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Thinking Point

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Thinking Point

Thinking Point

Thinking Point

Churning out puppies in mills!

Puppy mills are the ugliest face of dog breeding. However, most of ‘dog-lovers’ end up purchasing puppies from such mills out of ignorance. Himanshi Shukla reports the various negative aspects of puppy mill reared and bred dogs as well as the laws against it. Also covered in this report will be the genuineness of so-called ethical breeders...

Lily, a German Shepherd, has never seen sunlight. Born and raised in a small rusty cage of a Puppy Mill, she is forced to produce litter after litter from a very young age (below prescription) until she can’t anymore. Then when she is of no use, she is set free and can literally go ‘anywhere’ for the first time in her life. But is the freedom really worth it? As it turns out, her paws are excruciatingly injured and swollen. She can’t keep her legs straight or even manage to walk because she never learnt to (or shall we say, she wasn’t even allowed to). She doesn’t feel all so well- she might have a disease or two. A helping hand tries to ‘rescue’ her but she has had enough of human oversight so she has practically become phobic. She wanders hither and tither in this pathetic state until she dies an agonising death which finally frees her of all the pain.

While Lily is a made-up version, she represents (or tries to, since no amount of words can capture their pain) an entirety of dogs that are confined in puppy mills and suffer from a plethora of diseases and other problems. There is also a practice of the breeders ‘conniving’ with certain ‘pet owners’ who keep sub-quality females of particular breeds while a ‘stud’ (pure-bred male dog) is provided by the breeder. The litter thus produced is sold by the breeder and a commission charged. The females and their puppies are handled by amateurs, with similar nastiness as in puppy mills, albeit in ignorance.  

What are Puppy Mills and why should we oppose them?

According to People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): “Puppy mills are a well-kept secret of the pet-trade industry! They supply animals to pet stores and purebred enthusiasts without any concern for the millions of animals who will die in animal shelters as a result. It’s standard practice for puppy mills to keep animals in cramped, crude, and filthy conditions without proper veterinary care or socialization. Puppy-mill kennels can consist of anything from small cages made of wood and wire mesh to tractor-trailer cabs or simply chains attached to trees, where mother dogs and puppies spend every day outdoors in the same small patch of dirt in all types of weather. Female dogs are bred over and over until they can no longer produce puppies— at which point they are auctioned off or killed. Mothers and their litters often suffer from malnutrition, exposure, and a lack of adequate veterinary care. Since puppy mills breed dogs for quantity not quality, genetic defects are rampant. These can include physical problems that require costly veterinary treatment as well as personality disorders that often frustrate guardians into abandoning their dogs.”

As per the Humane Society of the United States: “Puppy mills are inhumane commercial dog breeding facilities that may sell puppies in pet stores, online or directly to the public- in flea markets or via classified advertisements. Puppy mills disregard the dogs' health—both physical and emotional—in order to maximize profits.” Chief Advocacy Officer, PETA India, Khushboo Gupta says: “Cruelty is inherent in the pet trade and animal abuse is a common occurrence. Pet shops and breeders are notorious for cramped enclosures, filth, malnutrition, exposure, disease and dogs who suffer as a result of a lack of socialization and veterinary care.”

What are kennel clubs and how genuine are kennel club registered breeders?

As per the Website of the Kennel Club of India (KCI): “Kennel Clubs are a great way of interacting with similar minded individuals when it comes to the love of canines. It also is very beneficial for those of you who are in need of assistance of any sort, especially in relation to rare pure breeds that require help with a peculiar situation, or even information on a place to put your pet up while you tackle some emergency travel.” Litter inspector, Kennel Club of India, Alop Ghosh says: “Kennel Clubs are private agencies which primarily work for maintaining pure breed of dogs. We have no mandate to sell dogs as this is only the work of breeders and the pet owners.” He adds: “KCI ensures that our registered breeders aren’t involved in any puppy milling. It is only unethical, money minded new entrants that only mean business who are involved in such frivolous activities. Moreover, I can assure it from my side that if any of the breeders are found involved in such activities, KCI immediately cancels their registration. But genuine breeders do register.”

Khushboo Gupta, PETA India, says: “Kennel Clubs are private agencies which keep a registry of pedigree dogs and promotes events for purebred dogs, including dog shows. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing) Rules, 2017 mandates registration of breeders with the relevant State Animal Welfare Board so as to operate in that State. A registration with the Kennel Club does not give a breeder any legal right to sell dogs. Moreover, Kennel Clubs are instrumental in upholding breed standards for physical features that actually harm the dog’s health and wellbeing.”

Animal activist and lawyer based in Lucknow, Alankrita Srivastava, however claims: “99 per cent of the times, the so-called Kennel Club breeders aren’t even registered and people don’t even enquire that when they go to buy dogs. All people care is that they want to buy a cute pup at a low price. Until people are getting a ‘clean puppy’ in their hands, they really don’t care for its whereabouts. Initially breeders have difficulty in getting themselves registered but then what’s more is that there’s no checking whatsoever after that.”

The inhuman practice of forced breeding to produce litter

Alop Ghosh, Litter Inspector, Kennel Club of India, says: “KCI ensures that the breeders registered with us follow due guidelines- that are: They cannot sell puppies which are less than two months old; no female shall be bred twice in a year, and the optimal breeding age shall be 2 to 8 years.” But, this isn’t followed in practice. Alankrita Srivastava says: “There is no such thing as ‘ethical breeding’. In reality, there is only ‘backyard breeding’ which is carried out stealthily. Forceful mating for own selfish profits is order of the day.”

Dr SK Agarwal, Veterinary Doctor by profession, says: “Forced breeding for litter has adverse impact on the health of the mother. The mother gets irritable in nature, develops a biting tendency. Moreover, when 1-2 day puppies are separated from it all at once, this has a psychological bearing on the health of the mother. Ideally, breeding should be carried out only once a year to maintain the health of the mother but it is often carried out twice a year. Consequently, the mother becomes weak, and there are complications in delivery. Unfortunate deaths due to forced breeding and litter are rampant.”

Dr Sandeep Mathur, Senior Veterinary Doctor, says: “Breeding twice a year is common not only in puppy mills but elsewhere with breeders, pet shop owners, etc. The mother often gets no vaccination. Hence no antibodies are developed. Lack of veterinary care leads to other complications. The mother  (and consequently her puppies) becomes prone to an array of viral and bacterial infections. Their hormonal system is imbalanced. Unsurprisingly, there are complications at the time of delivery and oftentimes we have to perform caesarean. The pathetic state of affairs can just be imagined by the fact that forced breeding is carried out as late as 15 years when ideally it should be stopped after 8 years. The male dogs too develop several diseases and problems due to forced breeding.”

Veterinary problems in Puppy Mill dogs

As per the Humane Society of the United States: “Dogs in puppy mills often suffer from an array of painful and potentially life-shortening veterinary problems due to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and the lack of proper oversight or veterinary care. Conditions common to puppy mills, such as the use of stacked, wire cages to house more animals than a given space should reasonably hold, as well as constant exposure to the faeces and urine of other dogs, make it difficult for dogs to avoid exposure to common parasites and infectious diseases. In addition, a lack of regular, preventive veterinary care, clean food and water, basic cleaning and grooming, and careful daily observation by the operators may cause even minor injuries or infections to fester until they become severe. These disorders cause undue pain and suffering to the animals involved and often result in premature death.”

“More than 60% of them suffered from a disorder serious enough to require emergency veterinary care, more than 80% suffered from parasites, almost 40% were underweight, more than 35% suffered from dehydration, and more than 40% suffered from eye disorders such as conjunctivitis, ocular infections or KCS- a very painful dry-eye condition, and all the animals older than 18 months showed evidence of moderate to severe periodontal disease. One of the dogs had such severe dental disease that she required 32 dental extractions, while others had periodontal disease so severe that it led to bone resorption of the mandible (eroded jaw bone). Six dogs suffered from pyoderma (skin disease) secondary to urine-soaked, matted fur. Many of the severely underweight or ill dogs were also pregnant, affecting the survivability of their offspring,” the study states.

Dr Sandeep Mathur states: “The dogs in puppy mills are kept in ultra-confined spaces where they cannot even sit without touching each other. Since quantity and not quality is the main concern, they don’t get proper food or veterinary care for that matter. They excrete and urinate in that caged hell till they contact viral and bacterial infections. Typically, their immune system is weak since they don’t receive proper vaccination. Oftentimes, I’ve seen people who aren’t even authorised to treat the animals are giving them injections. These are mostly Pet shop owners, even chemists and compounders. They often prescribe ‘health tonics’ and ‘lactogens’ and what not which they will tell you to buy from their stores only but in reality these things are totally unnecessary. This worsens their health further. So, by the time a pet owner comes to the vet, he has practically been robbed.”

How the psychological scars outlive the confinement

The long-term effects of the confinement and deprivation at a puppy mill can have psychological as well as physical manifestations, as per the research conducted by Dr Frank McMillan, DVM, with James Serpell and Deborah Duffy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. The study was reported in USA Today (Oct. 10, 2011) and later published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. The research encompassed more than 1100 former puppy-mill dogs who had been in their new homes an average of two years. The dogs were found to have significantly elevated levels of fears and phobias, compulsive and repetitive behaviours, and heightened sensitivity to being touched. Compared to "normal" pet dogs, the recovered puppy mill dogs had a six to eight times higher chance of scoring in the highest ranges for fear. “This study gives us strong evidence that the dogs kept in these large-scale breeding facilities don’t just suffer while they're confined there, but carry the emotional scars out with them for years, even when they're placed in loving homes,” says Dr McMillan.

As per Khushboo Gupta, Chief Advocacy Officer, PETA India: “Many puppies and kittens sold in pet shops are deprived of proper veterinary care, adequate food, exercise, affection and socialisation. And to increase the chances of certain unnatural physical traits in so-called pedigree dogs, like long backs, smashed-in faces, spots and so on, breeders often force siblings and parents to mate. But this desire for unnatural physical traits also increases the chances of painful and deadly afflictions, such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, heart disease, hip dysplasia and more. It is also common for breeders to cut the ears or tails of certain breeds. PETA India has been urging authorities to implement and enforce the ban on this cosmetic cruel tail-docking and ear-cropping of pups, as per the 2017 and 2018 Rules mentioned above.”

Alankrita Srivastava says: “Aggressiveness can be seen as the hallmark of such dogs simply because they’ve never experienced any freedom whatsoever. It is because of the inhumane treatment that they receive first hand at the puppy mills that they come to abhor the human contact.

Recent busting of such gangs that has come to light

Khusboo Gupta, says, “There are instances of breeders booked under law for violation of animal protection laws. Following a petition filed by PETA India, the honourable Madras High Court had ordered a complete shut-down and closure of a government run dog-breeding unit, based on the inspection of Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), which revealed that dogs were constantly confined to kennels and given no exercise, socialisation, or grooming.  The Tamil Nadu state government challenged the order before the Supreme Court, and the Court stayed the High Court order. The state filed an affidavit, along with allegedly recent photographs of the dog breeding unit, claiming that it was in compliance with India’s animal-welfare laws – a claim that PETA India is now exposing as false. During lockdown, there was a surge in cases of abandoned dogs due to unfounded concerns that the animals can spread Covid-19. Through a circular dated 11 March 2020, the AWBI, acknowledged that people are abandoning their animal companions on the streets without food and water and urged the law-enforcement authorities of states and union territories to take action against such offences. PETA India has also been successful in encouraging online retailers OLX India and Quikr to stop facilitating animal trade, thereby removing major opportunities for illegal breeders to sell animals.”

How to know if puppy is from puppy mills?

Khushboo Gupta says: “Animals sold in pet stores and online typically come from breeders. Unscrupulous breeders exploit mothers by forcing them to produce litter after litter until their bodies wear out. These pups are then typically taken away from their mothers too young and sold.” Alankrita Srivastava points out: “People aren’t very keen to know about the whereabouts of the puppies. Even if they are, the breeders would at max show them the photograph of a bitch and claim it to be its mother. Most people don’t even bother after that.” Alop Ghosh says: “KCI registered breeders sell the dogs at a higher rate because they’ll nurture them for up to 2 months but unscrupulous breeders sell them at 25-30 days age at a much lower price. For example, a KCI registered pure bred Labrador will cost you around rupees thirty- thirty five thousand. On the other hand, the latter will sell at eight to ten thousand rupees. Unfortunately, people will prefer the latter because it is more pocket friendly. Dr Sandeep Mathur adds: “Many a times, parents want to gift their children a puppy on their birthdays. So they’ll try to buy a puppy in 2-3 day’s time. This means that they cannot get an ethically bred puppy in any condition.”

Is there a law in India against confinement of dogs in unhealthy conditions solely for the purpose of breeding?

As per Khushboo Gupta: “Illegal pet shops and breeding facilities are operational throughout India. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing) Rules, 2017 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 2018 mandates the registration of breeders and pet shops respectively with State Animal Welfare Boards. However, the vast majority of them are not, and violate other provisions of these Rules to protect the animals from unnecessary pain and suffering, too. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing) Rules, 2017 is intended to regulate the process of dog breeding, marketing and sale of pups. The Rules mandates that, “The dogs shall at all times be kept in kennels or accommodation suitable in all respects, in terms of construction, size, number of dogs, exercising facilities, proper temperature, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness.” It also states that “every dog shall be kept in a clean, healthy and safe environment and be provided with all socialisation opportunities, vaccinations, and de-worming necessary to provide maximum mental and physical well-being.” However, most breeders and pet stores are unlicensed and illegal, and there are no checks.”

Cops don't lodge complaints even if we are ready to protest against such malpractices. In such a case, what can a common person do?

Khushboo Gupta, PETA India, says: “A written complaint pointing out the specific provisions of the laws being violated have to be submitted to the local police station while urging action. If no action is being taken by the relevant police station, a complaint can be filed with District Commissioner of Police, State Animal Welfare Board and Animal Welfare Board of India. The police have to take FIRs and there are steps to take if they refuse to as explained here: https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/unable-to-file-an-firdue-to-police-harassment-steps-to-take-4734971.htm

Alankrita Srivastava adds: “The laws need to be tightened. I’ve witnessed incidents wherein severe matters such as major injuries or even death is ‘brushed off’ in as less as Rs 50. It seems as if there is no dignity or importance of a life.” She points out: “The Nagar Nigam is mandated to carry out sterilisation at the breeding point as well as to vaccinate the dogs but that rarely happens. In fact, the authorities have failed us when it comes to animals. If you lodge a complaint of dog catching, you’ll notice that it is done by a stick or rod but ideally it should be done by a net. What’s more pathetic is that they’ll leave the caught dogs at other place after catching them from one place.”

The Way Forward

Khushboo Gupta says: “Meanwhile, dog breeders produce litter after litter of puppies – every time someone buys a dog from a breeder or pet shop, a homeless pup loses his or her chance at finding a good home. We can stop the cycle of animal homelessness, systemic animal abuse in the breeding industry and save lives by opening our hearts and homes to a dog from an animal shelter or the street instead of buying them from breeders or pet shops. It's also crucial to have our canine companions sterilised in order to ensure that they don't bring more puppies into a world that is already short of good homes.”

Dr Sandeep Mathur says: “There is laxity in the administration whose advantage is taken by the nexus operators. The entire system needs to be cleaned up. There should be compulsory registration of breeders with the State Animal Welfare Board. The people need to be made aware of the malpractices and big money involved which even has a bearing on their pockets as well as the health of the dogs. Pet Shops are proliferating throughout the city and I’m afraid that the more pet shops, it will be a black omen for the dogs. There should be strict vigilance on the pet shop owners and the breeders and especially against those involved in puppy milling.”

Alankrita Srivastava sums it up for us, “The people need to be sensitized and informed about sterilisation of puppies which has many health benefits apart from being a method to stop their exploitation. Also, people need to raise themselves from ‘dog-lovers’ (affection for just one’s own dog) to ‘animal-lovers’ (affection for all animals)- be it a dog on streets or any other animals, be it to oppose puppy mills or to rescue injured dogs.

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