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Animal welfare: Getting beyond 'puppy mills'

March 18, 2011 | 11:31 am

Puppy Mills

Few people set out to buy a fetching puppy, often of a fashionable breed, that was born in a "puppy mill." But animal welfare advocates, including the Humane Society of the U.S. and Best Friends Animal Society, say that's what happens when people buy from most pet stores in the U.S. 

Puppy mills are usually large commercial operations that are breeding their females too frequently, which wears them down physically,  and cramming dogs and puppies into filthy cages. It is these big operations that supply pet stores, often through a broker, animal advocates say. 

The Midwest is home to some of the more egregious examples of puppy mills. But in the last few years, L.A. County has had some problems with overcrowded breeding operations, particularly with one facility in the Antelope Valley.  According to Marcia Mayeda, head of the county's Department of Animal Care and Control, that facility has worked to clean up its breeding operation. The problems aren't confined to rural areas. "About five or six years ago, we busted a puppy mill in Hawaiian Gardens," said Mayeda. "In that situation there was a lot of neglect. The owner surrendered the dogs. It was about 300."

These large-scale operations can't be outright banished. But regulations can be stiffened, and that's what Los Angeles County is doing, as we explain in an editorial Friday: L.A. County ordinance cracks down on 'puppy mill' abuses.

Those regulations won't solve all problems. Advocates are also working to get pet stores to stop buying from puppy mills and brokers.  They have converted about 10 to 12 pet stores in the L.A. area to a more humane model, in which stores sell puppies, kittens and young animals that have been scouted from shelters, then medically checked out and groomed. "It's the beginning of a cultural shift," says Elizabeth Oreck, who runs the puppy mill initiative for Best Friends Animal Society. But it's an uphill struggle for welfare groups to figure out which of the several hundred pet stores in the L.A. area are buying from puppy mills and persuade them to stop.

Anti-puppy mill activist Jana Kohl (pictured above) adopted a breeding survivor of a California puppy mill, a poodle named Baby, who lost a leg after a fall shattered it -- possibly because the dog's bones had been weakened by overbreeding. Kohl  wrote a book about Baby, taking the poodle with her on trips to publicize the ills of puppy mills and having her photographed with sympathizers. (Best score -- Baby with then-Senate candidate Barack Obama.)

Animal welfare advocates differ on whether people should ever get pets from any pet store or breeder -- even small facilities responsibly breeding females and taking good care of all their dogs. Some believe you should only get pets from private rescue groups or municipal shelters. And most urge prospective owners to at least start the search for a new pet by combing shelters, rescue facilities and the adoption websites linked to them. Here are a few websites where you can start:

Department of Animal Care & Control

L.A. Animal Services

Petfinder.com

--Carla Hall

Photo: Jana Kohl signs her new book about puppy mills while her poodle Baby, a puppy mill survivor, frolics.  Credit: Lawrence K. Ho  / Los Angeles Times

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