How much is that doggie in the window?

Posted by on Oct 17, 2011

A puppy mill dog in Singapore (photo by Cohen Ng, Dog Mill Rehomers)

For many years, animal activists have been up in arms about the living conditions of the breeding animals and puppies in puppy mills (known as puppy ‘farms’ in most countries, including Singapore), and the trauma that it causes to these animals. However, without the benefit of objective evidence, it has been all too easy to dismiss such protests as the overemotional ravings of ‘crazy cat ladies’ (or whatever the canine equivalent would be).

An American study was recently conducted on the effects on dogs of life in such facilities. Carried out by James Serpell and Deborah Duffy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, together with Dr. Frank McMillan, director of animal well-being studies at Best Friends Animal Society, it is the first major study which scientifically analyses the impact of puppy mill life on dogs born and/or living in puppy mill conditions, as opposed to being raised in homes.

One of the most troubling discoveries of the study, which is due to be published in an upcoming issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science, was that these effects are long-lasting, and owners who buy these puppies from pet shops (which the mills supply) are left to deal with what is described as “post-trauma-like behaviours”.

USA Today report on the study states:

This study gives us strong evidence that the dogs kept in these large-scale breeding facilities don’t just suffer while they’re confined there, but carry the emotional scars out with them for years, even when they’re placed in loving homes.

The dogs from puppy mills showed significantly elevated levels of fears and phobias, compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and heightened sensitivity to being touched.

“The most prominent difference was in the level of fear,” says McMillan. “Compared to normal pet dogs, the chance of scoring in the highest ranges for fear was six to eight times higher in the recovered puppy-mill dogs.”

The behavioral differences within that group existed whether they came from filthy, inhumane puppy farms or from cleaner, law-abiding large commercial breeding operations that have sought to separate themselves from the more unsavory breeders.

Food for thought, for anyone who walks by a pet shop and is tempted to ask “How much is that doggie in the window?”

The monetary cost of buying that puppy is one thing, but the psychological and emotional price exacted from that puppy, as well as its parents who are still trapped in the mill that supplies the pet shop, is much higher than any right-thinking animal lover would think is worth paying.

(To find out more about the pet shop puppy trade in Singapore, read this CNNgo article.)