Point of View

N.C. trails most states in regulating 'puppy mills'

February 22, 2012 

— With news of yet another puppy mill bust making headlines across the state, it is time for North Carolina to enact common sense legislation to regulate commercial dog breeding facilities.

Thirty-five states have laws restricting breeders who sell to the public, but sadly North Carolina is not one of them. This means puppy mills selling to the public are not required to be licensed, let alone inspected. As more and more states pass strong commercial breeding laws that drive bad breeders to lax states, it is critical that North Carolina lawmakers implement legislation soon to prevent further abuses.

A puppy mill is a commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. To minimize waste cleanup, dogs are often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs.

Breeding dogs might spend their entire lives outdoors, exposed to the elements, or crammed inside filthy structures where they never get the chance to breathe fresh air. To maximize profits, female dogs are bred at every opportunity, with little to no recovery time between litters. When, after a few years, they can no longer reproduce, breeding dogs are often discarded and killed.

Pet shops may obtain their puppies from puppy mills, usually through a broker or middleman, and market them as young as eight weeks of age. Many puppy mills also sell their dogs online, using deceptive images of happy dogs to lure unwary customers.

Puppy mills are not only cruel and barbaric, but they often produce sickly puppies with genetic defects. Consumers who unknowingly purchase a puppy mill dog run the risk of taking home a sick animal and paying for costly veterinary care to treat a host of ailments. The puppies may suffer from illnesses including respiratory disorders, fleas and ticks, and internal parasites. Many also suffer from behavioral disorders and are prone to congenital conditions, including epilepsy, heart disease and musculoskeletal disorders like hip dysplasia.

Not only are North Carolina's puppy mill operators depriving the animals in their care of humane treatment, many large-scale breeders fail to comply with basic commerce regulations and do not collect sales tax on retail dog purchases. It appears North Carolina could be losing a substantial sum in unpaid sales taxes.

There are many ways individuals can fight puppy mills.

People can refuse to patronize the pet stores and websites that sell dogs. The ASPCA's NoPetStorePuppies.com campaign asks consumers to pledge not to shop at their local pet stores for any items if the stores sell puppies.

If you're looking to make a puppy part of your family, check your local shelters or breed rescue groups first. Not only will you be saving a life, but you will ensure that your money is not going to support a puppy mill.

State legislators are beholden to special-interest lobby groups and have repeatedly failed to respond to public opinion and citizen demands to implement humane standards of care for breeding dogs. The ASPCA encourages North Carolinians to inform legislators that they care about this issue and expect a strong puppy mill bill to pass next year.

We came very close to passing a solid puppy mill law in North Carolina in 2010. Now it's time to finish the job.

Ann Church is vice president of state affairs for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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