In 2007, Best Friends identified puppy mills as one of the primary contributors to shelter pet populations, and along with other organizations around the same time, we committed to investigate, expose, document and interrupt puppy mill operations, mostly in rural America. You may remember Mabel, the blind beagle who was the face of our puppy mill engagement in October of that year, which rescued 179 mill dogs from a Virginia operation.
We soon realized, however, that despite the deplorable conditions in puppy mills and periodic exposés (even Oprah did one), legislators at the state and federal level were reluctant to pass meaningful legislation to improve the conditions of commercial breeding operations because puppy mills fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and their state equivalents, and dogs in puppy mills are considered to be livestock, and animal welfare of any stripe is a much harder sell in those circles than it should be, sadly.
In any event, we weren’t really interested in regulations that might increase the minimum size of the tiny cage that a mill dog would live in for its whole life by six inches. We wanted to put an end to the whole sordid puppy mill business, and we soon realized that our most receptive audience and effective point of pressure would be at the point of sale – those well-meaning consumers who drive the demand for mill-bred pets by purchasing them in pet stores. By December, we had focused on peaceful protests and educational demonstrations in the Los Angeles area, supported by undercover investigations at the mills that were shipping animals to target stores. Once the public learned where and how the puppies in the windows were being sourced, the dominos began to fall quickly (that work still continues today, as far too many consumers are still painfully unaware of where that doggie in the window comes from).
One toney mall near Beverly Hills cancelled the lease of a high-volume pet store, where we had been peacefully demonstrating every weekend for more than six months. Another pet store proprietor stopped selling animals altogether once he learned where the puppies came from. He was sickened by the revelation of the lives animals lead in mills, and shifted his business model to adoption, pet supplies and services. The community rallied around the humane idea, and the store owner saw a significant bounce in business.
The Best Friends puppy mill initiatives had found its groove and the eager support of a legion of volunteers who dedicated many hours a week, for years running.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Best Friends’ puppy mill initiatives team had opened up a second front by lifting a page from the cities of Albuquerque, South Lake Tahoe, and other jurisdictions, which had banned the for-profit sale of animals in pet stores in their respective communities. This fit with the humane pet store model that we had been advocating as an alternative to the puppy mill–centric stores that we had targeted with educational demonstrations. Best Friends staffers worked with the city of Glendale, California, to pass such an ordinance and then began working behind the scenes with a great friend to the animals, L.A. city councilman Paul Koretz, to draft a similar ordinance, which passed in October of 2012. Best Friends has been a national resource for this burgeoning movement that is interrupting the deadly business model that puppy mills have thrived upon for so long.
Most recently, the center of action for this breakthrough work has been in Illinois. In February, Chicago passed a law similar to the ordinance in Los Angeles, then Cook County (greater Chicago) in March passed their own, and now the entire state of Illinois is looking to restrict the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats in pet stores. It’s an incredible moment and worthy of reflecting on the progress we’ve seen in such a short time.
Since the first such ordinance was passed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2006, more than 50 others have joined an ever-growing list of communities throughout North America. Small cities, large counties, and now entire states are helping to put the proverbial nail in the coffin of this horrifying industry that profits from nothing other than cruelty. Best Friends, and other groups working to save pets, know full well the impact these colossal breeding operations have on the supply side of the pet industry. The millions of animals they churn out each year unequivocally contribute to higher shelter intake numbers.
When this chapter in animal welfare is finally closed, it will be noted that the failure of commercial breeders and the unwillingness of the agricultural lobbies to address the flagrant abuse inherent in the puppy mill trade led to recourse to the ultimate agents of change, public opinion and the market place.
The progress has been incredible, but there is still a long way to go.
This is most definitely a grassroots movement, and your help is needed wherever you may live. If you want to help the thousands of animals still trapped in mills, check out these resources from the Best Friends Resource Library:
• Learn how to organize your own peaceful pet store demonstration.
• Share this resource with your social networks on alternatives to buying pets online or from a breeder.
• Sign up to receive action alerts from Best Friends. We’ll let you know whenever there’s important legislation that needs your voice.
• Check out our list of pet stores across the country that are currently using an adoption-only model.
Together, we can Save Them All.
Best Friends Animal Society