Sunday Commentary is Back: Puppy Mills – the emotional results

We often hear and talk about the horrible conditions at mass-breeding facilities, where breeding dogs live in tiny cages by the dozens to hundreds or thousands. They live lives of constant confinement in stacked cages with wire flooring.

When we read about a rescue, the focus is rightfully on the physical condition of the dogs – with open sores and feces-matted hair and untreated injuries or worse.

But what about the emotional toll? We need to focus more on the terrible psychological problems animals endure from constant confinement. No animal should be forced to live its life in a small cage.

I’ve read comments from uniformed people who try to suggest that new puppy-mill housing regulations should include rescue shelters, where dogs and cats are also housed in kennels. These individuals don’t understand the huge difference – between non-profit groups trying to find homes for animals rescued from bad situations and puppy-mill operations that are exploiting animals and torturing animals for profit.

But back to the emotional toll, what about the puppies who are sold by puppy mills or any commercial breeding operations that uses constant confinement in cages? Puppies need time with their mothers and siblings. It is important to their development.

How can a mother who is suffering in a tiny cage interact naturally with her puppies? And I wonder in many of these operations, just how soon the operators pull the puppies away from their mothers? I do know that in far too many cases, the puppies are being sold at six weeks old or sooner.

We need regulations that force all breeders to do what the great breeders do – allow for playtime outside, where moms and puppies can interact naturally. And the puppies and siblings need to stay together for at least 10 to 12 weeks. For those breeders who refuse to let the dogs out of the cages to play and interact in other ways, it’s time for them to get out of the business.

All regulations should consider both the physical and psychological well-being or pets used in breeding operations. It’s not enough to regulate the cleanliness of the housing. We need to make sure the cats and dogs in breeding operations get to live like cats and dogs – not merely as pieces of breeding machinery.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Here are the two items that jump off the page and concern me deeply:
    1) Regulation of commercial breeders,
    2) Proper caging of animals.

    First, we do not need to regulate commercial breeders. We need to totally eliminate them. This is part of the supply side of the pipeline that causes the needless killing of million and millions of cats and dogs in this country every single year.

    Commercial and backyard breeders (not breed-specific professional breeders) all need to be shut down. It is ludicrous to argue that we need this “business” for our economy. Don’t worry, we won’t run out of animals to adopt.

    You stated that rescue shelters should be excluded from any kennel regulations. Why? The basic concept behind the failure of today’s horrible shelter model is caging. Do you mean to endorse caging as a necessary or good thing to do with SOCIAL animals?

    What is that makes everyone believe that this current prison model is the only way to go? Cages, really? Treating family companions like convicted criminals is the best we can do?

    Cats and dogs are social beings. Think for a moment what that means to you. Watch this short video. I hope it opens your eyes =


    • Posted by Tom Grady on January 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      I’m not quite sure sure we’re not so far apart on this, but let me clarify.
      You say all commercial and backyard breeders should be shut down but you add in that this doesn’t apply to “breed-specific professional breeders.” But professional breeders are commercial breeders, unless you are suggesting professional breeders who don’t sell their puppies. (?)
      I’m saying ANY breeder who doesn’t engage in humane treatment of the dogs under their care should be shut down. The great breeders I’m talking about are probably the same ones you are calling “breed-specific professional.”
      And I NEVER suggested rescue shelters should be excluded from regulation. We need to make sure that shelters are properly caring for the homeless pets.
      What I am saying is breeding regulations and shelter regulations are two separate issues. Yes, some of the same standards will apply.
      But rescue groups are disparately trying to find homes for an endless number of dogs and cats. For many, the only means they have to house the pets until home is found is a kennel.
      These groups here in the South are constantly trying to find foster homes, but there are far TOO FEW coming forward to deal with the numbers. And nationwide millions of dogs and cats are dying each year, because the homeless numbers are SO HIGH and we don’t have enough people adopting homeless pets.
      I don’t want to see more dogs and cats die because of this. I have consistently written over the years about constant confinement for animals. It’s not a good thing.
      But when a rescue group has no other means for housing and it means the pets can have more time to find a loving home, I’m not against that.
      THE cause of the problem lies at the other end of this issue – the source. Puppy mills, backyard breeders, greyhound racing and people who refuse to spay and neuter or otherwise prevent their pets from randomly breeding and adding to the homeless numbers are ALL at fault.
      Let’s go after the folks creating the problem, not the folks pouring their hearts and pocketbooks into trying to help the homeless animals. This is not to say that we should not regulate the practices of rescue groups and local animals shelter and the way they house animals.
      From what you’ve written, I can tell you are caring person and that we have the same ultimate goal, to end the suffering of animals.


  2. Excellent, Tom. Thanks for clarifying. Let’s keep this going by finding common ground:

    Your theme was “emotional toll” – that is probably more advanced a concept than you realize, Tom. The leading behaviorists in this country coming out of the two top medical schools don’t understand this aspect. They simply see dogs (and sometimes cats) as being a collection of behaviors. The bad behaviors get trained out out. If that doesn’t work then the animal is killed as “untreatable.” What they don’t get yet is what your term “emotional toll” represents. This is the attitude behind the behavior. I am very active in trying to broach this subject with our leading animal behaviorists. They are not receptive to say the least.

    Now on to the more everday stuff:

    “Commercial” breeding – I use the term to identify large-scale breeding operations that make money off the sale of sentient beings. You called it “mass breeding.” In every sense of the term it is negative. These are puppy and kitten mills. They are professional only in the sense that they are making money at it. Our high-kill shelter industry does not need their input any more. Put them out of business, don’t regulate them. Standards of care are not what this is about with these prolific baby making businesses.

    “Professional” breeders – these are both large and small scale. While I personally dislike this for the same reasons I abhor the thought of “designer babies’ in humans, I realize there is a whole stupid industry built around designer dogs and cats. These groups are why we still see family companions as “pets.” As long as they use care and police themselves and maintain some integrity in their protocols then who am I to say no?

    “Backyard” breeders – this is the ghost division of breeding. This is the untouchable part. Simply because this is the neighbor next door who doesn’t give a shit about what you preach. They’re going to have puppies/kittens no matter what. This is a long-term effort to reach them through kindness, understanding and education. Free S/N vans in their area might just reach a few of them.

    As for the caging in rescues or shelters, that is a clear indication that they do not know what they’re doing. It is a sign of ignorance (not stupidity, but of not knowing better). Simple hands-on teaching is all they need to see that cages are not needed at all.

    To conclude, I’ll return to the subject of your blog – emotional toll of bad housing. One of my greatest advocacy efforts right now is to teach industry experts that behaviorism has to be about more than just correcting behaviors. There are a few of us who are mastering the hidden art of understanding the ATTITUDES behind animals’ behavior. Industry PhDs don’t get this yet. They are lagging behind us by about 20 years. That’s because they don’t work with the most dangerous animals and they work in shelters or clinics where they are hamstrung by their own environment. Read more here =

    Please watch that video I cited. It’s very advanced even though it may look elementary. No shelter director in the United States gets this. Not one. This is my great challenge – to drag this ugly prison industry into the future of animal rescue. In doing so, I hope to see the end of independent rescue groups. Lots of fancy-ass terms for it but I just call it “working together.” We Americans sure like our privacy and independence, though, don’t we?


    • Posted by Tom Grady on January 15, 2011 at 8:06 pm

      My field of study is in self-awareness and state of consciousness. I believe a far better understanding of these topics is needed across the board.
      So many people don’t want to discuss this issue. For if they admit animals do indeed experience self-awareness and have a state of consciousness, then they must conclude that we cannot mistreat them.
      Emotions such as happiness and sadness, which animals such as dogs, cats and horses (and many, many others) clearly experience – are clear indications of self-awareness and state of consciousness.
      As far as the rescue groups go, I understand your position, but again, the real villains are the puppy mills, backyard breeders, irresponsible pet guardians, etc …
      I did watch the video and I think it’s great. But the problem, especially here in the South, is that the rescue groups and local shelters don’t have the funding or level of volunteers to reach a goal of this kind of housing. Some do not have land to house such a great facility and can’t keep up the huge level of homelessness as it stands now.
      I wish every shelter was just what I’m seeing in that video. But we have to get there. I fear the trek will be long if we don’t start shutting down the puppy mills and have better programs in place to educate more people about being responsible guardians.
      Puppies are cute. The people who keep letting their dogs produce puppies, only to dump the puppies off on rescue groups and shelters are ugly.
      I really appreciate your input here. And you’re right, too few people really understand animal behavior. This is why I’ll keep hammering away about state of consciousness and self-awareness.


    • Posted by Tom Grady on January 15, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      And by the way – “working together” is one reason why I named this blog – “Pack Mentality.”


  3. We’re on the same wavelength, Tom. The only thing that I would even mention now is that my way of “sheltering” is much cheaper than running a prison. Think of how expensive it is to buy proper caging and all the junk that goes with it. Almost all the work in my Adoption Center is done with volunteer expertise. In a big shelter I could save over $500,000 a year just by getting rid of all the senior management.

    All I need is a building and I’d go out and bring in my fellow carpenter buddies to donate their time. We’d throw up the walls and the HVAC guys would install the ventilation system pro bono.

    In what I call “boutique sheltering,” which is all the rage these days, they essentially replace individual cages with private or semi-private rooms. Can you imagine how much that costs to provide mechanical systems for each little room? Check out the following examples of boutique shelters = Longmonth HS, AnimalArk, PAWS Chicago, WARL, SFSPCA.

    Dogs and cats are actually pretty easy to care for when they’re in groups. They don’t get sick because they’re happy. Shelters guys don’t get this. Rescuers do, at least the ones who care for more than one at a time. You never hear rescuers talking about disease outbreaks in their homes. Doesn’t happen.

    Too many stupid myths (we used to call them wives’ tales in the old days) based on untruths. The greatest one of all is what you’re fighting against – the notion that dogs and cats (and others) are not sentient beings. Get the name of this Colorado group – the Dumb Friends Animal League. Man, how antiquated can you be? I’ll send you by email a letter I just wrote to an old veteran rescuer out on the West Coast. I know it will make your heart feel good.


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