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December 19, 2007

Fighting Puppy Mills Full-Force

At The Humane Society of the United States, we are concentrating resources on some of the core problems that our nation confronts on animal protection—including factory farming, animal fighting, the fur trade, inhumane hunting practices, the exotic animal trade, and pet overpopulation and puppy mills. The puppy mill industry has been around for a long time, but our movement has not yet succeeded in halting its many abuses.

Two breeding dogs at a puppy mill
© The HSUS
Our investigation tracked puppies sold at
Pets of Pel Air to this mill and four others.

In the last six months, we've conducted three undercover investigations into different facets of the industry—puppy mill auctions, the level of puppy mill compliance with state and federal laws (with a focus on Virginia), and the role of pet stores in the puppy mill trade (with a focus on Pets of Bel Air in Los Angeles)—and used a wide array of HSUS resources to attack the puppy mill crisis in America.

On Dec. 11, I led a press conference in Los Angeles and released our undercover footage from an investigation centered around the business practices of Pets of Bel Air, a high-end L.A. pet store that caters to wealthy clients, including many celebrities. The investigation revealed that even this high-end pet store, which claims to set the standard for the pet store industry, was trading in dogs from puppy mills in the Midwest. The investigation also revealed that store personnel were knowingly deceiving consumers about the source of its dogs and assuring customers that the dogs did not come from puppy mills. We did this investigation to underscore the connection between pet stores and puppy mills and to show that the best place to obtain dogs is from shelters or breed rescue groups. Patronizing pet stores rather than adopting dogs from shelters contributes to a cycle of mistreatment and unnecessary euthanasia. We as a nation can do much better.

In November, The HSUS released the results of a five-month investigation in Virginia. Our findings, which received widespread publicity just like our Pets of Bel Air investigation, revealed a vast industry of more than 1,000 dog breeding operations that sell commercially. Only 16 operations had been registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While some of the unlicensed operations were operating illegally, most of them were under no requirement to register with state or federal authorities—revealing that it's not just an enforcement problem, but it's a more fundamental problem of a deficiency in the law.

Pomeranian at a Virginia puppy mill
© The HSUS
Our investigators discovered dogs living in
squalor at Virginia puppy mills.

In the case of one appalling facility, formally declared a disaster site by the county, HSUS responders assisted local officials with the removal of nearly 1,000 dogs and puppies. Today, thanks to our intervention, many of those animals have been adopted to good homes through animal shelters up and down the East Coast.

We’re going to push for an upgrade in the law so that puppy mills do not get a free pass. In Congress this year, we generated a letter from 200 members of Congress and worked to have the House and Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittees provide a record level of funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, which includes the  regulation of puppy mills. But federal law needs a major overhaul as well.

Only a few weeks before releasing the results of our Virginia investigation, HSUS responders traveled to Maine in October as part of a coalition of groups working on the care and removal of 250 dogs seized from another mass-breeding facility. The HSUS helped to transport some 130 animals to a Portland animal shelter and to the prospect of loving homes. And a couple months earlier, in August, HSUS staff participated in a raid on a puppy mill in north Texas. We helped to transport and care for 70 rescued dogs ranging from 2-day-old Chihuahua puppies to adult Rottweilers who had been living in deplorable conditions.

More importantly, in June we exposed a sordid but little known element of the puppy mill problem with our investigation of dog auctions, where puppy mill owners buy and sell animals like used cars, bidding on them according to their breeding capacity. This exposé also drew massive public attention to the issue.

Also in June, we filed a first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit against Wizard of Claws, a south Florida puppy dealer that traffics in a large volume of puppy mill animals. Our suit alleges that this notorious puppy dealer has defrauded customers by misrepresenting the origin of the animals it sells, and by selling dogs who suffer from severe health problems and genetic defects.

In addition to our work in the United States, we are campaigning to bar the import of dogs to this country from foreign puppy mills. On Dec. 14, we succeeded in attaching a provision to the Senate Farm Bill that would effectively stop the import of puppies for resale. We have been tracking a trend of increased sales of puppies in the United States from China, eastern Europe, Russia, South America, and South Korea. It's a major trade, and we want to stop it before it metastasizes further. We will work to hold this provision in the final Farm Bill as it moves to be considered by a Senate-House conference committee.

450x600_puppy_mill_ad

Finally, in addition to our hands-on work and public policy work to stop puppy mills, we are also amplifying our efforts to increase public awareness. Puppy mills continue to thrive because unwitting customers buy puppies from pet stores and Internet dealers that obtain dogs from these abusive sources. We have increased our paid advertising and public service announcement efforts—in billboards, magazine ads, and other media—to inform pet owners about the problem of puppy mills and encourage them to adopt dogs from local animal shelters and breed rescue groups.

In short, we are using all of the tools of The HSUS—investigations, government affairs, litigation, disaster services, and communications—to take on this industry. We'll continue to engage this fight on all of these fronts.

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