How Much is that Puppy in the Window?

By Rebekah Snyder

 A glimpse into the reality behind commercially sold pets.

We have all seen them: they’re cute, they’re cuddly, and they are full of energy and undying affection. Who doesn’t love a puppy in a store window with puppy breath kisses, soft fur and a slashed discount price? In San Diego County alone, there are eight retail stores that sell puppies to the public, four of which are in North County. But beyond the innocent puppy eyes and the cleverly marketed store fronts, there is a dark principle to almost every commercially sold puppy in the US: puppy mills.

The American Society for the Prevention Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) defines puppy mills as a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given over the well-being of the dogs. The parents of pet store puppies will live their entire life in caged isolation, valued only for how many puppies they can produce. The puppies are taken away within a few weeks of birth to be sold to distributors and then sold again to your local pet store. There, unsuspecting consumers ogle over the cute puppies in the window with little realization behind where the dog was bred and what conditions the parents will languish in their entire life. Nothing about this process is illegal under the law.

While there are restrictions and licensing requirements for commercial puppy-producing facilities, it falls to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to monitor and inspect wholesale breeding facilities. That’s right; the same person that gives their seal of approval on your figs is the same person who is charged with monitoring commercially bred Fido’s.

“Although dog breeders who sell to pet stores and distributors are regulated by the USDA, the minimal federal standards do not ensure a healthy or humane life for dogs. In fact, they do little more than require food and water. These types of kennels can legally have hundreds, often a thousand dogs in one facility, and those dogs are allowed to be confined to cages that are only 6 inches larger than the dogs themselves. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, for their entire lives. They are often deprived of exercise, veterinary care, and positive human inter4ection. Many have never felt the sun on their backs or solid ground beneath their feet.” (1)

The conditions of puppy mills are often deplorable, unsanitary, and inhumane. With hundreds of dogs on property, puppy mill owners utilize factory farming techniques to ensure mass output and maintain low cost production. The USDA has such minimal requirements for temperature regulation; dogs in outside kennels are subject to extreme weather conditions without even basic protection under the law. This leads one to wonder why the Department of Agriculture would be involved in the puppy business.

Surprise, surprise: they started it.

Following devastating crop failures after World War II, “the USDA actually promoted puppy mills by advertising that it was a lucrative and fail proof business. Encouraged by the government, farmers started to pack dogs into chicken coops and rabbit hutches and sell puppies to pet stores.” (2) The USDA encouraged farmers to invest in becoming puppy mill breeders, often loaning the money for start up. Today, they are also the current enforcement body that monitors these breeders. With over 10,000 puppy mills for less than 100 USDA inspectors, I would say these breeders have a lucrative business with little chance of being found in violation of any standards of humane care, minimal as they are.

So, which stores deal in puppy mills and which do not? The ASPCA estimated that 99% of puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills. Yes, that store in your local mall, and yes, that store down the street: they too most likely deal in puppy mills. Puppy mills are not congruent with a specific breed, establishment or location. They are the source of almost all adorable puppies you see for sale in retail establishments. Since the awful truth behind commercial sold pets is a reality that most consumers would find revolting if they knew, the pet stores survive on deception and most importantly the public’s unawareness. Pet stores continue to remain in business simply because consumers continue to buy puppies and knowingly or not, support the puppy mill industry.

So, how much is that doggie in the window? The real cost is the misery and suffering for the puppy mill parents. The unquestionable cost of purchasing a pet store puppy is perpetuating a cycle of wholesale breeders where production is valued higher than humane treatment. Simply put, whatever the physical price of the puppy, it’s not worth contributing to puppy mills and selling your own conscience and morals in the process.

Bio: Mrs. Snyder is a long time animal advocate living in North County. She is involved in a variety of dog rescue and puppy mill awareness issues.


  1. “Best Friends Shows Life in a Puppy Mill.” YouTube, d. Wed 26 Jan. 2015.
  1. “The History of Puppy Mills And Why You Should Care”. HumaneResearch. 17 Dec, 2013.




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