More than 50,000 kittens and puppies are born each day in the United States alone. The only kind word or gentle touch many of them ever receive is from the technician who must end their lives because there simply aren’t enough homes—or even cages—for them all.

Between six and eight million dogs and cats enter animal shelters across the United States each year. Of these, approximately three to four million are euthanised. Most are young, healthy, and friendly. Many—about 25 percent of dogs who enter shelters—are purebred. Yet puppy mills and breeders continue to churn out animal after animal like widgets on an assembly line.

Nearly nine out of every 10 puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills, breeding kennels that raise dogs in cramped, crude, filthy conditions. According to Dr. Donald Allen, a veterinarian who worked on a “Dateline NBC” segment about puppy mills in April 2000, the dogs in puppy mills are typically kept in inhumane conditions, tethered to trees or confined to faeces-filled wire cages.

Female dogs are bred twice a year and are usually destroyed when they are no longer able to produce puppies. The puppies are taken from their mothers and sold to brokers who transport them to pet stores for resale to oblivious customers. The puppies sometimes travel hundreds of miles in pickup trucks, tractor trailers, and/or airplanes, often without adequate food, water, ventilation, or shelter.

Both the puppies and their mothers routinely suffer from malnutrition, exposure, and a lack of adequate veterinary care. Dr. Allen reports that some puppy mills do not vaccinate the dogs against diseases and many are sold before they are six weeks old, the federal age limit for interstate puppy sales. Premature weaning may make the puppies more susceptible to diseases, and because the puppies are often inbred, they may possess bad genetic traits or have extremely aggressive personalities.

In 2000, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) conducted an undercover investigation at Neilsen Farms, a Kansas puppy mill. The dogs at Nielsen Farms had no comforts whatsoever—no bedding, little to no protection during the searing hot summers or frigid winters and no veterinary care, even when they were ill. Many had crusted, oozing eyes, raging ear infections, mange that turned their skin into a mass of red scabs, and/or abscessed feet from the wire floors.

 

Puppy Mill Prisons

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is supposed to monitor and inspect kennels to ensure that they are not violating the housing standards of the Animal Welfare Act, but kennel inspections are a low priority. Puppy mills are rarely monitored by state governments, and existing regulations vary from state to state.

Dealers who want to avoid the few existing U.S. laws often do business overseas. According to one Canadian lawyer, “[P]uppy mill operators in the States buy from us. And crossing the border isn’t a problem either. They cross them all the time.” A New Hampshire breeder, who was arrested for cruelty to animals when dozens of dogs and cats were found living in filth, was selling puppies from Russia for as much as $1,900 each on the Internet.

 

Irresponsible Breeders

Breeders are no better. Their concern is their bottom line—not the animals’ well being. Like puppy mills, breeders breed animals to conform to “breed standards” which promote “desirable” physical traits that often cause a variety of health problems.

Many breeders support tail docking, ear cropping, debarking, and other painful, unnecessary procedures.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that “ear cropping and tail docking are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient. These procedures cause pain and distress, and, as with all surgical procedures, are accompanied by inherent risks of anaesthesia, blood loss, and infection.” These procedures are so cruel that they are banned in many European countries. Many veterinarians also condemn debarking because it is superfluous, causes dogs a great deal of post-operative pain, and strips them of their natural means to communicate.

Breeders often force dogs to live in dogs in cramped, filthy conditions. For example, John G. Boudiette, a former breeder of “champion” retrievers, was charged with cruelty to animals for keeping more than 100 dogs in squalid, rundown kennels, pens, and doghouses on a wooded lot in Suffolk, Va. When rain pounded the property, the dogs were forced to spend their days in dirty standing water without adequate shelter. When rescue workers from PETA and other groups waded through the grime and the muck to reach the cold, wet dogs, they found many of them were sick, malnourished, and infested with fleas and worms.

Sadly, there are many other breeders just like Boudiette, who raise animals as if they were raising turnips, with little thought to their wants and needs. Even so-called “responsible” breeders don’t fit the bill. Every animal they breed takes away a home from an animal in a shelter who must therefore be destroyed.

Anyone who allows their companion cat or dog to breed must also share in the blame for animal overpopulation. Every single stray cat, every neglected dog left to die on the streets came from an animal who wasn’t spayed or neutered.

A fertile cat can produce three litters in one year. Each litter can consist of four to six kittens. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that in just seven years, it is possible for one female cat and her offspring to produce 420,000 cats. Likewise, a fertile dog can produce two litters in one year; each containing six to 10 puppies. In six years, a female dog and her offspring can theoretically produce 67,000 dogs.

The “lucky” ones will be euthanised in reputable animal shelters. Others will be stuck outside and will likely die of starvation, temperature extremes, be hit by cars, infected with lingering, debilitating diseases, stolen by laboratory dealers, used as bait by dogfighters, attacked by other animals, or tortured and/or killed by cruel people.

Members of PETA’s Community Animal Project (CAP) routinely comb the streets to help neglected and abused animals in the Tidewater, Va. area where PETA is headquartered. On a daily—and usually nightly—basis, the CAP team sees feral cats descended from abandoned, unaltered house cats who are now wild and infected with deadly, ravaging diseases like feline AIDS and leukaemia; stray dogs so disfigured by mange that they are hardly recognizable as canines; litters of puppies, wracked with diarrhoea and vomiting—literally dehydrating to death; backyard dogs who have known only chains, beatings, and neglect, and who have gone mad because of it, and more.

One such animal, Sophie, was found chained to the bumper of a car without food or water. She crouched in fear when a PETA staffer approached her. PETA persuaded her “owner” to give her up and a PETA employee adopted her. Sophie was so exhausted from living in constant fear on the end of a short chain that she slept a full 24 hours when brought to her new home. Now, still cautious, but sweet, energetic, and loving, Sophie goes for long walks and plays on the beach with her new guardian.

Another animal, Itty Bitty, lived outdoors in all weather extremes with other unaltered cats and dogs. PETA’s CAP team trapped the cats and had them spayed or neutered. Itty Bitty was lucky; she now lives indoors with a former PETA staff member and her two other cherished cats.

But happy ending stories are few and far between. There are millions of stray and unwanted animals. PETA’s staff—and other animal rescuers—certainly cannot adopt them all. No one can.

 

Spaying & Neutering is the Only Solution

 

But there is an easy, effective, ethical, and inexpensive solution. People can prevent animal overpopulation—and thus decrease the number of animals killed—simply by adopting from shelters instead of buying from pet stores, puppy mills, or breeders, and always having animals spayed or neutered.

Spaying and neutering is not only the best way to reduce animal overpopulation, it is also a good way to prevent certain health and behavioral problems in cats and dogs. Spaying reduces the stress and discomfort females endure during heat periods, eliminates the risk of uterine cancer, and greatly reduces the chance of mammary cancer. Neutering makes males much less likely to roam or fight, and helps prevent testicular cancer.

Female cats and dogs should be spayed soon after the age of eight weeks. Males should be neutered at eight weeks of age, but both spaying and neutering can be done safely through most of adulthood.

There are low cost spay/neuter services in nearly every area. PETA’s SNIP—Spay/Neuter Immediately Please—mobile provides low-cost spaying and neutering for low income individuals in the Tidewater, Va. area. SPAY-USA has a national hotline, 1-800-248-7729, listing numerous veterinary clinics, humane societies, and other services that offer discounted rates.

Millions of innocent animal die every year because of greed, vanity, and laziness. Their lives are in your hands. Please be a part of the solution for suffering—spay and neuter. For more details, please visit www.HelpingAnimals.com

Heather Moore is a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510.