You would think that having a license from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would mean something about the level and quality of care that dogs at commercial breeding facilities receive. While pet stores like to claim their dogs are from USDA licensed breeding facilities and not from puppy mills, their claims don’t really mean very much.
According to a recent poll commissioned by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), what people consider humane and what is actually required of licensed breeders doesn’t add up. The poll found 71 percent of Americans believe that breeders who are licensed by the USDA treat their dogs humanely – which includes giving them daily exercise and allowing them outside, providing opportunities for social interactions with people, providing access to veterinary care, providing protection from the elements, resting females between breeding cycles, not using wire floors or stacked cages and making sure dogs have adequate space, among other things.
All of those things sound reasonable, but legally, the USDA’s standards of care are minimal at best and don’t compare to public standards for the humane treatment of dogs or to what people believe is being done. Dogs can be kept in cages only a few inches longer than their bodies for their entire lives (you can see how much space your dog would have by USDA standards with this calculator). Cages can be stacked with wire floors, dogs can be bred as often as they can produce to maximize profits and they’re often left without adequate care in unsanitary conditions.
The ASPCA has launched a database on its No Pet Store Puppies website that links pet stores that sell puppies to the commercial breeders that supply them. The sources of these dogs may come as a surprise.
“Consumers need to know that they should not be falsely reassured when a pet store tells them their puppies come from USDA licensed breeders,” said Cori Menkin, senior director of the ASPCA Puppy Mills Campaign. “Unfortunately, USDA standards alone do not ensure that dogs are raised humanely in an environment in which they can thrive. We hope this new tool will allow consumers to make informed decisions and refrain from buying puppies at pet stores, and instead make adoption their first option, or seek a responsible breeder if they choose not to adopt.”
The database contains more than 10,000 photos taken by USDA inspectors of commercial breeding facilities and links them to pet stores around the country that have sold their puppies within the last year. The site can also be searched by zip code, USDA license number, a breeder’s name and specific breeds.
The photos show both violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and conditions that are perfectly legal – but at first glance leave you wondering how that could even be possible and more importantly why some of these places haven’t been shut down.
When it comes to inspections, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Animal Care (AC) unit, which is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, has been ineffective in terms of dealing with problem breeders and repeat offenders. A 2010 audit by the Office of Inspector General found that fines were too small to deter problems, violations were not cited or documented properly, there was little or no follow up on cases and low penalties and warnings were letting bad breeders off the hook, while still others got to completely circumvent the rules by selling directly to the public.
The ASPCA wants to work with the USDA to improving standards of care required for these dogs and tougher enforcement of regulations that are in place to ensure basic care. Meanwhile, we can all help these dogs by spreading the word and killing the demand for pet store puppies by not buying them or shopping at stores that sell animals.
To learn more about the campaign and check out the database, visit NoPetStorePuppies.com.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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