Cages upon cages of dogs and puppies that have never seen love, let alone a veterinarian or groomer. Starving mothers forced to eat their own puppies to survive. These are just a few of the horrifying images that are common at puppy mills, according to Cindy Rarrat, owner and operator of Sioux City’s Animal Adoption and Rescue Center.
Puppy mills are regulated by the state and federal government, however. One might ask, how can the owners of these operations get away with keeping animals in such poor conditions?
“That’s a good question,” said Rarrat. “Maybe they do the absolute minimum requirements or I don’t know how many inspectors there are per capita. I just don’t know. There’s nothing specifically against the law saying you can’t do this.”
According to the Humane Society of the United States, Nebraska and Iowa are among the top five states containing puppy mills with the other three states also being in the Midwest.
The Midwest is a popular spot for puppy mills due to open spaces and rural areas that allow for privacy.
“You can’t have these in urban settings due to city codes and people watching,” Rarrat said. “In rural areas, people can get away with more and they will.”
Due to the local prevalence, Rarrat said that seeing dogs that are suspected to come from puppy mill situations is not unusual as they are often dumped when they can no longer produce puppies.
“They are typically pretty easy to spot,” she said. “They’re not socialized from spending their whole lives in cages, and they are hard to potty train because they lived in wire cages where their waste just falls through the bottom.”
Puppies that come from puppy mills are often also unhealthy due to inbreeding, said Rarrat. Health problems that are common to that specific breed, such as hip dysplasia in German Shepherds, are much more common in puppy mill dogs, in addition to behavioral and personality issues.
Backyard breeders are another form of breeding for profit, but on a smaller scale than a puppy mill as they usually live in town. They often believe that dogs need to have a litter of puppies to be healthy, which is completely false, said Rarrat.
“All it does is add to the pet population,” she said. “The best thing you can do for your pet is get it fixed at about six months.”
Giving a second chance to a shelter dog is the best choice for those looking to get a new pet, said Rarrat, but for those interested in purchasing from a breeder, it’s vital to heavily research to ensure the breeder is legitimate.
“Quality breeders breed to better the overall genetics of the breed,” she said. “They aren’t trying to make money. They truly care about the breed itself.”
Before purchasing from a breeder, ask to meet the parents to ensure they are healthy and have good personalities.
“If you can’t meet the parents, that’s a huge red flag. Reputable breeders will let you meet the parents so you can evaluate their physical and mental health,” Rarrat said.
Because of this, Rarrat recommends being cautious when purchasing a dog from a store or any kind of pet shop.
“You’re always better to buy from a person so you can have a history of the dog,” she said. “When you purchase it from a store, you have no idea what you are getting or where it came from, oftentimes it could easily be from a puppy mill.”
“There’s a lot of purebred and mixed breed dogs at the shelters,” she reiterated. “They aren’t damaged goods. Often, they just weren’t the right fit for a certain family, but once they get to the right family, they are perfect.”