Puppy Mill Interview with Dr. Kristin Lamoureux

Naomi Lichtenstein

How Badly Do You Want a Puppy? 
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Kristin Lamoureux, who serves on the Advisory Council of Fanimal, in addition to her work at Virginia Tech University’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, where she works full time. Her background is in sustainable development and she has worked all over the globe in sustainable and environmental tourism development as well as international and indigenous development for the last twenty years.. 

In addition to her “day job,” Dr. Lamoureux has volunteered for animal organizations for fifteen years.  In particular, she has all the facts when it comes to the issue of puppy mills. According to the Humane Society, there are about 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S. today, both licensed and unlicensed. To clarify, puppy mills are legal and are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture through inspections. Dr. Lamoureux emphasized that from a recent search, there are only twelve inspectors nationwide with 3,000 mills under U.S. government jurisdiction. Furthermore, there are over 130,000 female dogs meant for breeding that are licensed, with 1-1.2 million puppies bred every year, and 2.4 million puppies sold between licensed and unlicensed facilities. 

The question arises as to why puppy mills are inherently immoral. Puppy mills, in order to maintain their facilities, are often overcrowded with dogs left in horrible conditions. They are forced into very cramped, caged spaces, often with their own feces and excrements leaking into other cages while living in other dogs’ feces and urine. They are overworked to breed and often malnourished. These dogs have no access to medical care, no area to run or play, and rarely see the light of day. Ammonia levels are so high in these facilities that during a raid, volunteers must wear masks and even then can still suffer from blood poisoning. Additionally, once these dogs are unable to continue breeding they are either killed by being locked in a freezer to die or if they’re lucky, they find their way to a rescue shelter. According to the Puppy Mill Project, thousands of commercially-bred puppies are shipped into Illinois and sold from Illinois to pet stores each year. Many mills sell to pet stores without the required license and are not held accountable. The shipping process for these puppies is equally, if not more, disturbing. For example, if they are bred in the midwest, they could be shipped on trucks to southern California or Florida. The dogs are forced to go up to twelve hours without food or water, confined to a small space where disease can easily spread. 

An estimated 670,000 dogs are killed each year in shelters yet we are still mass producing dogs with no inherent need to do so. Throwaway culture comes into play when people do not know how to care for their puppies or their senior dogs once their medical needs come to light. Dr. Lamoureux remarked on the fact that pit bulls and chihuahuas are the most highly bred and are the top two most commonly killed types of dog in the U.S. today. 

Groups like Animal Rescue Corps, a nonprofit which focuses, among other things, on investigating puppy mills with the goal of bringing animal welfare cases to court, are working endlessly to save these dogs. However, since puppy mills are legal, it takes time and energy to build a case all the while engaging law enforcement. In smaller towns, when puppy mill owners may either know law enforcement through friendship or familial relationships, bringing an end to their injustices does not come easy. An estimated $500,000 goes towards just building a case in attempt to take down one puppy mill. Even when these puppy mills are raided and shut down, with volunteers who participated in the animal certification program to assist law enforcement in animal removal, the animals rarely have an adequate place to go. When asked if this process has been working, Dr. Lamoureux asserted that because only limited resources are addressing this significant problem, much more needs to be done. 

Essentially, greater efforts to gather data on the extent of this problem, massive public education efforts, and a push for legislative action is needed. Without proper legislation present in a certain state or country, almost all pet stores get their dogs from puppy mills. Some puppy mills even pretend to be rescues! For example, Pennsylvania has the highest concentration of puppy mills, predominantly in Lancaster County, however this has been extremely difficult to address. Current policies do not address the pressing concerns with puppy mills and this topic is not something the general public necessarily knows about. In addition, when this issue falls under agricultural jurisdiction, it makes it more difficult for the general public to become involved. From her experience in puppy mill raids, Dr. Lamoureux has seen first hand the conditions in which these dogs live and grow up. Unfortunately, the public is all too willing to accept the information being distributed by pet shops or breeders. And often, the narrative that these puppies are from a high quality farm is only masking the truth of the cruelty these animals face everyday. People love puppies. People may desire a specific type of dog. The line is blurred to make your dog dreams come to fruition, without truly knowing how supporting these corrupt businesses perpetuates animal abuse and mistreatment. 

These facts should encourage us to address the concerns that arise within the operation of puppy mills but we must channel that passion into action. Next time you plan on purchasing a dog from a breeder, ask the necessary and upfront questions. Ask to see the parents and the farm where they were raised. Make sure to ask if the breeders will take the dog back if there are any unforeseen medical or behavioral problems. Responsible breeders will confidently take back the dog if they truly care for their overall well being. Responsible breeders will want to meet you in person and should allow you to see the puppies’ parents. And if you need to have a certain breed or really want a puppy, contact your local dog clubs. 

The Humane Society provides information on where you should get a puppy, resources for more puppy mill research, and ways to stop puppy mills. In fact, there are a few simple ways to get this change started. Help make your local pet store puppy friendly by refusing to sell puppies and push for more support in homeless pet adoptions instead! Express your concerns about the origins of puppies sold in pet stores to store management. Encourage partnerships between pet stores and local shelters. Be an advocate and contact your legislators about policy change. Write to your local newspaper editor to help spread awareness. There are a multitude of ways to get involved. Next time your friend decides they want to buy a puppy, educate them as they navigate their puppy adoption process. With education, clearer information about the problem, and legislation in this area, we can all help to bring about a much needed change in puppy mill culture in this country. 

Sources: Animal Rescue Corps, ASPCA, The Humane Society, Dr. Kristin Lamoureux, The Puppy Mill Project