Guest Editorial: Just Say No

By Ed Sayres, October 2011, Updated February 2015

I recently read a story (“Dog Story,” The New Yorker, Aug. 8, by Adam Gopnik, their award-winning staff writer) that saddened me. Mr. Gopnik wrote that he knowingly purchased a puppy-mill dog from a Manhattan pet store simply because his 10-year-old daughter asked him to. Since buying puppies from pet stores supports a cruel industry in which breeding dogs suffer every day of their shortened lives and the puppies who make it out are often sick, I am always disheartened when I hear that anyone has—knowingly or unwittingly—purchased a puppy-mill dog from a pet store or online.

Mr. Gopnik wrote that because his daughter knew her parents would never leave Manhattan to purchase a dog from an “approved breeder, she quietly decided that she could live with a Manhattan pet-store puppy-mill dog if she could check its eyes for signs of illness and its temperament for symptoms of sweetness.”

His decision to purchase a dog that likely came from a puppy mill puts him in the small minority of Americans who would knowingly purchase a dog from a pet store if they knew that dog came from a puppy mill. According to a survey conducted by Lake Research Partners on behalf of the ASPCA, nearly 80 percent of Americans would not make the same decision.

Puppy mills are large-scale commercial breeding operations in which the breeding dogs live in squalid, overcrowded, wire-bottom cages stacked on top of each other. The breeding dogs almost never leave their cages and never know the feel of anything other than the cages’ muck-covered wiring. They don’t know what grass feels like, what toys are or what it’s like to be loved.


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Usually crammed in dark, poorly ventilated sheds where they are exposed to sweltering temperatures in the summer and below-freezing temperatures in the winter, puppy-mill dogs live in horrific conditions day after day. In order to maximize profits, the females are bred repeatedly until their bodies give out, at which point they are often killed, left to die or even thrown out with the garbage.

By checking her new puppy’s eyes for signs of illness, Mr. Gopnik’s daughter was in no way ensuring that she was getting a healthy dog. Many puppies from puppy mills have internal parasites and other problems that are invisible without a veterinary examination, including genetic and hereditary problems that will not show up until much later.

Puppy-mill puppies are sold through pet stores, online and at venues outside the puppy mill, such as flea markets. Even though three-quarters of Americans have a negative view of puppy mills, puppy mills would not stay in business if people who claim to oppose them did not support them financially — often unintentionally —  largely through purchases of dogs in pet stores or online.

The ASPCA, which, along with other animal welfare organizations, spends vast resources caring for and rescuing breeding dogs from abusive puppy mills, has launched a “No Pet Store Puppies” campaign. Please pledge to refrain from buying anything—supplies, collars, kitty litter—from pet stores that sell puppies. For this campaign to be successful, large numbers of Americans shopping for pet supplies have to bypass pet stores selling puppies and instead, choose responsible stores and online outlets that do not support the puppy-mill industry by selling dogs.

When it comes to actually bringing home a new pet, the ASPCA recommends adoption as the first option or, for those who want to go directly to a breeder, responsible breeders who would never sell their dogs to pet stores or ship them to unknown purchasers.

I hope that Bark readers will visit to sign the pledge not to buy anything at pet stores that sell puppies, and will share the pledge with everyone they know. While the ASPCA will continue to rescue puppy-mill dogs, we would prefer to stop the large-scale breeding operations that allow dogs to live in deplorable conditions before dogs are harmed.

— Ed Sayres
President and CEO, ASPCA®
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 67: Nov/Dec 2011

Photograph by Ashleigh Tancrell