Buyer Beware: A Puppy's Hidden Cost

"Adopt, don't shop" is a common mantra in the animal protection world. There's so much behind those three little words. It's not just about the millions of loving shelter pets that go unadopted each year, it's also about the dark truth behind what it means to "shop" for a pet. About 30% of the dogs who enter homes each year were purchased. While pet stores that actually sell puppies are on the decline--or under fierce attack--breeders are still profiting by selling directly to consumers who shell out top dollar. These consumers are often misled into believing that the puppies come from happy, healthy homes where they are lovingly raised. They have no idea about the grim reality of puppy mills, where dogs are treated as cash crops instead of companions.

Looks can be deceiving--few consumers actually see where the puppies really come from. Most breeders work to hide the cramped cages, the dangerously matted fur, excessive excrement, lack of veterinary care, and other unsafe conditions. But recently, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), took an undercover look at one such dog factory in New Mexico called Southern Roc Airedales. There are at least 20 Airedale Terriers on site, and as in most puppy mills, the dogs are bred constantly without rest, providing the breeder with a steady stream of puppies to sell.

ALDF, the nation's preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, sent an investigator posing as a buyer to Southern Roc, and what they found was an all-too-typical puppy mill. With evidence in hand, ALDF is asking the USDA to protect the dogs and buyers by enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which Southern Roc is flagrantly violating.

Standards of Care Go Unenforced

The breeding facility is owned by Southern Sollars, who does not have a license to operate a business from her home, nor a license to sell dogs. This in itself is a violation of the AWA, but it doesn't stop there. The AWA requires "dealers" to meet basic standards of care, like offering fresh drinking water, providing veterinary care, a clean environment, and shelter that protects the dogs from the elements. Southern Roc is not meeting any of these standards.

The dogs appear to have access only to water full of algae, and that's when the water isn't entirely frozen over. They're living with excessive buildup of their own waste, and all of the dogs are suffering with filthy, matted hair. A dog with mats isn't just having a bad hair day--the mats cause pain and can very easily lead to skin infections. With hot desert sun during the day, and freezing temperatures at night, these dogs are exposed to harsh elements and lack sufficient shelter to protect them. Furthermore, the dilapidated fencing holding the dogs in is laced with a "hot wire" that injures the dogs when they touch it.

The puppies might escape this terrible scene, but their futures are still uncertain. Customers of Southern Roc have come forward with complaints of intestinal and bacterial infections, severe genetic abnormalities like hip dysplasia necessitating hip replacement, and the exorbitant veterinary costs that go along with these ailments. This is a common outcome for puppy mill dogs.
It is the USDA's responsibility to enforce the AWA, but puppy mills continue to plague communities and animals across America. ALDF's complaint against Southern Roc is part of a larger effort to hold puppy millers accountable for flouting the law and churning out sick dogs to unsuspecting buyers.

The High Cost of Purebred Puppies

From the tiny Pomeranian to the massive mastiff, most people can tell you which breeds have always caught their eye, and many prospective adopters have come to think that there's one breed that's just right for their family, so they go to a pet store or breeder, where they're almost guaranteed to get a puppy mill dog. Due to the filthy conditions, lack of veterinary care, and inbreeding, many dogs adopted from puppy mills have significant health problems. So after you pay for your top dollar dog, get ready for high priced medical care, too.

Purebreds are the result of generations of selective breeding among family members with desired traits like caramel colored fur, or friendly eyes, or a particular temperament. Eventually, the pool of genetic material is so similar that the dogs suffer from painful genetic abnormalities or diseases. Common ailments include hip dysplasia, cancer, heart disease, eye abnormalities, neurological conditions, and autoimmune diseases, just to name a few pitfalls of many purebred dogs. Common breeding practices at puppy mills perpetuate or even worsen these conditions with each generation of inbreeding.

Puppy mills still exist despite their abysmal history because well-meaning consumers are misled, as well as failure to enforce animal protection laws. It does not have to be this way. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to ensure that laws protecting dogs are enforced and that puppy mill operations are held accountable. Our work also exposes these operations so consumers can see the truth about the dog breeding industry.

Dog lovers can help put puppy mills out of business too. Even for those who have their heart set on a specific breed, there's no need to support a puppy mill. Millions of healthy, friendly dogs of any kind can be found in shelters waiting for a home. In addition to not supporting a puppy mill, adopting from a shelter gives a home to a dog who is otherwise likely to be euthanized. Please, adopt, don't shop.

If you or someone you know purchased a dog from Southern Roc Airedales, please contact the Animal Legal Defense Fund at legalcase@aldf.org.