Commerce in purebred and ‘designer’ (cross-breed) dogs, and purebred cats has expanded in many farming states since my first investigations of commercial dog breeding facilities, so called ‘puppy mills’ in the Midwest in the early 1970’s. Brood-bitches, stud dogs and litters of puppies were generally treated like commodities; no different from other livestock, such as pigs, chickens, and fur-ranch foxes and mink. Even then, inhumane breeding practices and conditions were widespread, and they have not been improved upon over the intervening years in spite of government (USDA/APHIS) inspections and licensing schemes and purported AKC (American Kennel Club) inspections. Most state authorities see nothing wrong with applying the same standards, if any, for how producers should treat their livestock and poultry, to puppy and kitten mill commercial breeding facilities.
But there is one huge difference between traditionally farmed animals and cats and dogs. Dogs and cats are so much more domesticated in terms of their need for human contact during their first formative weeks (called the critical period for socialization), and throughout their entire lives. On large commercial breeding facilities there is inadequate human contact and socialization of mass-produced puppies and kittens, leading potentially to emotionally unstable, unreliable, even unsafe animals. Their parent ‘breeding stock’ can suffer their entire lives from lack of consistent and caring human contact. This is compounded by living in a literal prison cage or wire run, often in extremely noisy and crowded conditions where sanitation, clean water, and adequate food and shelter may all be deficient to some degree.
All this means animal stress and distress, which impairs their immune systems leading to increased susceptibility to diseases. Some of these are transmissible to humans, including round worms (Toxacara) that can cause blindness in children, to ringworm that can ravage a family and Toxoplasmisis that can cause human fetal abnormalities and birth defects. . Other diseases that can take hold in unsanitary facilities and stressed animals and be transmitted from infected puppies and kittens to humans (children, the elderly, and others with impaired immune systems being especially vulnerable), include: Salmonellosis, Campylobacter enteritis, Leptospirosis, Blastomycosis, Histoplasmosis, Giardiasis, Echinococcosis, and Sarcoptic mange.
Pups and kittens whose mothers were chronically stressed during pregnancy, and environmental influences, especially diet, and quality of human contact or lack thereof, during their first few weeks of life can suffer alterations in the ‘wiring’ of their nervous, endocrine and other body systems. This is called epigenetics, a recent branch of human and veterinary medicine and that was an integral aspect of my first doctoral dissertation (published in 1971 by the University of Chicago Press, entitled Integrative Development of Brain and Behavior in the Dog.). This in part accounts for the high veterinary bills people find themselves paying because of the chronic health problems that result.
Another reason for the plethora of health problems in pure-bred animals is because of the low ‘hybrid vigor’ and higher incidence of genetic and developmental abnormalities, hereditary diseases, and behavioral problems ranging from extreme shyness to unpredictable aggression and hyperactivity syndrome. Large scale commercial breeders—anyone with say more than six breeding animals—cannot follow up through the marketing matrix to determine the quality of their produce. They have no system of progeny testing, which means keeping records of all the health and behavioral problems of the puppies and kittens that they are marketing that could be traced to a ‘defective’ bitch or stud dog. It is inexcusable that the AKC, that opposes any legislation like this Bill, should actually profit from selling pedigree registration papers to the unwitting purchasers of puppy mill puppies.
Additional stress is placed on the offspring when they are shipped out, shortly after the stress of being weaned that is coupled additional stress on their immune systems of being wormed and given a cocktail of vaccinations. Such treatments can lead to life-long sickness and suffering. Kittens and puppies should not be shipped any distance more than a two-four-hour journey in a climate-controlled vehicle and then only after they have passed the sensitive period of development that in the dog is around 8 weeks of age, and possibly one or two weeks later in kittens. ‘Locally bred and locally purchased’ animals could be sold at an earlier age, around 6-7 weeks of age for puppies, and 7-8 weeks for kittens, provided the distances they must travel are within the two-four hour range.
The ‘breeding stock’ not only suffer a life of extreme confinement on the typical puppy and kitten mill facility: They also suffer the stress of repeated pregnancies one heat cycle after another with no rest and recovery after raising a litter, many being bred, for cost-saving, on their first heat, at an age when they are not yet even fully grown and physiologically ready to bear offspring. No conscientious hobby breeder would ever consider adopting such a stressful practice. Nor would anyone who respects the nature and beauty of cats, or appreciates how dogs have contributed to the well-being of humanity since before the beginning of recorded history, give nothing less than unequivocal support for legislation as is being proposed that would help reduce the suffering and improve the health and well-being of dogs and cats used for commercial breeding purposes, and their helpless offspring.
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