Thursday, November 15, 2012

Puppy Mills and Pound Killing: What is the Connection?

On Wednesday, October 31, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance banning the retail sale of cats, dogs, and rabbits. The ordinance goes into effect on December 17. This is very good news. It means and end to animals from puppy, kitten, or rabbit mills in Los Angeles pet stores. This is another blow to this horrendous industry, as jurisdictions around the country are joining the bandwagon and passing similar legislation.

Puppy mills* need to go out of business for one reason, and one reason only. They are cruel, hellish places that breed dogs only for profit, and keep their overhead as low as possible by not treating their dogs with even a modicum of care. Dogs live their entire lives in small wire-bottom cages with no bedding, never having any significant human interaction, never getting proper vet care to the point where their teeth rot and tumors, infections, and other conditions go untreated, they never get bathed or brushed or groomed, they’re fed low-quality food that is often stale, even moldy, their drinking water often has a film of green slimy algae, they’re forced to live in blistering heat with no air conditioning in the summer, and freezing cold with no heating in the winter, their water bowls often frozen solid. The females are kept pregnant constantly, then have their puppies taken away from them before they are properly weaned.


This is how millions of dogs have to live out their entire lives, and most of it is perfectly legal. Puppy mills churn out dogs for sale at pet shops and on the Internet, and USDA regulations allow for treatment that would appall any decent person.

But if you listen to people at pet store protests or speaking in front of city council meetings, you will hear them give another reason they believe puppy mills should be banned. You will hear them say that buying puppies at pet stores causes animals in "shelters" to be killed. Their logic is that animals are being killed in pounds because of "overpopulation." "Too many animals, not enough homes." And therefore, the thinking goes, every time someone buys a puppy at a pet store, they are in essence adding to the overpopulation and causing the death of an animal in a pound. At pet store protests, these people will hold signs that say "every dog bred means a shelter dog dead," "don’t breed or buy when shelter pets die" and even "pet overpopulation is NOT a myth."

In fact, at times this message seems to drown out the very real one of cruelty. In fact, the text of the Los Angeles draft ordinance reads, "whereas, the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits contributes to the proliferation of homeless or unwanted animals that end up in public animals shelters; and whereas, prohibiting the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores, retail businesses or other commercial establishments may lower the City’s shelter animals euthanasia rate and lead to a greater adoption rate of shelter animals...." but nowhere does it give the slightest mention of the cruelty and horrific neglect suffered by dogs in puppy mills, which is the only valid reason for shutting down puppy mills.

Puppy mills are horrible places, and must be closed down.

Killing of animals in pounds is unconscionable, and must stop.

However, these are two completely separate issues, because overpopulation is a myth, and buying a pet store puppy is not what is causing the killing in the pounds. What is causing the killing is a failure on the part of the leadership of the pounds to do what it takes to end the killing. We already know how to do this, with a proven set of protocols, the No Kill Equation.

The cruelty perpetrated on the parents of the pet store puppies in the mills is quite certainly enough of a reason all by itself to fight to end the mills. We don’t need to bring in a false reason to help the cause. It doesn’t help, and in fact, it can hurt not only the puppy mill cause, by diluting the message and causing people to lose sight of the very real reasons to end puppy mills, but it can also damage the attempts to bring about an end to pound killing, because the only way we are going to end that killing is by first recognizing and accepting that overpopulation is a myth.

Also, by making a blanket statement that pets die in pounds because of breeding, we alienate reputable breeders, and this is a mistake. These breeders could be a valuable ally against both puppy mills and pound killing. If we could only separate mass breeding for profit from breeding by people whose motive is not profit but a love of the dogs, we could get a much larger number of people to be vocal on our side.

Protesters at pet stores, as an explanation of why we know pet stores sell puppy mill animals, will rightly say that reputable breeders do not sell their animals to pet shops. But at the same time, they are carrying the "every dog bred is a shelter dog dead" signs, and spouting the corresponding rhetoric. Very mixed message. Can you imagine any breeders joining in a protest that voices these platitudes?

And by not distinguishing reputable breeders from puppy mills, we are also alienating another group of people: those who won’t go to a shelter or rescue, can’t be persuaded to, and feel they must have not only a purebred dog, but a puppy, and don’t care that purebred puppies do come into the pounds. If they are given simply a choice between pet stores and the pound, and not helped to find a good breeder, they will be pushed to choose the pet store.

There is a connection between pet stores selling puppies and pounds killing animals, but it is not at all that which the "overpopulation" believers are trying to tell us. It isn’t that animals are being killed in pounds because they are being displaced by puppies sold in pet stores, rather pet stores are able to sell more puppies in part because shelters are not meeting the needs of the dogs and the public–not having offsite adoptions, not having convenient opening hours, not advertising–and therefore killing more animals.

As Nathan Winograd says in Redemption:

[T]he more animals dying in a given community (which traditionalists claim means lack of homes), the greater number of pet stores that sell dogs and cats (which shows homes readily available). Generally, pet stores succeed when a shelter is not meeting market demand or competing effectively, and because animal lovers do not want to go into a shelter that kills the vast majority of the animals....

Someone posted a message on a Facebook page that noted that there are about four million animals dying in "shelters" every year, and that about that same number of dogs are bred in puppy mills each year. Her point seemed to be that if we got rid of puppy mills, the killing could end. The post ended by saying, "number don’t lie."

But this isn’t about numbers. If it were, we would be a No Kill nation today, because there are many more people looking to bring an animal into their home, and undecided on where to obtain that animal and therefore could be persuaded to adopt, than there are animals killed.

Of course it is true that, without the pet store option, some people would turn to a pound to adopt an animal, and that could only help get more animals out of pounds. But even if no pet store ever again sold an animal, even if every puppy mill went out of business today, that would not come close to ending the killing. The "overpopulation" people have it backwards. Shutting down puppy mills will do little to end "shelter" killing; however if the "shelters" begin implementing the No Kill Equation, not only will the killing end (and we know this, because it is already happening in communities across the country), but, by diverting people to the shelters, it will also go a long way to shutting down the puppy mills.

Shirley Thistlethwaite in her "YesBiscuit!" blog has stated it beautifully. The title of one of her blog posts is "Directors of Pet Killing Facilities Keep Puppy Mills in Business." Think about that.

In the blog, she writes:

By killing approximately 3 million healthy/treatable shelter pets that an estimated 17 million people planning to get a new pet are open to adopting, shelter directors are driving those 17 million people to other sources....Killing health/treatable shelter pets ensures that puppy mills will continue to meet the demand for pets that shelters are not.

Sadly, though, people will continue to conflate puppy mills and pound killing as long as the myth of pet overpopulation continues to be pervasive. Because if pet overpopulation did exist, the logic would be sound. But as more and more people are able to step back from their tunnel vision and disengage themselves from the received wisdom of "pet overpopulation" that has been drilled into them for years, and finally open their minds to the proof in front of their eyes, No Kill communities will start springing up even faster than they are now, and at the same time, puppy mills will start falling like houses of cards.



*I speak of puppy mills, because that is where so much of the cruelty is being exposed. However, whenever, for convenience, I simply use the term "puppy mills," I am including the places that churn out kittens, rabbits, and other animals, all equally egregious.


  1. The shelters that are No-Kill are 1.5% of the total of 5000 shelters in the U.S. so in the meantime we also need to help the homeless animals by reducing the number of animals entering kill shelters which means less animals being killed as we keep trying to turn more & more cities into No Kill. Cracking down on puppy & kitten mills will help reduce the amount of animals entering kill shelters, again means less animals being killed.

  2. julieveggie, as I said in the post, it is true that some people, if they can't buy a dog from a pet shop, will adopt from the pound, but even if all puppy and kitten mills closed today, the killing wouldn't end, because it isn't "overpopulation" that is causing the killing, as overpopulation is a myth. And as far as the small percentage of No Kill shelters, for a movement as relatively new as the No Kill movement, the rate at which the number of open admission No Kill shelters is growing is phenomenal.

  3. I have 10 years of experience in rescuing animals. Shelter overpopulation is not a myth. Sadly, most of the animals at the shelters are undesirable to the public or our shelters would be empty. It's like pulling teeth to get people to adopt adult- senior cats & larger adult-senior dogs.

  4. I’m sorry, julieveggie, but the numbers just don’t agree with you. Again, as I said in the post, there are about 3-4 million animals killed in “shelters” every year, and about 17 million people looking to bring an animal into their home, who are undecided about where to get that animal. The fact that animals are dying in pounds is not due to “overpopulation,” but to a failure on the part of the director and staff to implement the programs necessary to stop the killing. And no animal is “undesirable.” There is someone out there for every animal. The shelters simply have to be more innovative in their marketing and outreach strategies.

    I read the little rant you linked to, and the conspiracy theory about the No Kill movement in essence wanting to sabotage the work of stopping animal abuse verges on paranoia. And the accusation that No Kill advocates are defending puppy mills is absurd. Anyone who even read the first paragraphs of this post would know that is not true.

    It is ironic that many of the people who rescue or work/volunteer in the shelters, rather than have a clearer view of the situation, tend to see all the animals coming in and being killed and lose perspective, blaming “overpopulation” or “the irresponsible public” for the killing. But this is a distorted picture.

  5. If indeed there are '17 million' people who would 'consider' a shelter pet, why don't they just go to the nearest shelter and get one?
    Statistics like these are meaningless when human nature is added in. My local animal control has a cadre of volunteers that tirelessly promote the dogs that need homes, yet oddly enough, people aren't rushing down to the pound to adopt pit bulls. If these dogs had been purebred Yorkies, fluffy little Poodles or beautiful Golden Retrievers, they would likely have found homes. But it simply doesn't pass the smell test to say that shelters are to blame, when most of the dogs are not the ones that the public is clamoring for.

    I see breeders on facebook all the time stating pet-overpopulation is a myth so they can keep breeding. I have been on the no-kill facebook pages and clicked on fans that are breeders too.

  6. Tina, The dog that you are holding looks like a pure-bred. Did you buy that dog from a breeder, just curious? I have 8 rescue pets myself.

  7. Jullieveggie, In answer to your question of why don’t the seventeen million people “just go to the nearest shelter and get ” a pet, it is because the “shelters” aren’t doing their jobs of reaching out to these undecided people. They don’t do any marketing, they don’t have opening hours during which working people can visit, they have terrible customer service, and the facilities are uninviting, sad places. That is the entire point.

    It isn’t enough to have a few volunteers who “tirelessly promote the dogs.” It is the job of the shelter itself to promote these dogs and cats. The truth is that, again as I said, there is a growing number of shelters that do not kill healthy or treatable animals, no matter what the breed, and they get all kinds of animals into their facilities.

    As for as your attempted guilt by association argument, that you see breeders all the time on No Kill pages, well, that’s just fine, I welcome reputable breeders to the cause, because they are (again) NOT the problem. But the truth is, the majority of No Kill advocates are not breeders, just people who want to see an end to the killing (as do, by the way, many good breeders).

    I would also like to ask you one question: You call yourself “julieveggie,” which implies that you do not eat animals, presumably because you don’t believe in killing them. Many vegans, myself included, often ask the question, why do you love cats and dogs, but eat cows and pigs, etc.? But I’m asking you the same question in reverse: why do you refuse to take part in killing animals for food, but seem to be in favor of killing companion animals? Granted, I may be mistaken to assume things from your screen name, but if this is the case, it might warrant some soul searching on your part.

    And with regard to your question about the dog in the picture, that is my late beloved Tess, and yes, she is a purebred Scottie, and no, I did not buy her from a breeder. She came from a Scottie rescue. A family had relinquished her and her brother, another family had adopted them together and gave Tess back to the rescue. I was fortunate enough to meet her and bring her into my family. All my animals are and always have been rescues.

    One final thing: Our discussion at this point has regressed to repetition: you are arguing the same points, and I am having to repeat things that I already stated in my post. When it gets to that point, I feel it is a waste of time, and therefore, I’m afraid I must put an end to this discussion. I am more than happy to talk at length to anyone who has sincere questions or concerns and is open to the answers, but I won’t take part in a battle of words with someone who just wants to continue to spout his or her dogma.