By Genevieve Cottraux
“How much is that doggie in the window?” goes the refrain from the 1952 song made popular by singer Patti Page and sung by children years later. A more appropriate question would be, “Where did that doggie (or kitty) come from?” According to the non-profit organization PAWS, approximately 90 percent of the puppies sold in pet stores are from the commercial breeding facilities called “puppy mills.” In a 2014 report from the Humane Society of the United States, there are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the United States producing over a million puppies every year. Although puppy mills are more at the forefront of the ongoing efforts against animal abuse, kitten mills also exist. Any animal can be the object of the crime of greed known as milling—guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits, hamsters, birds, reptiles—any small animal for which there is a consumer demand. Animals are kept in crowded cages, often in their own urine and feces, and forced to breed until they are spent, after which they are killed or discarded.
In a recent Valentine to the cats and dogs who suffer in these mills, on February 14 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to amend the city’s health code, banning the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores unless they are obtained from animal shelters or animal rescue organizations. Quoted in the San Francisco Examiner, Supervisor Katy Tang, who introduced the legislation, said, “We really do believe that it will send a great message not just in San Francisco but across California, nationwide and hopefully worldwide.” Pet stores will be required to maintain records proving the source of the animals, and source information must also be posted in the cage with the animal. In addition, the legislation bans the sale of puppies and kittens under the age of 8 weeks. In an editorial in the Examiner, Tang points out that 200 cities and counties across the country have banned the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. The existing pet stores in San Francisco already follow a model of partnering with local shelters. The amendment recognizes and encourages the continuation of this practice, and will prevent the opening of any pet stores that sell commercially bred animals.
In a 2015 article in the journal Anthrozoös, researchers noted that an average of 869 dogs and cats are euthanized annually per shelter in the United States. Promoting the rescue of homeless animals can help reduce these numbers. In San Francisco alone, Supervisor Tang notes that the city’s Animal Care and Control department and the San Francisco SPCA adopt out more than 6,300 animals every year. By taking a stand against the abusive and exploitative animal mills and promoting animal adoption, cities and counties across the country can continue to lower the euthanasia rates.
Unfortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, has removed animal welfare reports from its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website. The information removed includes documentation of animal cruelty cases against puppy and kitten mills. The animal abuse registry was blacked out on February 3, 2017 with no warning. In a statement reported in the Huffington Post, the group Beagle Freedom Project, which rescues dogs used in laboratory testing, said “This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things.”
The Humane Party is committed to the rights of all animals and envisions “a humane legal system in which all beings are free from exploitation, discrimination and abuse.” The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has taken a step forward in the humane direction. The USDA, on the other hand, has taken a huge step backward.