Good pets don’t come from factory farms, however clean

March 30, 2009

It’s not often — in fact, this may be the first time — I’ve pulled a comment off another blog to give it the play it needs. But here you go: Heather Houlahan of the Raised By Wolves blog commenting on the “model factory farms for dogs” post over at Terrierman, who points out that the cleaner puppy-mill proposed as the solution isn’t that much different from factory farms for chickens.

Heather’s comment:

I find the cage normally reserved for chickens unacceptable for chickens.

Spend a little time with mentally normal free-ranging hens like mine — see how they spend dawn to dark scratching, foraging, exploring, interacting, busy busy busy birds. How they like their nests just so. How they get crabby and bored when they are cooped (with over 4 sqare feet of floor space per bird — 3 times the commercial standard for lifetime confinement — plus deep litter, scratch grain, kitchen scraps, and a cabbage tetherball for entertainment) for even a day during bad weather. The pleasure they show in dustbathing, roosting, inept flying, and all the other avian pleasures. And then tell me that it is perfectly okay to deny them outlets for every single natural behavior and instinctive motor pattern, cram them into wire crates for two years of egg production, until they are spent.

The contrast between the life of a well-cared-for pet and puppymill breeding stock is just about exactly as stark. One difference is, a dog — not even a setter — cannot live for several months without a brain.

A clean, gleaming, automated puppymill that is duly licensed and passes inspection is every bit as much of a hellhole for the dogs who never leave their cages as anything featured on Animal Cops.

It is also every bit as unacceptable as a way of producing puppies who are to live in homes with people. Seriously, you really do not want that puppy. It has not had the benefit of a normal developmental environment; nor can anyone determine anything meaningful about its parents’ temperaments.

Filth and physical neglect and disease are, to some extent, red herrings.

The abuse is inherent in the business model. Bleach is a possible element of good husbandry; it is not the definition of it.

Amen. We’ve known since the ’50s (Fuller and Scott) that puppies need to be raised like family members to be good family members.  I don’t care how flippin’ clean the millers make their factory farms … it’s not acceptable, and should not be supported by anyone looking to get a family pet. Adopt a shelter pet, or find a reputable breeder. Don’t support cleaner factory farms …. for dogs or for livestock.

Animals — all animals — deserve better than to be treated like unfeeling machines. Factory farming is environmentally destructive, a threat to our health and national security and cruel to animals.

Humane, sustainable agriculture is the answer for food animals, environments where they can act normally, enjoying normal behavior for their species (and yes! they clearly enjoy a normal life) –  not be treated like unfeeling meat-growing or egg-laying machines.

And no puppy-mills –– “clean,” “model” or otherwise — is the answer for pets.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture should not be the deciding what’s proper for the future members of human families.

Filed under: pets, connected — Gina Spadafori @ 7:42 am


  1. Good post. One of the many problems with the whole “puppy mill” issue is that it gets used by groups like HSUS to promote legislation touted as “anti-puppy mill” but in reality is anti-breeder and in some cases anti-pet entirely. Pet owners are largely unaware of “the fine print” in these bills which would place unbearable restrictions on most responsible breeders and force them to stop breeding. We need MORE responsible breeders, not less. We are continually coming up short on supplying the demand with responsibly bred dogs.

    Comment by YesBiscuit! — March 30, 2009 @ 8:19 am

  2. Amen indeed!

    I received a puppy from a moderately sized private kennel several years ago. Not a puppy mill and the dogs and pups received plenty of out time and some house time and spent a good part of the day with people

    BUT the breeder did not make any effort to teach the pups the difference between in and out. They were accustomed to being in an ex- pen to sleep, eat, play and eliminate. When i got her at 8 weeks, she was accustomed already to going potty in the pen.

    It took WEEKS to convince her not to just potty where she was fed or slept. She would play on grass or dirt but wait ti be confines to her pen, or my kitchen, to eliminate. I finally convinced her to use grass but only in an ex-pen. I did successfully house train her but it took three times longer than normal for her breed.

    She was NOT mill raised. But gawd! just that small deficit in the first two months created a big bid headache.

    Even if it’s freezing cold/wet and I cannot even think about getting baby puppies outside, they are introduced to a litter box/potty area as soon as they are mobile. I use a water heater pan surrounded by a low wooden frame with paper or shavings. It establishes from the very beginning that there is a separation between where you live and where you go.

    The simple fact of the way mass produced dogs are raised sets them up to fail. They not only suffer from poor breeding practices and genetics, they are conditioned from day one to be difficult to house train, to be used to barking in a confined space for hours upon hours, to existing without stimulus or human interaction. NOT how future family members should start life

    Comment by JenniferJ — March 30, 2009 @ 8:32 am

  3. Of course, leaving it to the Department of Agriculture is just the font of virtue, huh? They have done such a bang-up job with farming and all…


    Comment by Linda Kaim — March 30, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  4. Yer in my blogginz, stealin’ my commentz…

    Comment by H. Houlahan — March 30, 2009 @ 9:14 am

  5. I agree that puppy mills are bad news all the way around. It would be SO GREAT if the AVMA could come up with some legislation to ban these puppy mills…the stories from them are so sad and be quite tragic.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned chickens and the humane way to raise them where they have some room to move around. You remind me a lot of Dr. Temple Grandon At the CSU Vet School. She has very strong ethical convictions about how animals that are raised to benefit humans are treated.

    Comment by Dana Durrance — March 30, 2009 @ 10:37 am

  6. I also don’t care whether they run their dogs in giant hamster wheels (reminding me of the old Turnspit dogs).

    You cannot produce happy, healthy, family pets using the factory farm model. It is impossible to mass-produce good dogs, because to breed quality dogs you have to test your stock for conformation, working ability, and health. And you have to socialize the puppies. All of those things cost far too much money for anyone to ever produce dogs on such a mass scheme.

    Comment by retrieverman — March 30, 2009 @ 10:54 am

  7. Bravo Gina,so well said and soooooo true! I hope many people are reading this .I wish everyone would stop bying the puppy store puppies so we can put them out of bussines.As for all the other critters it is heartbreaking.Keep informing us so we can spread the word around.thanks Alena

    Comment by Alena — March 30, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

  8. Nancy Freedman-Smith (sharing the blame) brought this Blog to my attention yesterday.
    I think the name of the Blog says it all.

    Comment by Anne T — March 30, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

  9. Her belief that ANY restriction on puppy-mills is a “slippery slope” that will inevitably lead to banning all breeding is pretty common in the dog fancy.

    I don’t see why it’s not possible to fight like bloody hell for reputable, responsible and ethical breeders and at the same time to fight like hell against puppy-mill scum.

    We’re not on the same slope, slippery or not.

    Reputable, ethical breeders are over here, on this hill, protecting and preserving our heritage breeds. And puppy-mill scum are over there, on the road to hell for the cruelty and suffering they are responsible for.

    When good breeders, trainers, etc., feel the need to embrace/defend puppy-milling scum, they make it possible for the forces of pet extinction to make the same claim — “see? A breeder is a breeder is a breeder, and even the so-called ‘good’ breeders protect the puppy mills.”

    What idiots, playing right into the hands of the forced spay-neuter crowd.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — March 30, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

  10. Exactly!
    I don’t either! I think Menaker and Strang’s focus for the AKC are doing much more harm than good. The corporate business model doesn’t work for dogs.I pointed out in a post on Retrieverman that to work my dog in various venues I can totally avoid any AKC sports for those that I am interested in. UKC, APDT, ASFA, LGRA, USDAA, TDAA, all of them present venues far more challenging for a team then AKC.
    The business model doesn’t work for warehousing dogs in battery cages. It’s time everyone woke up to the smell of coffee. Perhaps AKC needs to think about a yearly fee of XXX that allowed unlimited participation in it’s events, or that it went back to just being a registry and let other organizations deal with the events since they seem to do a better job!

    Comment by Anne T — March 30, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

  11. Getting in late to this. Just found this blog a day or two ago.

    First things first — I would never buy a puppy from a pet store OR any kind of breeder. If I were in the market for a dog, I’d find one at a shelter or rescue or on Craigslist.

    Dog. Not puppy.

    But I recognize that some people just HAVE to have a PUPPY. So if they aren’t supposed to go to a pet store, and they can’t afford to pay the prices charged by the “responsible” breeders described on this blog — if they can even find a “responsible” breeder in their area — where are they supposed to go for the puppy they want?

    This is a serious question.

    I wish all people could be retrained to consider a dog at least a year old. My last two pets were three years and six months when I took them from the families who were dumping them. The next time I’m looking for a pet I would absolutely consider one in the 4-5 year range.

    But I am a lot more flexible than many people seem to be when they are “shopping” for a pet.

    So, what model will work for producing all the puppies people want? What is sustainable? If you take away the puppy mills, where do the common folk go?

    Thanks in advance.

    Comment by Amy G — April 20, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  12. The “common folks”? Hmmmmm …

    The first puppy I bought from a reputable breeder was in 1978. I was a college student, working as a McDonald’s shift manager. I think that makes me pretty “common.”

    Purebred puppies from reputable breeders are usually priced lower than you can find charged at the puppy mill retail outlet.

    This has been true for as long as I’ve been writing about pets … which is a very long time indeed.

    The “common folks” are certainly not better served with puppy mill dogs, who can break your wallet and your heart with health and behavior problems. Go over to Dr. Patty Khuly’s blog and search for some of her past articles for a vet’s point of view about the puppy-mill dogs she sees.

    Not to mention: Is it worth sentencing the puppy mill breeding stock to lives in sheer hell, never to know a caring touch, if it produced a “cheaper” puppy? How sick would you have to be to choose that kind of trade-off, to doom other dogs to hell so that you could save some dough?

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — April 20, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  13. “But I recognize that some people just HAVE to have a PUPPY. So if they aren’t supposed to go to a pet store, and they can’t afford to pay the prices charged by the “responsible” breeders described on this blog — if they can even find a “responsible” breeder in their area — where are they supposed to go for the puppy they want?

    This is a serious question.”
    Comment by Amy G — April 20, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

    I got my dog at 8 weeks from North Shore Animal League on Long Island. Getting a puppy of unknown origin who must have lived the majority of his life to that point in a kennel environment came with risks. He did end up having to be hospitalized for a serious bout of kennel cough. But he’s been a joy.

    NSAL seemed to be one of the only places near(ish) by to get an actual puppy from a shelter. None of the individual foster places returned my phone calls expressing interest, to be honest.

    Next for me will probably not be a puppy, but I was glad to have the experience of raising one.

    Comment by Original Lori — April 20, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  14. But I recognize that some people just HAVE to have a PUPPY. So if they aren’t supposed to go to a pet store, and they can’t afford to pay the prices charged by the “responsible” breeders described on this blog — if they can even find a “responsible” breeder in their area — where are they supposed to go for the puppy they want?

    Responsible breeders usually charge less for a healthy, well-socialized pet-quality puppy than pet stores charge for the sad and all too commonly ailing products of the hellish conditions of puppy mills.

    And if we start attacking puppy mills rather than stigmatizing and attacking “breeders” on the grounds that puppy mills are bad and “a breeder is a breeder is a breeder”, then the responsible breeders may stop feeling that they have to keep such a low profile, and be a lot more findable.

    I think we also need to recognize that the category of “backyard breeder” is very broad, and encompasses those just a step or two from full-blown puppy mill, AND those just a step or two from being truly responsible breeders. The latter can perhaps be educated to come fully up to snuff, while the former we can go after once we’ve taken down the big puppy mills.

    Comment by Lis — April 20, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

  15. Gina, you wrote:

    Not to mention: Is it worth sentencing the puppy mill breeding stock to lives in sheer hell, never to know a caring touch, if it produced a “cheaper” puppy? How sick would you have to be to choose that kind of trade-off, to doom other dogs to hell so that you could save some dough?

    Of course not. As I said, I would not buy from a pet store.

    What I am wondering is — if you take away the puppy mills, which I would love to see, does the choice then become NO puppies for most people?

    My point is, a person can walk into Petland, throw a credit card on the counter, and walk out with a purebred puppy for what, $800-$1500? I do not know what pet stores charge.

    I also do not know what “reputable” breeders charge. I do know that I did some research one day for a few popular breeds, to see what kind of breeders I could find in my region.

    I think I found ONE I would consider reputable. The others had no mention of spay/neuter contracts and would ship anywhere in the country. Little to no screening of buyers.

    One of the writers here was saying she spent thousands of dollars to breed her dog and would lose money on the litter. If you take away the mass producers of puppies, how many breeders do you think are going to make and sell puppies at a financial loss?

    Sorry if this has all been covered before.

    Comment by Amy G — April 20, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  16. If you take away the mass producers of puppies, how many breeders do you think are going to make and sell puppies at a financial loss?

    Well, that’s the norm… breeding puppies responsibly is an expensive avocation, not a way to make money. There’s a t-shirt I’ve seen at dog shows. On the front it says, “Want to make a small fortune in dogs?”

    On the back it says, “Start with a large fortune.”

    It’s the breeding of dogs for profit that’s the problem in the first place.

    Comment by Christie Keith — April 20, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

  17. Comment by Amy G — April 20, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

    If you take away the mass producers of puppies, how many breeders do you think are going to make and sell puppies at a financial loss?

    ALL of them.

    That is, all them that are doing it right.

    Responsible Breeders almost invariably take a loss on what they “make” from the any given litter.

    Comment by The OTHER Pat — April 20, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

  18. It really is difficult for many people to understand that breeding dogs ethically and responsibly is NOT about making money.

    McKenzie is of course eating four times (or more) her normal amount of food because she’s nursing puppies now. I went up to buy food, and my friend said, “Bet you can’t wait until you can sell the puppies and get your money back.”

    I’m going to be waiting a long time for that. Total investment in this litter is about $12,000, and the monetary value of the litter (which, incidentally, I do not own) is $3,600.

    But I can’t tell you how many misunderstandings there are about what good breeders do. Take, for example, having buyers lined up. A person at work asked me if I’d be putting a note on the company bulletin board to sell the puppies. She was astonished when I told her that not only was I not doing this, but that some people on our waiting list have been waiting for years. A couple of others have suggested — some very snottilly — that I was using the popularity of this blog to sell puppies. Um, again … no. These puppies have been sold four times over before they were even conceived.
    But I think of all the things people don’t get, the fact that there’s no money in this is No. 1 … and No. 2 isn’t even a close second.

    It’s frustrating, trying to fight the “breeder is a breeder is a breeder and all are greedy scum” attitude that’s so prevalent.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — April 20, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

  19. I’ve been reconsidering this question. It was framed in a way that was inevitably going to get the responses Pat and I gave, but I don’t actually think that’s what OP was asking. I think she was asking if the model of losing money on breeding puppies as an expensive avocation is sustainable once other sources of puppies dry up.

    Although she didn’t include it, I think that among those “other sources,” in addition to high volume commercial breeders (and even some not-so-high), are shelters — the availability of dogs in shelters is becoming less, more notably in some areas than others. So let’s assume that source, too, in our hypothetical future, has become limited or even dried up.

    I believe that the answer is complex and has as much to do with how we think and talk about this issue as changing what we DO.

    First, “responsible breeders” and fanciers and people like us have to stop demonizing people who treat their dogs well and either take, or would be willing to take, responsibility for the animals they bring into the world.

    I think many casual breeders — who we might call “backyard breeders,” typically a slur — really care about their dogs, and while they might not use contracts or put things into the same terms “we” do, their hearts are there… all we need to do is stop demonizing them and reach out to them; I suspect many of them would be quite willing to tweak their practices towards contracts if they saw a reason to do it.

    In that way, small, home-based breeders could fill the need and desire for lovingly bred puppies. People love to have puppies, and it’s not always impossible to make a little money on a litter — we in the “responsible breeders” world sometimes over-state the impossibility of that because it’s part of our message, that dogs aren’t products or commodities. And they’re not.

    But you know, surgeons save lives and they make a profit. We pay therapists, pediatricians, teachers, childcare workers, even ministers. The freaking world won’t come to an end if someone manages to do right by their dogs and the puppies they produce, and also makes some money, too.

    But I think it’s a far cry from that to someone setting out to make producing puppies an industry. Look what’s happened to farming and food production as they’ve been industrialized; it’s not good for us and it’s not good for the dogs we bring into our families, to raise them like crops or livestock.

    So my model for the future is a mixture of sources — some rescue and shelter dogs, some dogs bred for a specific purpose or form of work, and dogs bred as companions, in homes and on a small scale, but not stigmatized by local ordinance or national law OR the attitudes of “responsible breeders.”

    That way the “one time only backyard breeder” would stop being a stigmatized source of puppies, and more people would feel comfortable letting their dog have that one litter. (Let me remind everyone ready to kill me that this whole thing is a hypothetical “what if” for the day we’ve gotten rid of puppy mills/pet store sales of dogs AND shelter killing for population.)

    That’s what I see as the future of dog breeding in the United States, once we’ve eliminated high volume commercial breeders and brought an end to shelter killing for animal population. And it’s one of the reasons I so adamantly oppose so many of these restrictions on small home breeders in the name of ending “pet overpopulation,” because it just perpetuates bad framing that’s going to be harmful down the road, reinforces the schism between one set of home breeders and another, and forces many responsible breeders out of the battle for their rights because they think, wrongly, that they have to get in bed with puppy mills to protect their right to breed and a future for companion dogs in this country.

    Comment by Christie Keith — April 20, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

  20. Still, though – there are only two ways to make a profit. Either raise your prices, or cut your costs.

    There’s a ceiling on how much the general public will pay for a puppy (although I’m astonished at the prices pet store puppies can command).

    So that leaves the option of cutting costs, which is where it gets worrisome. Which costs and how much are okay to cut under your scenario, and where do things cross the line? (Asked somewhat figuratively – I don’t necessarily expect you to pop out with an answer!)

    Comment by The OTHER Pat — April 20, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  21. Christie, I can give you an example of what you are talking about. I have a very good friend who raises springers. She is active (and has been since her first dog) in AKC tracking and on the club level as well as being a participant in the sport. Every 4 years or so she breeds a litter. One litter per bitch. She has a mentor who helps her select a stud, she places the puppies, and keeps a girl for herself. Right now she has 3 generations.
    Is she a BYB? By conventional definition, yes she is, because she does not participate in AKC Conformation. Does she produce wonderful dogs with great temperaments who still fulfill their breed function? Yes she does. Does she health check? Yes. But she would still be labeled a BYB. One of her dogs from a previous litter is successful in AG, a couple have gone to show homes, the rest have been valued family companions.
    My agility champion came from a similar circumstance. He has a possibly genetic health issue that cut short his performance career, but that could have happened if I had got him from a “reputable breeder”, thanks to our belief in over vaccination.
    I am going to rethink some of my attitudes. Thank you. I hadn’t put the pieces together in quite that way.

    Comment by Anne T — April 20, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  22. Pat, true, but first, pet stores charge triple, quadruple, TEN TIMES what home breeders do. I know one family who bought a Shih Tzu puppy from a pet store for FIFTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS… I called a woman I know who breeds show Shih Tzus and asked what she was charging then for pets… four hundred dollars. For puppies with two champion parents, but who were “pet quality.”

    So there’s some room there on price, clearly.

    And as to costs, yes, cutting them sucks, but a lot of the costs we tally up when we’re doing our “we’ll never make money at this” math are things pet owners who aren’t in the fancy would do anyway — feed their dogs, take them to the vet, etc. If they are breeding for companions, then they won’t have showing, handling, field trialing, and other related expenses. Getting a temperament test doesn’t cost anywhere near what it costs to campaign a dog.

    Then there’s testing for different conditions. This varies SO wildly by breed it’s hard to generalize, but at least for some things, simple cheek swab tests are going to be replacing more costly diagnostics, so we may end up with much less expensive and still BETTER ways of screening for genetic conditions — thus, costs are cut quite ethically.

    I know lots of breeders who, if you take JUST the stud fee and the immediate expenses of a litter where nothing goes wrong, do make a profit or break even, at least some of the time and depending, again, on breed, as well as on litter size. For many casual breeders, that’s really all they think of when they think of “making money” on a litter.

    It’s like garage sale money. Of course we don’t “make money” on a garage sale; we paid far more for our stuff than we’re selling it for, and if we treated it like a business, it’s obviously not profitable.

    But it’s still cash and it still defrays expenses, at least some of which we’d have had anyway.

    So I don’t think it’s as black and white as cutting costs and raising prices. There are a lot of other factors at play here.

    Comment by Christie Keith — April 20, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  23. Is she a BYB? By conventional definition, yes she is, because she does not participate in AKC Conformation.

    Anne, well, some true tightassed show breeders might say so, but I think most people would just say she’s breeding for performance.

    “BYB” covers a lot of ground, and it’s on my list of terms I want to never hear again, LOL, but I’d say the most common definition of it is someone who breeds for pets and doesn’t have a contract and doesn’t have a breeding program, they just want to have puppies.

    Clearly your friend has a breeding program, so I don’t think anyone would really be able to argue she’s a “BYB.”

    I’m suggesting that in the hypothetical future world, where there are no puppy mills and we don’t kill animals in shelters for population control, the casual but responsible breeding of family pets by people who do not have a breeding program — in other words, people who aren’t trying to preserve and improve the breed, produce working dogs, improve with each generation, produce show dogs, etc., but simply want to breed nice family pets to make more nice family pets — would be a very good source of companion dogs.

    And they may even make a few bucks that way, if you’re talking “garage sale” type money and not commercial breeding type money.

    Comment by Christie Keith — April 20, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  24. As an infrequent breeder who shows in conformation, I would NOT in any way classify Anne’s friend as a byb. :)

    I am going to agree with Christie’s take. Small home based breeders who care about their dogs but don’t really have a breeding program or purpose per say are often very willing to adjust and use contracts and do some screening when they breed if it put to them as the reasonable and responsible thing to do.

    Not only have such breeders produced many well loved pets, they also help serve as a valuable genetic banking system for some breeds.

    Reaching out with information, support and education in a positive manner allows those who may be willing adopt responsible breeding practices to do so. Some, those who see breeding as a way to make a few bucks and don’t take any long term interest in the dogs they own or breed won’t likely change but there are many loving and responsible owners out there who may not participate in an organized canine activity who are or could be excellent sources of well and lovingly bred pets.

    Comment by JenniferJ — April 20, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

  25. Breed clubs can help by adopting a Big Tent philosophy — working to get all owners of good will and honest intentions into a community that helps educate about the importance of health testing (whatever is important for that particular breed), temperament evaluations (not necessarily formal), making good matches in breeding stock, raising pups well, and screening buyers.

    Some breed clubs are so unbelievably snotty, it’s a wonder they don’t drown in their own phlegm. And yet on the other end of it, those same clubs will tolerate a show breeder who is simultaneously producing puppies in near-mill numbers and conditions, to support her dog show habit.

    The GSDCA and Andrew Hunte being only the extension of this phenomenon to its logical absurdity.

    Comment by H. Houlahan — April 20, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

  26. HH: Word.

    Comment by Christie Keith — April 20, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

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