Breeding, Buying and Adopting: Puppy Mills and Pet Shops

Over the last few months, as the U.S. has slipped deeper into an economic slump, there have been widespread surrenders of companion animals to animal shelters by those unable to financially care for them. (A slew of local articles can be found in response to a Google News search for “animal shelters”)


It is perfectly understandable that many cannot afford to care for their companions. However, it astounds me that in the face of this reality, puppy mills and kitten mills continue to breed dogs and cats at astounding rates, pet stores continue to sell them, and people continue to buy them. It is estimated that at least 90% of dogs sold in pet stores originate in puppy mills, of which there are thousands nationwide. It appears that Americans fail to recognize the broader implications of our love affair with dogs and cats, and our simultaneous disdain for buying “second-hand”. We remain wed to the idea of pet store windows filled with cute animals available for on-a-whim purchasing, and even the idea of giving animals as gifts to others who may not be ready or happy to accept the resulting responsibility. Consequently, our shelters are not merely full, but beyond full, being forced to kill millions of animals annually, most of whom are perfectly healthy and adoptable. A simple calculation reveals that each animal bought from a pet store (or directly from a breeder) is effectively a death sentence for an animal waiting for adoption.

Most puppy mills, because they sell to commercial pet stores, are animal “dealers” as defined in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This means that they are supposed to be inspected and monitored by the USDA to ensure their adherence to the AWA, which requires the promulgation of minimum requirements for “handling, housing, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, shelter [and] veterinary care.” It also requires minimum standards for “exercise of dogs, as determined by an attention veterinarian in accordance with general standards promulgated by the Secretary…” 7 USCA § 2143.  The minimum requirements apply to wholesale dealers but not pet stores, as the USDA explains on its website. But as the Humane Society of the United States aptly explains: “Puppy mills can get around USDA licensing requirements by selling directly to consumers, and many simply rely on the limited reach of the law—with so few inspectors and only minor fines in place, it’s often easy for puppy mills to stay in business.” Consequently, the methods used by many puppy mills are illegal, and surely, many overseas puppy mills selling to U.S. customers maintain standards that would be illegal were they in the United States.

While there have been some large-scale and highly visible enforcement measures taken by authorities recently to crack down on illegally-functioning puppy mills, it seems that, rather than curb the problem, this has simply allowed it to morph. A National Public Radio story that aired today claims there has been, for the last 5 years, a growing U.S. market for dogs originating from overseas puppy mills, as a direct response to “U.S. authorities… cracking down on unscrupulous domestic breeders.” Luckily, the 2008 Farm Bill responds to this latest crisis by requiring any dog imported to the U.S. for resale to be at least 6 months old and generally healthy. (Section 14210). This is a big step forward.


Along with the law, public attitudes are also evolving in favor of adopting, rather than buying, companion animals. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey devoted an entire show this year to revealing the reality of the U.S. puppy mill industry. She aired undercover footage from Pennsylvania puppy mills and pet stores. Recently, after President-elect Obama announced that his daughters were promised a canine companion, an online petition quickly emerged requesting that the Obamas adopt, rather than buy, their dog. In a matter of weeks, 50,000 people signed on. The news media then reported that Michelle Obama announced the family’s intention to adopt a “rescue dog.” Ironically, around this same time, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden received a German Shepherd puppy as a gift from his wife. The gift received widespread media coverage, and questions were raised regarding the dog’s origins, which turned out to be a large-scale Pennsylvania breeder. News stories have since publicized the breeder’s alleged citations by USDA for violating the AWA.


The fact that such a media story would take hold indicates how far we have come: I cannot imagine a credible newspaper questioning the origin’s of a politician’s dog in previous election years. Things are changing… but not enough. We must ensure that change, when it comes, is genuine and far-reaching: not a surface-level, knee-jerk reaction to temporary public sentiment. I think it’s fair to say that until we confront our conflicting relationship with man’s best friend, similar to our relationship to oil, we will find ourselves in the never-ending cycle of boom and bust, with animals paying the ultimate price.   


-Suzanne McMillan

FDA Reversal on Off Label Antibiotic Use: A Big Picture View

Here’s a newsflash:  Neither Laura Bush nor Condoleeza Rice think the Bush Presidency has been the worst in history.  Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to rethink…

In other less newsworthy matters, the FDA has reversed itself and decided to permit “off label” prophylactic use of cephalosporin antibiotics for industrial, confined “food” animals.  Off label use refers to administering a drug for purposes other than those for which it was tested and approved.  The FDA approved cephalosporin for treating respiratory illness in cattle and pigs as well as for a variety of human illnesses.  However, the animal industry had been making widespread use of it in other animals and for other uses.

Faced with the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance, the FDA had determined in July that using one of a dwindling number of effective antibiotics prophylactically and for other non-approved purposes in animals did not make sense.  It announced a ban on such behavior beginning on November 30th but withdrew the ban four days before it was to go into effect.  Apparently, Big Food and its allies were concerned that eliminating off label use would cause animals to suffer needlessly.  Read about their compassion here.  Of course, empathy does have limits.  For example, the possibility of not confining the animals in such close proximity apparently did not merit discussion.

Cynics among us might view the campaign to quash the rule as part of a coordinated campaign by Big Food and Big Pharma to maintain the profitability and preeminence of industrial agriculture despite ever-increasing human health risks and ongoing, routinized animal torture.  Those cynics might also view the FDA’s capitulation as a glaring example of agency capture.

But then, that’s the same kind of cynicism that causes people to misrepresent the Bush Presidency as a catastrophic failure.  As Secretary Rice observes, “historians who are now making judgments about the Bush administration and its Middle East policies aren’t very good historians.”

That must be it.

Hat tip to the Marler Blog for its disturbing and informative post on the cephalosporin issue.

David Cassuto

Year-End Review of State and Federal Animal Protection Laws and Enforcement

When I think of 2008’s contribution to animal protection laws, two themes come to mind: animal fighting and factory farming. Michael Vick’s high-profile federal conviction for dog fighting, although it occurred in 2007, seems to have affected state and federal animal fighting laws and correlating enforcement measures throughout 2008. Additionally, we witnessed a trend of several states legislating minimum space requirements for certain species confined in factory farms.


The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF’s) website currently features a ranking of U.S. state and territories’ animal protection laws in 2008. The ranking is based on 14 categories of animal protection laws. In addition to being individually ranked, states are grouped into three tiers, and the best 5 and worst 5 are also highlighted. This year, the 5 states with the strongest animal protection laws proved to be: California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Oregon. Joining them in rounding out the top tier are Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Vermont, the Virgin Islands and Virginia. ALDF makes a point of noting, however, that even the top-ranked states can do much more to help animals through lawmaking.



Animal Fighting

Thanks to heightened public awareness and legal penalties for animal fighting, 2008 brought about amendments to numerous state dog fighting and animal fighting laws, some expanding their reach and some increasing their penalties. Apparently, 18 states expanded or otherwise strengthened their laws in 2008. This chart displays each U.S. state’s current laws pertaining to animal fighting and allows you to see when each was last amended. And here is a ranking of all states’ dog-fighting laws. Some of the newly strengthened laws and heightened pressure on police officers to enforce existing laws have already proven worthwhile, as in the large-scale bust of a Texas dog-fighting ring a few weeks ago. Texas had just made dog fighting a felony in 2007, in response to the Michael Vick case. Fifty-five people have allegedly been indicted, and more than 100 dogs have been seized.


Additionally, the Michael Vick scandal appears to have had an effect on federal law relating to animal fighting. In 2007, President Bush signed the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (18 USCA § 49), which provides felony penalties for animal fighting and activities done in furtherance of animal fighting. Furthermore, the 2008 Farm Bill mirrors these sentiments by including similar language.



Factory Farming

2008 has seen some major leaps forward for U.S. “food” animals confined in factory farms. In April 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a study in which it concluded that factory farms are unsustainable not only because they are harmful to the environment and human health, but also because they harm animals. It press release sites one of the study’s key goals as being to “phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to… improve animal wellbeing (i.e. gestation crates and battery cages).”


Additionally, 2008 saw both Colorado and California pass legislation requiring minimum space allowances for certain animals in factory farms. Colorado’s law, which originated in its legislature, requires that both calves raised for veal and pregnant pigs be housed such that they can “stand up, lie down, and turn around without touching the sides of their enclosure.” The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which goes into effect in 2015, came about through ballot measure, and goes further than any prior law by requiring minimum space allowances for not only veal calves and pigs in gestation crates, but also hens in battery cages. The requirements are similar to those in Colorado: animals must be able “turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.” But because the requirements apply to caged hens, they will effectively ban battery cages in California: an unprecedented development.


All in all, 2008 has been a splendid legislative year for animals in the U.S. The trend bodes well for 2009 — I suspect that animals will gain additional legal ground in the coming year.


 -Suzanne McMillan 






Turkey Abuse

It seems that every year, around the holidays, we are presented with recent undercover footage of turkeys being abused in ways that exceed even the minimal standards of the facilities in which they are raised and processed. The most recent evidence emerged several weeks ago, in the form of a videotape taken by an employee from a West Virginia plant belonging to global “poultry grower” Aviagen, Inc. The turkeys in this most recent investigation had brooms rammed down their throats and used to lift them off the ground; feces forced into their mouths; their heads slammed into metal objects and stomped on by workers’ feet, and so on.

I want to make two points about this and the many similar scandals we have seen in the turkey, cow, pig and chicken industries, thanks to invaluable hidden camera footage:


(1) Many people do not know that most turkeys are protected by no laws limiting the cruelty that can be inflicted on them. This is because many states exempt animals used for food from their animal cruelty laws. Similarly, on the federal level, although the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act as written includes birds (because it refers to “cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock”, without defining the term “livestock”), it is interpreted by the Department of Agriculture (the agency charged with its implementation) to exclude poultry, and therefore turkeys. Further legal analysis can be found here, and the Humane Society of the United States offers this helpful historical timeline to better understand the evolution of this situation:


“In response to the continuing public outcry over the cruel methods recounted in The Jungle, Congress enacted the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 (HMSA) to explicitly require that “cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock” be slaughtered in accordance with humane methods. The law deemed only two slaughter methods humane: ritualistic or religious slaughter (such as the Jewish Kosher method), or one in which all livestock are rendered insensible to pain before shackling and slaughtering. In the legislation, Congress explicitly recognized that certain slaughter practices—for example, hanging conscious animals by their legs from metal shackles and slaughtering animals while still fully conscious—cause “needless suffering.”

Fast forward 20 years. In 1978 Congress amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (FMIA), a law, originally passed in response to Sinclair’s novel, that mandated federal inspections and minimum sanitary standards at slaughterhouses processing certain types of animals. The 1978 amendments added a provision to the FMIA that gave the USDA the authority to refuse inspection of meat if “the Secretary finds that any cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules or other equines have been slaughtered or handled…by any method not in accordance with the Act of August 27, 1958 [the HMSA of 1958].” The confusion arose because Congress called this amendment the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978.

What Congress didn’t do in 1978, however, was replace the HMSA of 1958 or remove the original language requiring that “cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock” be slaughtered in accordance with humane methods. In other words, the all-important term, “other livestock,” is still included in the definition of the animals covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958.

And yet, despite the fact that the term “other livestock” clearly encompasses animals such as farmed birds and despite the fact that a 1958 edition of Webster’s dictionary defines “livestock” as “domestic animals used or raised on a farm,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture has chosen to exclude chickens, turkeys, and other birds entirely from the act’s protection. 

It’s as if the USDA thinks the original Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 doesn’t exist.”


Thus, similar to Guantanamo Bay detainees, turkeys (and chickens, who comprise the vast majority of animals slaughtered in the U.S. for food) are left in a legal no-man’s land. It is crucial that the public pressure the USDA to include turkeys and all other poultry species in their definition of “livestock”. It is also important, in the meantime, for the public to pressure companies to sanction animal-abusing employees. While turkey abuse may not be illegal, it still violates the public image a company aims to project, and may well violate its internal policies.


(2) It seems that every time this sort of scandal breaks, the response from company management is that 1) the behavior violates company policy and 2) it is an isolated event which 3) will be cured through a combination of disciplinary measures and employee education. This recent case is no exception.

We need to ask ourselves how many “isolated incidents” are required for an act to become systematic.

Similarly, we must ask ourselves what role company policy and worker education serve in the context of a system that demands large amounts of meat generated quickly and cheaply. The American consumer continues to embrace the comfortable belief that meat can be produced fast, cheap and ready, with no unsavory consequences to animals. This is the true driving force behind the cruelty we are seeing. No amount of internal policy and education on the part of livestock producers will alter this fundamental law of nature. Rather, it is our responsibility, as consumers, to educate ourselves regarding the acts that we are paying others to perpetrate on our behalf.  If these acts make us uncomfortable, chances are we will think twice before continuing to fund them with our pocketbooks.

-Suzanne McMillan

Duty to Render Aid… to Ourselves


Recently, while flipping through a list of New York statutes applying to animals, I noticed that it is a traffic violation to hit a cat, dog, horse or cow and not attempt to locate the owner, report the accident, and “take any other reasonable and appropriate action so that the animal may have necessary attention.” However, nothing is said of wild animals, who seem to comprise the bulk of those animals injured by cars on roadways.


This law is interesting because it singles out certain species for special treatment. Additionally, it raises the penalty for accidents involving injury to “service” dogs: hearing dogs, guide dogs, etc. Thus, this law appears to aims to serve humans, not animals, by helping individuals and companies maintain their property (i.e. the animals they own).


There is nothing bad per se about this law. However, it is an example of a phenomenon I have previously blogged about: all too often, a law appears to exist for the sake of animals, only to really be geared towards preserving the human status quo. Thus, it is crucial that all those interested in serving animals through the law take the time to analyze what tools any particular statute truly offers us, and be realistic when assessing the tools in our toolbelt.


-Suzanne McMillan



Alberto Kattan — Warrior for the Voiceless

Alberto Kattan was an attorney and an activist in Argentina on behalf of people, animals, and the environment.  During the 1970s, he was kidnapped and tortured by the military junta.  He survived thanks to the personal intervention of then President Carter.  Undaunted, he sued the military government in the 1980s on behalf of dolphins and then penguins.  He also successfully persuaded the courts of Argentina to ban the pesticides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D (“Agent Orange”).

Kattan said:

· “When you open your eyes it is a commitment.  You can never close them again.”

Alberto Kattan died in 1993 but I just learned about him today.  And for that I thank Professor John Bonine, a pretty inspiring fellow in his own right.

David Cassuto

Great Lakes Compact Council to be Headed by Industrial Ag. Zealot

The Berry Street Beacon has an excellent post on the hard-to-fathom reality that Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana will chair the Great Lakes Compact Regional Council.  The Council is the oversight body of the newly minted (and highly significant) Great Lakes Compact (full name: Great Lakes- St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact) enacted this past fall.  For more on the Compact, see Professor Noah Hall’s informative blog, Great Lakes Law.

The Great Lakes contain about 20% of the world’s surface water.  Governor Daniels has determined that the answer to Indiana’s financial woes lies in turning the Hoosier State into a haven for industrial agriculture.  Industrial agriculture pollutes water — both surface and ground.   It thus seems sub-optimal that someone with Daniel’s views would emerge as the choice to head a Council charged with administering 6 quadrillion gallons of the stuff.

I guess stranger things have happened.  But I keep wondering why they do.

David Cassuto