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Local commentary -- You can help put 'puppy mills' out of business

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Parasites. Mange. Illness. Social isolation. Continuous rebreeding and inbreeding. Filthy living conditions. These are some of the hallmarks of what are commonly called "puppy mills." Puppy mills are high-volume, sub-standard dog breeding operations, which sell purebred or intentionally mixed-breed dogs, often to unsuspecting buyers.

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Often the puppies are sold directly to the public via the Internet and newspaper ads. Often the "mill" has a "front," sometimes at a separate location, which appears clean and orderly where prospective buyers meet the puppies - well away from the shoddy living conditions. In other cases they are sold to brokers and pet shops across the country. While puppy mills strive for economic efficiency, they face a high level of criticism for their treatment of animals, and the health problems these creatures face. According to critics, dogs bred in these operations have a higher chance that problems will become apparent than those bred by breeders. For the unwitting consumer, this situation frequently means buying a puppy facing an array of problems, both physical and psychological. Also, sub-standard breeding practices can lead to genetic defects or hereditary disorders; and erroneous or falsified certificates of registration, pedigree, and/or genetic background. Confined to cages with little human contact, one of the greatest tragedies is the lack of appropriate handling by humans and exposure to new experiences, so essential in the very early stages of a puppy's life for suitability as companions.

There are an estimated 4,000 puppy mills in the U.S. that produce more than half a million puppies a year. For-profit breeding on a smaller scale is referred to as backyard breeding.

What you can do to stop puppy mills:

1. Support legislation that limits the number of animals a breeding facility may have. Also important, but inadequately funded and administered, is USDA inspection of such breeding facilities. The regulations regarding this type of operation are woefully insufficient.

2. Consider adoption. Adopting a homeless dog or puppy instead of buying one is the surest way to counter puppy mills. To find the perfect match, you'll want to choose the right one for you and your lifestyle. Animal shelters have dozens of dogs, many of them purebreds, literally dying for homes - many canines surrendered to shelters are euthanized due to lack of space. There are also breed-specific rescue groups for many breeds. Check the website, www.Petfinder.com, as it is a wonderful source for finding the perfect pet!

3. Besure you know precisely where a puppy you may purchase comes from. A red flag is the offer from a seller to meet you at a neutral location - this may be an effort to keep you from seeing the actual place where it was born and kept. Pet stores should provide open and honest information about the sources of the puppies they sell. Just because a website says great things about their "home raised" or "family raised" puppies doesn't make it true. Many puppy millers pose as small family breeders online and in newspaper and magazine ads.

4. Avoid the temptation to "rescue" a puppy mill puppy by buying him or her. Even though your intentions may be good, don't buy a puppy with the idea that you are "rescuing" him or her. Your "rescue" opens up space for another poor puppy mill puppy and puts money into the pockets of the puppy mill. Pet stores won't leave their cages empty and Web sites won't leave their pages blank. The money you spend on your puppy goes right back to the puppy mill operator and ensures they can continue breeding and treating dogs inhumanely. If you see someone keeping puppies in poor conditions, alert your local animal control authorities instead of buying.

5. To learn more about the problem of puppy mills and how you can help stop them, look to prominent welfare organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States and the American Humane Association. Go to www.hsus.org and www.americanhumane.org for additional information.

Katie Winkelman is a Morris native and Morris Area graduate.

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