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Thursday, December 13, 2007

From Russia Without Love

This week, The Humane Society of the United States released a months-long undercover investigation into the puppy mill and pet store industry.  Investigators found that a glitzy Hollywood pet store—where Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and other celebrities have bought pooches—is selling dogs from abusive puppy mills in Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The story was covered by the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, CBS Early Show, TMZ, and other blogs and news outlets, informing millions of Americans that buying a cute puppy from a pet store or over the Internet is the economic driver that keeps puppy mills churning.

These factory farms keep hundreds of breeding dogs stacked in wire cages, and treat them not like members of the family, but like production machines.  Store owners often lie to customers and say they don't buy from puppy mills and only use responsible breeders, but this investigation and others have revealed that it's just not true.  Customers who adore those puppy dog eyes unwittingly support a cruel industry, and end up with dogs who may become sick or die because of genetic defects and irresponsible breeding.

Appeal_text_box_puppymills Puppy mills are scattered across the United States, especially in the Midwest and the South, but an even uglier and lesser known aspect of the puppy mill problem is the emerging foreign industry. Puppy mills in Russia, China, Mexico, and other countries see the United States as a potential market, and they breed thousands of puppies for American pet stores, Internet sellers, or commercial breeders selling directly to the public. People may pay a high price for a special breed said to be from Europe or Asia, but the dogs are raised in especially inhumane conditions since there is little to no regulatory oversight of puppy mills in these countries. 

The puppies, typically younger than ten weeks old, endure harsh, long-distance air transport, crammed tightly into cargo containers and often exposed to extreme temperatures. As a result, many puppies arrive dead or seriously ill and unable to recover, while others become sick and die soon after being sold to an American family. A veterinary clinic associated with JFK airport in New York reports as many as 10 to 15 percent of puppies are dead on arrival.  The Centers for Disease Control office at LAX in Los Angeles estimates that more than 7,000 puppies are received annually, and that is just one point of entry. 

Fortunately, as the Senate works on the massive Farm Bill this week, we are one step closer to shutting down imports of foreign puppy mill dogs.  Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Majority Whip, worked closely with HSLF and HSUS to include an amendment requiring that any dog imported into the United States for commercial sale be at least six months old.  The Durbin amendment will stop the worst abuses in the industry and ensure that young, unweaned puppies are not forced to endure this cruel treatment for profit.  We are grateful to Sen. Durbin for his leadership in cracking down on abusive puppy mills, and to Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) who have been leading the fight in the House.

And there are two other amendments we have been backing in the Farm Bill: One, by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), will make dogfighting a federal felony nationwide, and will ban the possession, training, and breeding of dogs for the purpose of fighting.  Several states have loopholes in their anti-dogfighting laws that allow people to possess fighting dogs, so this federal action will help knock out these cruel and degrading spectacles.  Another amendment by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) will phase-out the use of "random source" dogs and cats—often family pets stolen or obtained through fraudulent response to "free to good home" ads—sold by Class B dealers to researchers for experimentation.  A similar amendment, advanced by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), was already included in the House version of the Farm Bill. 

All three pet protection amendments—on puppy imports, dogfighting, and Class B dealers—have been agreed to as part of the managers' amendment to the Farm Bill, and the Senate hopes to complete action on the bill this week.  We’re grateful to all of our congressional sponsors, and to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), for making these important animal welfare reforms part of the Farm Bill agenda. We look forward to working with them, as well as the Agriculture Committee leaders in the House—Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.)—to see these reforms enacted into law soon on the final Farm Bill.

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