Puppy mills exist across the country. The worst puppy mill states are Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. The Internet revitalized the industry by allowing puppy mills to sell directly to the public, disguising themselves with polished Web sites with pictures of happy dogs frolicking and claims of "ethical breeding" and "health guarantees." Unfortunately a "health guarantee" (which is required by law) does not ensure that the purchaser will receive a healthy puppy or that it was even raised in healthy conditions. It only requires the breeder or dealer to replace the puppy if it dies or reimburse veterinary expenses if it becomes ill. At the outrageous price that is being charged for some purebred dogs, the puppy mill can afford to lose a few. I liken it to the "healthy fish guarantee" you get at the local pet store.
What can you do to avoid buying a puppy mill puppy? It's very simple. If you must have a purebred dog, first check your local shelter or petfinder.com. The Humane Society estimates that one in four animals entering shelters is purebred. You can also check breed rescue groups. If you must have a purebred puppy, then you should know where it came from. If you can find a local breeder, you should be able to visit the facility and meet the puppy's parents. If you are not allowed to meet the puppy's parents, then the breeder may be hiding something - run away! A properly socialized puppy will be easy to handle and not overly frightened. Reputable breeders will have no problem giving you their credentials (such as American Kennel Club registry) and references. They will probably want some information about you too, to make sure their puppy is going to a good home.
If you cannot find a local breeder, you should verify a kennel's credentials and references BEFORE you send any money. Standard protocol is to pay no more than half the price of the puppy up front, and pay half after the puppy is received AND examined by your veterinarian. If the puppy has to be transported to you, remember that even a puppy coming from a legitimate breeder will be stressed and subject to illness.
Beware of buying a puppy from a pet store. Most of them are from puppy mills. You should ask to see the puppy's "papers" (usually an AKC registration form). The name and address of the breeder is at the top of the page - if it is a Midwestern address, you are very likely looking at a puppy mill puppy. Don't get fooled into accepting a "health certificate" instead of knowing where the puppy came from. We all feel sorry for these puppies, but since puppy mills are still legal, the only way to stop the exploitation and neglect is to stop the demand for them.
--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column runs every other week.