By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
There can be little doubt that most people love animals. In America alone, nearly 62 percent of Americans have a pet at home, and surely many more who don’t have pets wish they could. It shouldn’t be difficult to find one: there are over 70 million homeless dogs and cats living in the U.S. A, and of these, only around six to eight million enter shelters each year. These shelters do all they can to house every animal they find, but most are already packed to capacity and struggle to operate with their limited funding. Paradoxically, despite these shelters being literally overrun with animals, only a small number – around 20 percent – of Americans adopt their dogs from shelters.
So where are the other 72 percent coming from? Sadly, breeders and pet stores. Although you can find virtually any breed of animal in any local shelter, consumers continue to pay hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars for dogs from those make profits from the sale, in the belief that by purchasing these animals they’re somehow getting a “superior” pet. However, not only is this untrue, it’s irresponsible.
Pet store dogs usually come from puppy mills, which have gained notoriety for treating thoroughbred animals as breeding machines. Breeders often put profits above ethics and humane animal care, since the animals are often denied veterinary care, and kept in small cages or cramped conditions. Often puppies are malnourished because the water and food they are given are contaminated, and puppies in mills can be found with bleeding or swollen paws as they try to claw their way out of their tiny wire cages. Tooth decay, ear infections, dehydration, and eye lesions are but a few of the ailments commonly facing dogs bred in puppy mills.
Sadly, they’re all too common: in America alone it’s estimated that every year about 2.11 million puppies originated from puppy mills; this is especially outrageous when you consider that 3 million are killed in shelters because they are too full due to people buying animals instead!
Not only do female dogs get treated like baby machines by breeders, sometimes being forced to have 2-3 litters a year, but as Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD says that she sees many health issues in purebred dogs, such as liver shunts, cardiomyopathy, hip dysplasia and more: all of which are less likely to be found in the ‘mutts’ you’d find in a shelter.
Indeed, the inbreeding of animals done at puppy mills can lead to terrible genetic defaults – no wonder purebreds die 3-5 years sooner than ‘mutts’. Currently, French Bulldogs and Pugs are ‘hot’ – the result is further inbreeding to meet rising but temporary demand thanks to ‘pet trends’, and this has led to horrible genetic defects like excessive skin folds, enlarged hearts, harelips and breathing difficulties.
Wondering how these trends start? The film industry is to blame a bit, with films like 101 Dalmatians causing demand for ‘Designer Dogs’, but we can point a finger to celebrities, too: think of how socialites such as Paris Hilton have created pet trends; she was the one to launch the so called “purse dog,” and from that point on it seems impossible to go to a cafe without seeing at least one pooch in a purse.
For cat lovers, things aren’t much better, unfortunately. The conditions in kitten-mills are just as horrific as the ones of puppy mills: cats are locked up in filthy pens, victims of this purebred money making machine. As a result not only is their health jeopardised, but the mistreatments they go through strongly shapes their character. It has has been proven that kitties raised in mills tend to have a defensive behaviour and suffer fear and anxiety. Furthermore, because they are never trained. Cats from the mill may have difficulty adjusting to the schedule of a domestic animal, not knowing hot to use a litter box, being accustomed to eliminate in the same cage they are locked up in night and day.
The Sad Truth
Whether they like it or not, anyone who buys a pet from a shop or a breeder is contributing to animal ‘euthanasia’, shelter overcrowding and perpetuating health defects in animals. The best thing you can do if you love animals is adopt a ‘mutt’ from a shelter. But if you really, really want a purebred dog like a Bulldog or Poodle, all is not lost. As Nadia Bizzotto, animal advocate and whippet enthusiast strongly recommends: “Even if you love purebreds, consider rescuing. Every dog breed has a rescue group that will work to save those breeds from overcrowded, noisy shelters and re-home them. If you are looking for a purebred dog, contact local rescue groups that specialise in placing that breed.”
Images: Ban the Breeder, Wikicommons