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The adult breeding dogs are not considered pets, nor are they treated as such. They are often crowded together in small wire cages and typically receive little social contact with people and little or no professional veterinary care, even when open sores or other wounds are evident.
The facilities can vary widely in cleanliness and quality, though it is common to find the dogs housed in makeshift shelters such as salvaged cargo truck boxes, semi trailers, or old agricultural buildings without heat or adequate ventilation.
The dogs are usually kept in wire cages to allow for excrement to fall away from the surfaces of the living area. They aren’t taken out of those cages except for purposes of breeding or for other basic necessities. They aren’t exercised. They aren’t provided with nurturing human contact or socialization. The wire bottomed cages are painful for their feet.
Most of these dogs are not provided adequate vet care nor nutrition and are often exposed to climate extremes without shelter from our frigid winters or sweltering summers. The females are bred over and over again with every heat cycle until their bodies wear out.
Because the breeder has a finite number of breeding dogs, inbreeding is often an issue. That, combined with the stressful conditions, the inadequate exercise and nutrition, and lack of preventative vet care often results in puppies that are less than ideal, health-wise. And because they are not socialized, neither with humans nor with other dogs under normal circumstances, the puppies often have underlying temperament issues.
There are an estimated 10,000 USDA-licensed commercial breeders in the US, so competition is significant. That means that any one puppy doesn’t bring a lot of money. So quantity is the key to profitability. And since females only come into heat approximately 2 times a year, a breeder must have many, many breeding dogs to be profitable.
As a general rule, the adult dogs are bred until they stop producing puppies or develop other health issues, at which point they may be shot, drowned, abandoned, or in rare cases, relinquished to animal rescue organizations that have indicated a willingness to accept and process them for possible adoption to private homes.
Is Every Professional Dog Breeder a Puppy Mill Operation?
No, there are many reputable dog breeders who care for their animals properly and do not aim to produce puppies in high-volume operations.
Many limit their practice to one or two breeds, and their adult dogs are kept as pets, working dogs, athletes, or show dogs. Their dogs typically receive regular veterinary care, training, and plenty of attention and socialization with people and with other dogs.
Reputable breeders keep careful records about the lineage of their animals and so can breed dogs selectively to improve their health, temperament, appearance, and other qualities. The breeding dogs are often tested for potential hereditary problems and are properly vaccinated.
Good breeders typically sell directly to private owners and often require a signed contract wherein the buyer promises to return the dog if they cannot keep the dog permanently as planned. Good breeders provide their dogs with veterinary care to ensure the health of the adult dogs.
According to the USDA, at least 15,000 adult dogs are kept in Iowa’s USDA-licensed commercial kennels.
There are thousands of USDA-licensed commercial dog-breeders in the US so competition is significant. In order to be profitable, a breeder must sell a lot of puppies. Since females only come into heat approximately 2 times a year, a breeder must have many, many breeding dogs to produce the vast number of puppies needed to make a profit.
Here’s a list of USDA Class A & B licensees in Iowa as of 7/16/2014:
> List of ClassA&B licensees to be posted soon. Please check back.
The United States Department of Agriculture is an important institution. Abraham Lincoln established this “Peoples Department” for the development and execution of federal government policy on farming, agriculture, forestry and food.
So how did the commercial breeding of dogs end up under the umbrella of the USDA?
The story starts in the town of Slatington, Pennsylvania, where in late June 1965 one family’s pet Dalmation, Pepper, went missing. The story sadly ends with Pepper the victim of a dognapper who sold her to a New York state hospital where she was used in lab experiments, was euthanized and cremated. A Pennsylvania senator, Sen. Joseph Clark, and a New York congressman, Rep. Joseph Resnick, heard the story and enacted legislation to help address the growing problem of thieves taking family pets for sale to laboratories.
The story ran in the November 29, 1965 issue of Sports Illustrated.
And so the Animal Welfare Act came to be; primarily to address the source of animals used in lab experiments. Over the years the Act has been amended numerous times to become what it is today.
The Act provides for minimum standards related to dog breeding. Read them here.
The USDA performs inspections of licensees, but the USDA budget doesn’t provide for an adequate number of inspectors. And even if there were enough inspectors, the standards are so inadequate as to qualify as bare minimum standards for survival.
USDA Fails to Protect Puppy Mill Dogs
Over the last few years, animal-welfare advocates have voiced growing concern for the welfare of dogs in commercial kennels. As a result, Over the last few years, animal-welfare advocates have voiced growing concern for the welfare of dogs in commercial kennels. As a result, the USDA Office of the Inspector General conducted an internal audit of their oversight of these facilities; Inspections of Problematic Dealers. In May 2010 they released a damning report confirming what animal welfare advocates have been saying for years: the USDA has NOT been doing its job of enforcing the bare minimum standards of care as outlined in the Animal Welfare Act.
The report is long (69 pages) and includes some graphic, disturbing pictures from the investigation. If you think that being USDA licensed is a magic stamp of approval that all is well, then this report should be a real eye opener.
As part of the investigation, auditors visited 81 “facilities” and reviewed records documenting 28,443 violations over a two-year period.
The report concludes that despite regular inspections, breeders were allowed to continue operating facilities where dogs lived in inhumane conditions — cages overflowing with pools of urine and feces, food laden with dead cockroaches, dogs infested with ticks, and unattended injuries including a mutilated leg and other atrocities — all without penalty.
Many articles were written about this report, but this one from the Examiner.com does a good job
This information was critically important to our state-level legislative effort to gain increased oversight of USDA-licensees. In 2010 our lobbying efforts helped in gaining passage of HF 2280, the Puppy Mill Bill.
Prior to its passage, Iowa Code 162 included language that expressly stated that federally-licensed facilities were exempt from state-level oversight. That meant that regardless of the situation, only the USDA could investigate. And even local law enforcement interpreted the code as prohibiting their involvement.
HF 2280 allows for inspection of USDA-licensees by the Iowa Department of Agriculture (IDALS) upon receipt of a complaint.
Unfortunately this law has not served the purpose we had intended. Rather, IDALS continues to defer to the USDA when dealing with these breeders. We’ll keep working on this until the problem is fixed.