Imagine spending your whole life in a cage. It’s almost unimaginable, but for some animals it’s a reality.
When it comes to puppy mills, some dogs can spend their whole lives in cages for breeding.
“All you have to do is measure your dog from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail, not the tip of its tail, the base of its tail, and add six inches,” said Mary LaHay, president of Iowa Friends of Companion Animals (IAFriends) and Iowa Voters for Companion Animals (IowaVCA) on minimum cage requirements. “That’s all the more cage space you have to have, wide and deep. Then, six inches above their head. That’s all you have to provide them. They live in that cage all the time.”
Exercise requirements can suffice if the dogs have a cage that is twice its necessary size, she added.
LaHay was speaking Wednesday evening at The Pizza Ranch during a public meeting on commercial dog-breeding. Approximately six people were in attendance.
A puppy mill can be described as a commercial dog breeding facility where dogs are mass produced for quantity and profit, not quality. Dogs are typically warehoused in conditions that can cause crippling physical and psychological effects.
Conditions can include overcrowding in small wire cages, dog cages stacked together so the excrement of the dogs on top falls below, no veterinary or nurturing contact and exposure to climate extremes.
“Conditions are just ripe for fires,” LaHay said. Dogs have been known to die in cages during fires, she added.
LaHay said there are two types of licenses for commercial dog breeding.
The first is a state license for people who have more than three intact dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered and sell puppies. These breeders sell only direct to public through newspaper or Internet and they have to be licensed by the state and inspected by Iowa Department of Agriculture.
The second is a U.S. Department of Agriculture license for breeders who sell animals wholesale through a third party such as a pet store.
Is there a puppy mill problem in Iowa?
According to LaHay, Iowa is a state in what is commonly referred to as the “puppy-mill belt.”
Iowa has the second largest number of USDA licensed breeders, or puppy mills, in the nation with more than 350 facilities. Many of these places house hundreds of adult breeding dogs.
The state ranked highest in the nation in puppy mills is Missouri.
According to USDA data, there are more than 23,000 adult dogs in Iowa puppy mills. Reports also show 59 percent of Iowa breeders have been cited for violations to the Animal Welfare Act. Many times there are repeat violations.
Sometimes, the only way to know the difference between a good breeder and one who treats dogs inhumanely is to look at inspection reports.
“Even the inspection reports are not reliable because some of them can look just fine, but the conditions with the minimum requirements are just so inadequate,” LaHay said. “It’s probably okay by USDA standards, but any one of us would go in there and say ‘this is not right.’ It’s just socially unacceptable. That’s the only phrase I can think of for it.”
Warning flags can be breeders who want to meet a customer by a highway or even a casino to do the transaction. They don’t want the buyer to come to their facility or let the buyer see the mother dog of the puppy.
There is also a consumer protection issue with puppy mills and breweders.
“They’re typically sold through pet stores,” she said. “A lot of pet stores won’t even tell you who the breeder is. They’re supposed to but they don’t. Some states have requirements and some don’t. It’s hard.”
LaHay wanted to make one thing clear at the meeting. Her goal isn’t to eliminate pet ownership. It is to eliminate bad breeding practices.
“Ever since we’ve been making noise about this, the USDA inspectors are stepping things up and they’re reporting more things,” she said.
However, LaHay believes the USDA inspection process is inadequate and only goes by the bare minimum.
“At our city pound, we get expired breeding dogs dumped,” said Mycale Downey with Creston Animal Rescue Effort (CARE) during the meeting. “I don’t know if they’re puppy mill, but they’re backyard breeders. (The dogs have) the matted hair, to the point where they have infection on their skin because of it. It actually rips their hair out and those sores get infected.”
What is being done?
In 2010, the Iowa Senate passed the “puppy-mill bill.” This legislation allows state inspectors to respond to specific complaints against a federally licensed facility. They could check to see if an animal is suffering or has adverse health effects because of lack of food, water, sanitation, shelter or grooming.
LaHay recommended reporting problems with dog safety. She said if there is a problem with a breeder to report it to the Iowa Department of Agriculture. If there is a problem with purchasing a puppy from a puppy mill that became sick to report it to the Iowa Attorney General’s office.
She also said to reference the website www.IowaVCA.org for information.
However, the easiest way for a person to make an impact in a dog’s life is to adopt one or go to a local animal rescue shelter.
“The closer you get to home, the easier it is to affect change,” LaHay said.