dollars in veterinary care for the sick animals they had purchased, and lack of adequate registration papers for their purchased dog.

Welcome to the "Show Me State"

Welcome to Missouri

I have been and continue to be extremely skeptical about the broader impact of the inspections the USDA “frequently” performs on breeders.  Per the BBB, the USDA has made ONLY 130 inspections of 20 breeders in the last three years in the state of Missouri, out of the 4,000 currently operating in that state.  Importantly, federal law does not require a breeder that engages solely in retail sales to be licensed.  Given the obvious abuses in recent years, the Feds should think seriously about changing this policy, in particular for individuals whose primary business is either dog breeding or pet retail sales so that they can be properly monitored and sanctioned if acting improperly.  A license would allow for mandatory frequent inspections and for reports and findings to be published online.

In the last 3 years, the 20 Missouri breeders who have been inspected were found to have committed 987 violations, an average of 7.6 violations per inspection.  The following summarize some of those findings:

  • One breeder temporarily lost his license three times, reapplied and was approved each time; he finally had his license cancelled after a fourth inspection turned up continuing abuses.
  • One breeder received 138 violations over the course of 13 inspections, almost 11 violations per inspection.
  • 12 of the 20 breeders are still licensed.  Of these 12, three have had their licenses cancelled at one time or another.

Obviously, I am no fan of large-scale breeding facilities that are unclean, unsanitary and rarely if ever follow USDA guidelines.  Do I think these guidelines should be improved to improve a dog’s living conditions?  Yes, I do.  Do I advocate a “life of luxury” for dogs born at breeding facilities?  No.

Zoey's Dad in his Cage/Home

Zoey's Dad

I do think basic guidelines need to be reconsidered, beginning with the cages in which puppies are kept (see accompanying video for examples of these conditions).

In general, there need to be stricter guidelines for stores and breeders alike.  For instance, a breeder should not be allowed to incur 130 violations before losing his license.  Similarly, a breeder or retail store should lose and subsequently not be allowed to regain its license 3-4 times before finally being put out of business.  Minimum standards must be codified and strictly enforced, with no exceptions.

Unfortunately, puppy breeding and selling has become a sizable profit generator for the proprietors and states alike (the latter through taxes), so in places like Missouri, where the practice is thriving, it is not surprising that some form of quid pro quo has emerged so as to protect the industry save its most horrid abuses.

In the end, consumers are often the biggest net losers in this situation, since they are unknowingly receiving ill puppies they immediately become attached to and want to care for.  Vet bills have a way of stacking up rapidly, a not-inconsequential expense in these hard economic times.  Breeders are usually absolved of direct responsibility for these illnesses and pet stores do everything in their power to evade and deflect their responsibilities.  It is imperative that the authorities, who are alone in a position of enforcement, do something to protect the innocent, starting with the puppies themselves, often subject to inhumane conditions for most of their young lives.  Doing so makes sense for everyone involved, including those honest breeders and pet stores (there are some pet stores emerging who do only have rescues/adoption available…these stores rely on product purchases and returning customers instead of puppy purchases) whose reputations are being sullied by the actions of the many.

Source: The Puppy Industry in Missouri.  A Study of the Buyers, Sellers, Breeders and Enforcement of the Laws. Robert Teuscher.  March 2010

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