Animal Advocacy

Using Animals for Profit: Puppy Mills

posted July 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Sherri Goodall

 Three to four million cats and dogs are euthanized by U.S. animal shelters every year. Yet, nearly one third of the nation’s 11,000 pet stores continue to sell puppies.  Most come from puppy mills.

Everyone knows who is man’s best friend …but, what happens when these adoring pets are mass-produced without socialization skills? You get a frightened and nervous animal whose basic instincts have been reduced to simple fear.

Dogs need a pack…whether it’s another dog, or a human. They learn that positive behavior garners rewards, like food, praise, and most importantly, trust.

Dr. Mike Jones, DVM, used the example of Greyhounds. He worked with Dr. Ross Clark many years ago in rescuing Greyhounds. All they knew were crates and a running track. You put them in front of stairs, and they didn’t have a clue. It’s like putting a horse in front of a cattle bar…”

It’s the same thing with a puppy mill. The dogs are not used to human contact, so they’re mistrustful. What is play, what is a house, what is a yard, what is grass? Behaviorists tell us it takes two years for every year in a puppy mill to rehabilitate a dog.

What is a puppy mill?
 

Puppy mills exist for one reason—profit. Sell as many puppies as possible in order to make as much money as possible.

In the worst cases, conditions at these “kennels” are horrid. Dogs are stacked in wire cages. Waste drops to the lowest crate. Dogs aren’t exercised, many go “crate crazy,” turning in endless circles. Females are bred every time they come into heat. Most lose their hair and teeth from being bred so often. If there are several in a caged area, they must fight for food. Human contact is scarce. Those in concrete-floored kennels  get hosed down along with the waste. Puppies barely have time to bond with their exhausted mothers before they’re sold. 

Obviously, long-term psychological and physical problems abound that can cost thousands of dollars down the road.

 After the breeding dogs are no longer fertile, they are abandoned, taken to auctions, or sadly, killed. Their lives are short and desperate.

Who is the target market for puppy mills?

YOU, if you buy from pet stores, classified ads, internet breeders or “parking lot” breeders without checking them out. 

Dr. Jones, “There is no such thing as an ugly puppy. Impulse and convenience make it so easy to buy from that person with a box of puppies at a busy intersection, in a parking lot, or at a flea market. Usually these breeders will only take cash.” That is not to say that people with a litter of puppies can’t sell them. We’re talking about the mass producer. 

Petsmart and Petco DO NOT sell puppies. They both sponsor pet adoptions through local animal shelters. However, many independent pet stores still sell puppies. Where do they get them?   From puppy mills.   In many cases, puppy brokers act as a middle man to buy from puppy mills and sell them to pet stores.

Who is a reputable breeder?

Dr. Jones, “A reputable breeder breeds dogs for one reason—to keep the breed up to its highest standards. Most compete in confirmation trials where the breeds are judged on very strict breed standards. They will sell puppies, but only after certain conditions are met.”

 If you decide to choose a breeder:

  • Visit the premises (bona fide breeders do not meet in parking lots).
  • Check out the kennel conditions and the other dogs, especially the puppy’s parents.
  • Check references, other clients and vets.
  •  Breeder must provide you with AKC papers, a written contract, and health guarantee with provisions to take the puppy back if problems occur.
  •  (The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a licensing organization only. Anyone can get AKC  papers if they send in the fee. This does not guarantee breeding purity or practices).
  • Dogs should be at home in the house as well. They should be frisky, friendly, and          accustomed to humans. 
  • Breeder should ask you questions about your home, family and interest in breed. 
  • Expect fixed prices, no bargaining. 

Is there an organization that oversees puppy mills?

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the governing body of the Animal Welfare Act, and is charged with licensing and inspecting breeders, including puppy mills. Each state has its own laws regarding puppy mills. Many puppy breeders get around the laws by selling directly to the consumer or simply avoiding the few USDA inspectors that are on the job. If they are caught, many are happy to pay the fines and continue breeding.

Several states have passed consumer protection laws that specifically address puppies. These laws are called “puppy lemon laws” as in auto sales. If the puppy is defective in any way, the buyer is supposed to be able to return it or get a refund.

Seventeen states have consumer remedies when purchasing certain animals from commercial establishments. The consumer has between seven and twenty days to have the dog or cat checked out by a veterinarian. If the pet is “defective,” refunds or exchanges are the remedy.

Oklahoma is not one of the states. According to www.stoppuppymills.org, Oklahoma does not require licensing or inspection of puppy mills and no agency is charged with oversight.

 Dr. Jones concurs, “Oklahoma lags behind other states, in that it has no legislation at present.The Oklahoma Veterinarian Medical Assoc. (OVMA) is currently at work trying to get legislation passed.”

Dr. Jones, “We hope to do it right, once we do it, rather than pass easily neglected laws as in many states now. We saw what happened with cock fighting in Oklahoma. Certain counties would not stand behind the legislation, even though it was passed.”

According to Dr. Jones, one of the major problems in legislating breeding is how to differentiate between legitimate breeders and puppy mill breeders.

What can you do to help? 

Visit www.stoppuppymills.org

  • Visit your local animal shelters first
  • If you want a specific breed, find the breed-specific rescue group in your city/state. For example: Online, Labrador rescue. You’ll get group locations for each breed.
  • Neuter your pets. Many cities have neutering facilities that are free or very reasonabl
  • Deal with REPUTABLE breeders.
  • Avoid parking lot, classified ads or internet breeders unless they allow you to visit their facilities and investigate their breeding practices.
  • Call your local SPCA to report animal cruelty

Dr. Mike Jones, an OSU graduate, has been a veterinarian for 16 years with the Woodland Pet Care Family.    He’s a past president of the Oklahoma Veterinarian Medical Association (2006) and is currently Medical Director and co-owner of Woodland West Pet Care Facility.

A Study of Animal Shelters in Oklahoma: What are the Numbers?

posted July 15th, 2007 by
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By Ruth Steinberger
 The fate of animals in shelters across Oklahoma remains a hot topic, with euthanasia rates, rescues,
 
 A 2006 survey of all Oklahoma counties, Focus Oklahoma, revealed that the collection, handling, release and disposal of unwanted animals disparate from one area of the state to the next, humane concerns often fall through the cracks and laws intended to protect unwanted animals, including the 1986 Dog and Cat Sterilization Act, are completely ignored throughout much of the state.
Yet, few Oklahomans realize that much of our state is not served by any animal shelter at all. That fact, combined with a lack of record keeping many shelters that do exist, renders a vague and disturbing picture for unwanted animals across much of Oklahoma.

quality of care and methods of euthanasia open to discussion. The issue is an emotionally charged one.

Oklahoma law allows counties with populations over 200,000 to establish an animal shelter. However, currently only five of the 77 Oklahoma counties have a public animal shelter for residents of the entire county. These five include Tulsa, Oklahoma, Washington (Bartlesville), Carter (Ardmore) and Pittsburg (McAllister).

In the remaining 72 counties, some towns have animal control and a shelter, others contract with other towns or private entities to collect unwanted dogs and some simply do nothing. Alfalfa, Dewey, Grant and Harper Counties have no towns or cities with animal shelters within their borders.

However, while roughly 150 cities and towns throughout Oklahoma operate city pounds, residents who live outside of the city limits have noplace at which to release an unwanted dog or cat.  

While it is difficult to get a picture of the accurate number of animals entering Oklahoma shelters, it is impossible to get the numbers of those that fall through these cracks. Limited accurate euthanasia records may be available (based on method, or combination of methods, and therefore payment), but records of animals entering the shelters are actually rare outside of larger municipalities.

Additionally, a 1981 Oklahoma State Court decision exempted cities with populations under 10,000 from the state euthanasia law, essentially upholding the right of these cities to use shooting as a method of killing unwanted dogs, deeming it to be humane. Strong public opinion, and a lack of mandated record keeping, means that many cities simply do not reveal the method they use to dispose of dogs and how many dogs are involved.

The fate of unwanted pets in rural Oklahoma is largely unknown, and often tragic. Jamee Suarez Howard, President of Oklahoma Alliance for Animals said, “We have some idea of the numbers entering shelters. And some idea of how much of the state has no access to shelters. Combined, these numbers show the size of the issue. It is a terrible thing any time that animals are suffering.”

Animal disposal in places without shelters (which includes over half of rural Oklahoma) includesabandonment, shooting, giveaways and drowning. A limited number of “adoptable,” animals go,into private shelters. However, for older, large, sick, or ugly dogs, there is little refuge.  Dogs, and even some cats, are collected by dealers for sale at flea markets or to research labs or animal fighting rings.

Additionally, Focus Oklahoma found that between one third and one half of the estimated 150 municipal facilities collect strays only, refusing owner surrenders.  Outside of large shelters, relatively few public shelters in Oklahoma accept cats.  Without any continuity, people needing to release an unwanted animal call around in desperation, leading to a windfall for some fraudulent organizations that offer inadequate care to the animals in their custody and again, ignore the sterilization mandate for Oklahoma animal shelters.  Additionally, the lack of facilities has caused some public officials to actually rely on unacceptable “rescue” channels, an issue tied to some largescale animal removals in rural Oklahoma in recent years, including notorious ones in Stigler and Vici, Oklahoma.

Disturbingly, Focus Oklahoma research revealed that an estimated less than one fifth of rural shelters comply with the 1986 state law requiring sterilization of animals released from shelters.  Animals are released without mandatory contracts and deposits, without sterilization and with no follow up.

Currently, outside of Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, roughly 51% of Oklahomans live in areas in which public services are provided by the county.

The percentage of people served by municipal animal control facilities varies from one portion of Oklahoma to the next. Southeast Oklahoma has the highest rural population, and the lowest is in the Oklahoma City metro area.

Roughly 64% of households in southeast Oklahoma have no place at which to release an unwanted animal. According to Animal Control Officers in rural areas, county residents typically abandon unwanted pets within town limits at night. Although this activity is against the law in Oklahoma, it is nearly impossible to catch the perpetrator.  According to Mark Harman, Animal Control Officer of Bristow, OK, “Unwanted animals in rural areas never even enter the discussion about shelter animals in our state. They are conveniently invisible. No one is speaking up for them.”

Harman gets calls daily from county residents who have a dog they no longer want or that is a stray. He is not permitted to accept the dogs and advises callers to complain to their county commissioners. He said, “These dogs just disappear from the radar screen and everyone seems to be comfortable with that. Obviously, this has to involve tens of thousands of dogs each year because this lack of services involves half the population of Oklahoma.”

Harman added, “These animals are literally ignored by officials, rescues, humane societies, everyone. If a dog is cute and an adoption fee can change hands, someone will find a place for it. But for the ones that are not cute or small, and that involves most of the calls I get, there is a big blind eye turned toward them. It is unconscionable that our county officials refuse to face this issue.”

In August 2005, Harman received a call from a Creek County woman. An injured stray dog lay in a ditch in front of her home; the temperature was over 100 degrees. Unable to leave city limits Harman tried unsuccessfully for hours to get the sheriff’s office to send out an officer or to locate someone able to euthanize the dog. No one was authorized to go; the dog ultimately remained in the ditch until it died.

Harman pointed out this issue leads to terrible animal suffering or people takingmatters into their own hands and killing animals by inhumane methods. He said, “This is not just an animal control or taxpayer issue;the lack of county wide animal sheltering is a very, very serious humane problem.”

The Dilemma of Homeless Cats

posted January 15th, 2007 by
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Free-roaming cats without owners have recently become the center of a national controversy. Some groups see these animals as victims that should be provided with food and shelter, while others see them as villains that should be eliminated by humane euthanasia. Many of these cats are feral or “wild,” the descendants of unaltered tame cats that were abandoned and gave birth to kittens that never had contact with humans. Although ferals are fearful of humans, they are still domesticated and ill-equipped to live on their own. Feral cats do not die of “old age.” They fall victim to disease, starvation, poisons, attacks by other animals, mistreatment by humans or are hit by cars.

It is estimated that the number of free roaming abandoned and feral cats in the United States may be as high as owned cats (about 73 million). Since most owned cats are sterilized, these unowned cats are the primary source of cat overpopulation. Many people who encounter feral cats start feeding them, but feeding alone can actually make the situation worse by increasing the birth rate of kittens. Animal shelters nationwide receive several million unwanted cats each year. Due to a shortage of available homes, approximately 75% of these cats are euthanized. Locally, the cat euthanasia rate at animal shelters is about 90% and less than 1% of these cats are ever claimed by owners.

The impact of both owned and unowned freeroaming cats upon the environment is an ongoing subject of debate. Even well-fed cats will hunt and kill prey. These predations cause a significant and preventable loss of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Free-roaming cats pose a small but important threat to human health. They can carry and transmit to humans such diseases as rabies, cat scratch fever, plague, tularemia and ringworm. Also, serious injuries can occur if feral cats are handled without precautions or experience.

Historically, communities have responded to feral cat colonies by capturing and euthanizing these unowned animals. In areas where there is a natural food source (mice), this resulted in the influx of more cats as the resident feral cats were removed. As long as there was a food source, the feral cats would repopulate the area. In areas where feral cats are fed by humans, a strong bond is created with these cats and usually the feral cat feeders will not cooperate with control strategies that involve euthanasia.

Most veterinarians and animal welfare groups now support managing these colonies by trapping, neutering, releasing and monitoring feral cats. The goal is to eventually reduce the feral cat population; however, eliminating the colony may not be possible due to immigration of new cats. Ideally, these colonies should be located in an area where the cats do not pose a threat to wildlife. The location should be inconspicuous so as not to encourage abandonment of pet cats. All cats within the colony are humanely trapped and receive a health exam, tested for feline leukemia and feline AIDS, neutered/spayed and vaccinated against rabies. Socialized adult cats and kittens should be adopted out to permanent homes and those that cannot be adopted should be returned to the colony. Most importantly, a monitoring program must be in place to identify new cats joining the colony, as well as cats requiring medical attention.

Stitch in Time is a local spay/neuter program for feral cats run by Street Cats, a local non-profit organization. Vouchers are issued that will cover a spay or neuter and a rabies vaccination. Over 50 vouchers are issued each month and once issued are good for three months. To receive a voucher call 918-298- 0104 and leave a message for Stitch in Time. Other local organizations that offer feral spay/neuter programs are Spay Oklahoma (918) 728-3144 and PAWS (Pet Assistance and Welfare Society) 918-376-2397.

- Dr. Judy Zinn