Over 3 years ago, a family brought a 4-month old toy poodle mix to my parents’ animal hospital. They had just recently bought him at a pet store and wanted to make sure that he had a full check-up with complete vaccinations, a typical routine for new dog owners. Fortunately, he was given a clean bill of health despite his matted coat, which had to be shaved off to thoroughly check for any hidden skin ailments. Afterwards as routine, my parents explained to the new owners the costs and responsibilities of owning a pet. Although they walked away that day happy with a healthy puppy, they returned 2 weeks later because they realized that they had neither the funds nor the time to take care of him. Just as quickly as they relinquished him, I rescued the little guy, now known as Stuart, before any transfer to a shelter. He was just too sweet and little to be homeless….again. Besides, I already had 2 senior dogs at home and they needed a puppy to boost their energy, which he did successfully every day.
Three months later when Stuart was 7-months old, he started vomiting and became suddenly lethargic, which was very unusual not only for him but also for a puppy. At first, I thought he probably just ate something outside and had an upset stomach but my intuition was telling me something different. Something just didn’t seem right about him. I then immediately brought him into my parents’ office, where my dad ran tests and took an x-ray. Although the tests came up normal, the x-ray raised a huge red flag. There were half a dozen gas pockets all along Stuart’s intestines, which were an obvious sign of a blockage. Just by both the x-ray and the look in Stuart’s eyes, my dad knew he had to move quickly and perform emergency exploratory surgery.
Since the x-ray didn’t show what exactly was causing the blockage, my dad was prepared to search Stuart’s intestines inch by inch. However, once my dad opened him up, the cause was staring at him in the face. Stuart had volvulus (or intestinal twisting), a life-threatening condition that can happen quickly and cause death within hours if not treated immediately. It happens most often in adult large breed dogs, such as German Shepherds and Great Danes, over the age of 2 years with the 2 main causes of being either anatomically predisposed (i.e. barrel chests in large breeds) or genetically predisposed. So how did it happen to my 7month old, 4lb poodle?
Unlike responsible, reputable breeders who run their business producing the healthiest puppies within humane conditions, puppy mills are a large-scale commercial breeding operation focused on the profit of producing the most puppies in over-packed, inhumane facilities rather than the health and well-being of the breeding dogs and their litters. It is an increasingly disturbing trade where the business model is based on quantity over quality, contributes greatly to the nation’s pet overpopulation problem, and ventures into a new category of animal cruelty, where companion animals are treated like livestock and in most cases, they are treated worse.
Female dogs are bred constantly with very little recovery in between litters. They are bred so often that there’s little to no regard to their own health as well as the health of the litters. In-breeding and genetic qualities in the puppies are ignored, which then leads to unchecked hereditary defects. Puppy mill operators have little to no experience in animal husbandry or absolutely no regard for the condition of the dogs and puppies and their environment that ailing females and males are never removed from the breeding pools and sick puppies remain with the healthy. When the breeding females are physically worn out and ‘useless’, they are then euthanized without ever becoming part of a family or socialized with humans and other dogs.
When litters are produced, puppy brokers or middlemen come in and pick out the ‘most desirable’ and transfer them via mass transports similar to livestock where they eventually end up in pet stores. The ‘undesirable’ are either euthanized or sold to research facilities. From birth to their eventual destination, these puppies are kept in constant confinement where toys, treats, basic grooming, adequate vet care, exercise, and socialization are all denied. Thanks to lax USDA regulations, just as long as basic food, water, and shelter are provided no USDA inspection is required; while the quality of the food, water, and shelter are all ignored. These puppies are stacked in crates upon crates where they live in their own squalor and exposed to the same infectious diseases and ailments of the puppy next to them.
To view inside a puppy mill, please click below:
Puppy Mill Insider
If and when puppies do make it out of these mills alive and into pet stores, although their environment changes slightly for the better, they are still sold primarily for profit with still no regard for their health. They are still confined within unsanitary conditions and denied adequate vet care. Very much unlike respected breeders, shelters, and rescue organizations, pet stores do absolutely no screening in order to cater to impulse buyers. It is a great majority of these buyers who decide just as quickly to buy a puppy as to abandon it when the responsibilities and costs become too much; just as in Stuart’s case.
However, it is not to assume that pet abandonment is at the fault of the new owner. It is the fault of the puppy mills and the pet stores involved for misrepresentation and lack of humane treatment. Puppy mill operators and pet stores are so quick to make a buck that they don’t disclose genetic background, health records, costs, and responsibilities. They are so quick to sell these puppies to misinformed buyers in order to make room for the next round of puppies. At the end it’s both the new owners and their puppies that pay the price. Either the owners are overwhelmed with the responsibilities and costs or the puppy is abandoned and neglected.
With millions of homeless pets dying in shelters every year, there is no excuse to buy unless an informed buyer knows exactly what kind of breed and what kind of lineage they prefer. A respected, reputable breeder does not sell over the internet (or “sight unseen”) and especially not in pet stores. They care too much about the breed and well-being of their puppies over the actual profit that they require screening. In return, a truly informed buyer will visit the facility and request to meet the parents of their new puppy.
So to answer the initial question: how much is that doggie in the window really worth? If you’re an animal lover like me, then the answer is: priceless. No animal should be put through those inhumane conditions just so operators and companies can make a quick buck off the often misinformed general public. Instead these companies should follow the example of PETCO and PetSmart, who vowed to no longer sell puppies and instead now have adoption centers and/or are affiliated with their local shelters.
Was Stuart’s volvulus a direct result of improper breeding and genetic defects in puppy mills? Well, the facts remain: he was bought in a pet store to misinformed buyers who relinquished him after 2 weeks, he was brought into my parents’ office dirty and matted, and was afflicted with volvulus, a lethal condition most common in adult large breeds, when he was only 7months old. The correlation of all those events is just too great to think otherwise.
Going back to that day of Stuart’s emergency surgery, he did recover perfectly and is now happy and healthy at a whopping 7lbs. He’s a great brother to Chewy and Athena and probably one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever had. To be honest, if my parents weren’t veterinarians, Stuart most likely wouldn’t be alive today. His entire procedure would’ve cost me over $1000 plus post-surgery medication. Considering my salary at the time, it just wasn’t financially possible for me and I would have opted for euthanizing him. If his previous owners decided to keep him, would they opt for the same? While I hate that euthanasia is ever an option, for dogs who are clearly suffering from a life-threatening condition, it would have been the only option. As a puppy mill dog, Stuart would have just been another helpless victim. But thanks to my quick action and generosity of my parents, he ended up being a survivor instead.