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Burbank Takes on Puppy Mills – An Animal Rights Perspective

Editor’s Note: This is part two in a series looking at the controversial topic of “Puppy Mills” and the attempt to ban the sale of the animals in Burbank, which will be taken up by the City Council possibly in late January.  Originally published by author in BurbankNBeyond.

In January the City of Burbank will again engage in discussion on whether or not to follow 12 other California cities, including Glendale, Hermosa Beach, Irvine, Los Angeles, and others in both LA and Orange Counties, in banning the sale of pets in retail businesses, including pet shops.

The question many ask is simply, “why?”

There is no simple answer.  However contributing justification includes:

  • Alleged sadistic treatment of breeding animals and litters at commercial breeders – primarily in mid-western states, through the logistics process delivering animals to retail pet stores
  • High number of available rescue dogs, either abandoned or surrendered to an animal shelter or rescue, and subsequent need to euthanize animals which can no longer be housed at shelters due to excessive numbers
  • Danger of “in-breeding” by incompetent or unethical breeders
  • Obsolete laws and ordinances protecting the safety and welfare of animals

Part 2 of the series “Burbank Takes on Puppy Mills” will focus on the position of animal rights groups, shelters, and adoption agencies and their views on the above topics.  Future articles in the series will try to dig further into the perspectives of pet shop owners, and city council members preparing to weigh in on the issue.

“A pet store that closes its doors is a lost opportunity for shelter animals.” (Elizabeth Oreck)

Best Friends Animal Society East Valley ShelterAccording to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) a puppy mill is a ”large-scale commercial dog breeding operation that places profit over the well-being of its dogs—who are often severely neglected—and acts without regard to responsible breeding practices.”

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) states there are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in America, producing more than 2,000,000 puppies for distribution throughout the United States.  USUS also notes there are up to 3,000,000 animals euthanized at shelters annually.

No-Kill Los Angeles, an initiative of the Best Friends Animal Society, states 56,121 animals entered LA city shelters in 2011. More than 17,000 of those animals were euthanized.

Horrible numbers.  Nobody wants to see or think about such a waste of life, and the thought a family pet could come to such an end.  This is the reason animal rights groups such as Burbank CROPS (Citizens for Rescue-Only Pet Stores) and the Best Friends Animal Society are engaged not only in trying to save the lives of animals, but also in preventing the cruelty inflicted on both breeding stock and puppies (this article will focus on puppies, however the same issue applies to cats, birds, and other animals as well).

The Real Problem

Animal right groups, such as Burbank CROPS, do not want to shut down pet stores, as Shelly Rizzotti, Burbank CROPS member explains, they simply want to prevent pet stores from selling or distributing commercially bred “puppy mill” dogs.

No group has an objection to people buying pure bred puppies – from responsible hobby breeders or individuals.  According to Elizabeth Oreck, National Manager of Puppy Mill Initiatives for the Best Friends Animal Society, those sources will normally screen and vet prospective buyers or adopters prior to allowing an animal to join the adopting family.

Responsible breeders will follow a code of ethics, which includes a very detailed set of guidelines for breeding animals.  There are representative specific breeds ranging from the Mountain Dog Association, German Shepard Dog Club, Great Dane Club of America, Golden Retriever Club of America, to the Yorkshire Terrier Club of America and all breeds in between.  A standard clause in all the codes of ethics includes a statement similar to:

Breeders shall not knowingly sell to dog wholesalers, retailers or pet stores, known or suspected puppy mills, or commercial breeders. Breeders shall not donate dogs or puppies as prizes nor knowingly allow any dogs of their breeding to fall into public trust. All advertisement of puppies and dogs, written or oral shall be factual and as forthright and honest as possible in both substance and implication. (Mountain Dog Association).

Anne Gaffney, owner of Burbank’s Pet Haven, goes even further.  She notes that “with all the rescue animals available, people should give those animals the first chance.“  Gaffney continued ”adopting a pet is all about the connection.   You cannot buy a connection, and it is possible the connection between you and a pet may have nothing to do with the breed.”

Laws Regulating Commercial Breeders

There are many laws and codes regulating commercial breeders, including federal, state, and local.  At the top of the regulatory structure is the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which dates back to 1966.  The US Department of Agriculture website states the AWA regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers.  The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be provided for certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public.

California has additional regulations including the Pet Store Animal Care Act, Pet Protection Act, Breeder Warranty Act, and according to a City of Burbank Study dated 16 October 2012, more than 50 other laws dealing with mistreatment of animals.

The Burbank Municipal Code, Title 5, Article 14 (Pet Shops), provides very specific guidelines on how pet shops must care for animals.  Officers from the Burbank Animal Shelter do perform periodic inspections, and according to Brenda Castaneda, Burbank Animal Shelter Superintendent, will cite violators for offenses.

An existing loophole in the regulatory environment surrounds the sale of puppies over the Internet.  This issue is being addressed by both congress and the senate at the federal level (HR835/S707), however the issue has not yet been solved, and as of today there is little or no regulation on the sale of commercially bred puppies over the Internet.

It should be noted that animal shelters and rescues are not required to comply with all laws and codes which regulate pet shops and commercial breeders, although all shelters are subject to inspection to ensure the health and safety of resident animals.

The Road Puppies Travel to Burbank Pet Stores

Puppies finding their way to pet stores will normally be bred in a commercial environment in the mid-west, primarily in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, or surprisingly Amish communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Puppies are delivered at around 6~7 weeks old by the breeder to a distribution or logistics company, such as the Hunte Company, based in Goodman, Missouri.

Puppy Journey from Mill to Pet ShopHunte collects animals in their Missouri facility during the course of a week, during which time there will be health screening and matching pet shop demand with available stock.  A truck loaded with puppies will then head out across the country, delivering puppies to pet stores, including those in California.

The trip can take several days, during which time the puppies remain in cages, being fed and checked by delivery staff along the route.

A company such as Hunte will deliver an order to a pet shop, and the pet owner will inspect the animals, and either accept or reject the animal at the point of delivery.  If the pet passes arrival inspection, the pet store will settle with the delivery company, and then process the animal locally, sometimes passing through a veterinarian on the way to display in the store.

By the time a puppy hits the display cage, it is normally around 8 weeks old, having been away from its mother for about 2 weeks.

According to Christy Shilling, a CROPS member, the issue is “black and white.”  Shilling continued “This is about factory farming of mill animals.  Those terms are synonymous, of puppy mills, of puppy farms mass-producing animals.  It is cruel, and they do have violations.  That’s what we’d like to stop.  It’s not about attacking one store, but it is about attacking the mills.”

The goal of CROPS is to educate the public, and ultimately of course to stop the practice of puppy mills and retail sales of mill animals altogether.

A Model for the Future

None of the rights groups or individuals interviewed wants to prevent families from adding a pet to their family.  Pets have been part of social and family units since the beginning of recorded history, and it is a healthy relationship.

Rizzotti paints a model where pet stores may still provide pets to their customers, as adoption outlets for rescue animals.  In most cases the business model for a pet store is not in pushing flesh, but rather in selling pet supplies such as feed, toys, and environments.

Rizzotti explains there are still ample pure bred animals available through rescues, including puppies.     As noted, there are breeding clubs and organizations for nearly all types of breeds, all with a strict code of how they raise, handle, and sell puppies.

An example search on the website breeders.net revealed three Yorkshire Terrier breeders within 10 miles of Burbank’s 91501 zip code.  One breeder listed, who asked to remain anonymous, has the following splash on the website:   Adorable tiny male puppies, AKC, 1st shots, Champion Bloodlines, great personalities available to good homes. No Agents, No Pet Shops, & No Brokers, NO SHIPPING.

In a phone conversation with the breeder she passionately explained that her dogs only were only available to buyers she personally screened, and the transfer required a list of steps, including full papers, shot record, visit to a veterinarian prior to accepting the puppy.  The breeder is a member of the American Kennel Club (AKC), and claims complete adherence to AKC

The American Kennel Club has an investigations and inspections program to both ensure the health and safety of animals within member kennels, as well as checking paperwork for compliance with club standards.  Field agents may also conduct DNA testing on dogs to verify the pedigree and parentage of puppies.

While the AKC inspection process has no penal or regulatory authority, if a kennel or breeder has major deficiencies during an inspection, they may lose their membership in the AKC, be fined, or in a worst case the AKC may contact law enforcement to ensure the animals are protected.

What Do Animal Rights Groups Want from Burbank?

Rizzotti is very clear about the objectives Burbank CROPS wishes to accomplish in the upcoming Burbank City Council discussion on pet stores and puppy mills.  That is to support elimination of puppy mills, and prevent pet stores from selling commercially bred animals originating in puppy mills.

Part 3 of this series will explore the perspective of pet store owners selling puppies, and others who do not support the position of animal rights groups on the topics of commercial breeding and pet store sales.

BurbankNBeyond and Pacific-Tier Communications would like to hear from all readers on the topic, regardless of your position.  Please send your comments to [email protected]


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More Stories By John Savageau

John Savageau is a life long telecom and Internet geek, with a deep interest in the environment and all things green. Whether drilling into the technology of human communications, cloud computing, or describing a blue whale off Catalina Island, Savageau will try to present complex ideas in terms that are easily appreciated and understood. Currently focusing efforts on designing data centers, telecom, enterprise architectures, and cloud computing strategies in developing countries, including Palestine, Indonesia, Moldova, Egypt, and Vietnam. John Savageau is President of Pacific-Tier Communications dividing time between Honolulu and Burbank, California. A former career US Air Force officer, Savageau graduated with a Master of Science degree in Operations Management from the University of Arkansas and also received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Asian Studies and Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland.