A Revolutionary Idea to End Puppy Mills
Phillip Raclyn, DVM, CVA
The Puppy Project hopes to stop factory farming of puppies by offering breeders and potential owners a better, safer alternative.
Factory farming of puppies is rampant across the United States, England, and Australia. These “puppy mills” exist for 1 reason only: profit. Profit at the expense of the puppies, the breeding bitches and sires, and the people who unwittingly purchase these animals.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and the US government have tried to control the factory farming of dogs to no avail. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made feeble attempts at regulation by creating standards and inspection protocols for dog breeders. However, even if the USDA wanted to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, the standards set are too minimal and not enough inspectors are available.
- USDA Urged by Congress to Reinstate Access to Inspection Reports
- To Err Is Human
Both the ASPCA and HSUS believe that the best chance of combating this issue is to educate the public. Even though adoption is considered the morally accepted manner to bring a dog into the home, tens of thousands of dogs remain in shelters, and puppy mills continue to thrive.
WHY DO PEOPLE BUY PUPPY MILL DOGS?
The answer is 2-fold. First, the process of buying a dog from a pet store or puppy mill is considerably easier and less meticulous than adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue group. Second, it is difficult to find a repu­table breeder. The clientele in my Manhattan practice is well educated and relatively wealthy. Nevertheless, when I ask most of my clients with new puppies where they got their dogs, the answer is either a pet store or a “breeder” they found online. It’s not that they didn’t try to find a good breeder, but they were overwhelmed trying to sort the wheat from the chaff of what came up in their Google searches. All other factors being equal, most people will choose the easiest option.
When acquiring a puppy, the most common consid­eration is breed. Even if potential owners consider the ramifications of buying a poorly bred puppy, they have few options for finding an ethical high-quality breeder. The country is full of high-quality dog breeders, but there are just as many “backyard breeders,” pet stores, and puppy mills. With the power and anonymity of the internet, people can pretend to be something they’re not. A well-curated website with cute photos of farmland, happy families, and member­ships in organizations (that may or may not exist) makes understanding what you’re buying impossible. It’s truly caveat emptor when it comes to purchasing a puppy. But if you’re the buyer, there’s simply no reli­able way to know and beware.
WHAT ABOUT THE AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB?
The American Kennel Club (AKC) is an interesting case study. Although the organization has a Breeder of Merit program, the requirements for earning this certification primarily involve being active with the AKC. Many in the industry, including the HSUS, believe the AKC has a vested interest in keeping puppy mills open.
In a 2015 article, former HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “It seems so counterintuitive and even bizarre, but there is an unmistakable amply documented trail of evidence that AKC regularly fights laws designed to crack down on puppy mills, in addition to conducting private inspections and giving its approval to mills.” From another HSUS article: “If you don’t understand why a group that claims to support dogs would fight legislation cracking down on puppy mills, just...follow the money. The more puppies high-volume breeders produce and then register with the AKC, the better for the AKC’s bottom line.”2
If the largest organization of breeders in the country is in bed with the puppy mills, who will speak out for the animals that suffer as a consequence?
THE ECONOMIC EQUATION
The only way to end the domination of the purebred dog industry by puppy mills is to replace the current model with a better alternative. But first, it’s important to understand the economics of the breeding industry.
The supply chain ends at the pet store that sells puppies from puppy mills. This is where we need to begin to better understand the problem. A pet store will get a delivery of dogs from a consolidator who buys puppies from puppy mills or puppy auctions. In many cases, the pups are shipped across the country. Some arrive alive, but many don’t. Those that survive are offloaded to the pet store and put up for sale at enormous markups, especially in large cities.
But not puppies sell quickly. Many factors are at play, including breed, health, the overall economy, and weather. Puppies that aren't sold quickly go from be-ing a quick source of profit to an expense that requires food, care, shelter, and labor. The longer the puppies stay in the store, the more their price drops, until even­tually they’re just given away. Eight-week-old puppies command a much higher price than 20-week-old puppies. At 6 months the dogs are just a liability. These older puppies are untrained, poorly socialized, incom­pletely vaccinated, and frequently sick; many are ulti­mately abandoned or taken to shelters.
However, concerned consumers with good inten­tions and money to spend do exist. Giving these people a smarter opportunity to purchase a healthier dog will keep them out of pet stores. Without the sale of low-quality, high-priced puppies, pet stores will not be able to sustain the model that allows them to traffic dogs. To effect a change, we only need make a dent in the sale of puppies in pet stores.
We veterinarians can understand, thanks to the internet, how the loss of income from product sales has forced us to raise our fees for services, or we would have seen our practices go slowly out of business. The profits we made selling “stuff” subsidized the cost of practicing veterinary medicine. Similarly, the profits from selling puppies in the first month after delivery subsidizes the cost of keeping puppies in the store that don't sell quickly. The difference is that we can raise our fees to compensate, but pet stores cannot because everything else they sell is also available online for less.
There’s no question that veterinarians are concerned about this issue. No veterinarian likes seeing sick puppies, and we know that when dogs from puppy mills grow older, they’re more prone to develop a litany of health issues, including arthritis, endocrine problems, alopecia, and immune disease. So why aren’t more veterinarians trying to stop this? There are many answers, but it boils down to the fact that nobody has given veterinarians a way to fight back. That’s exactly what we plan to do.
Our solution involves creating a certification program developed and run by veterinarians. We’ve created an ad hoc Veterinary Council for Breed Stewardship (VETcbs.com) comprising veterinar­ians worldwide who are concerned about this trav­esty. However, certification alone is insufficient. The second step is to give certified breeders a venue to sell their dogs to the public. Just as important is giving the public an easy and fun way to find a great breeder. The last piece of the puzzle is to offer guarantees and perks to anyone who supports the initiative by buying from a certified breeder.
Our vision is simple. Great breeders get certified by veteri­narians and sell their puppies to the public for what they’re worth. Anyone looking to purchase a puppy can visit our website, PuppyProject.org, to be connected to a certified breeder. When a pup is sold to its new owner, it arrives with pet insurance, financial in-centives to encourage use of the pet insurance, and other perks.
Veterinarians will see fewer sick puppies, and when they do see a sick pup, they can treat it to the best of their abilities thanks to the insurance. Veterinarians will also see fewer middle-aged and older dogs being euthanized for chronic problems that owners can’t afford to treat. Veterinarians are also likely to earn more if the dogs remain insured. Certified breeders also increase their in-come because they’re able to sell more high-quality dogs. And the public saves money by buying a puppy with guarantees and fewer medical problems. The only entities that don’t benefit are pet stores and puppy mills. And that’s how it should be.
Our vision is for the veterinary community to take over as the steward of the purebred dog industry. We have the education, intelligence, and integrity to effectively manage how purebred dogs should be bred, raised, and sold. In our vision, veterinarians, lamenting the hijacking of many of our most profitable parts of practice, can increase our collective income by becoming involved in an area of the pet industry that sorely needs us.
The Puppy Project is currently operational and seeking funding for a widespread rollout to the public and breeders. Reach out to us to become involved at DrRaclyn@PuppyProject.org.
Dr. Raclyn has been practicing veterinary medicine since 1986. In addition to founding and directing The Puppy Project and the Veterinary Council for Breed Stewardship, he is the founder and 1 of 2 managing veterinarians of Riverside Animal Hospital’s 2 New York City loca­tions. He also owns a practice in Westchester Country, New York.