How much is that doggie in the window? Patti Page asked the question 65 years ago.
Back then it was a cute little piece of musical confection. Today a more enlightened question, certainly a more humane one, might be: What was the cost to the doggie to be in that pet store window?
In 2011, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) used thousands of photographs to detail the wretched living conditions of pets in commercial breeding factories called puppy mills. The widely disseminated images were gut-wrenching -- detailing sick, emaciated cats and dogs with matted and impossibly tangled fur existing in squalid overcrowded cages at large scale breeding operations. The whistle-blowing photos caused public outrage and a USDA investigation into an almost unregulated industry that stocks pet stores from coast to coast.
The government's findings corroborated ASPCA concerns. Hundreds of animals at a targeted breeder were found with physical afflictions and mental disorders that had been ignored. Many of these animals were born at the facility and lived trapped and ignored their entire lives. Each of them there to make the breeder a buck and to supply pet stores. And all of them there with the net effect of slowing the tireless work of The Humane Society and other sheltering efforts to place stray or abandoned dogs, cats and rabbits in caring homes.
And the problem, six years later, continues here, there and until this year, everywhere. In early 2017, enlightened citizens and legislators in California said nope by signing A.B. 485. No more puppy mill animals for California pet stores. In doing so, the state recognized that current federal law, the U.S. Animal Welfare Act (AWA), wasn't getting it done. While AWA calls for breeder licensing and facility inspections, there seems to be little accountability as to who they are and moreover, it exempts the retail pet stores who buy from them. As many as 10,000 mills, the ASPCA estimates, circumvent regulation by selling these compromised animals through retailers (pet stores) and directly to the general public via the internet. Pretty big loophole! Out west with A.B. 485, they’ve provided some pretty great patchwork!
But that doggie in Michigan, where I live, is still in the pet store window -- at least 50 windows statewide. In June of 2014, authorities working in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States and local veterinarians, nailed a commercial breeder in Livingston County for cruelty to animals and rescued 100 dogs and litters of cats from his property. That's something, but not enough. As many as 10,000 rogue or loosely controlled operations that can do business with the state’s pet outlets are still out there. And Michigan SB 560, introduced in 2013 and endorsed by the Michigan Humane Society and other rescue shelters, which would at least limit the size and some of the worst practices of our dog breeders here, doesn't stop shop owners from finding out of state "stock". In contrast, by mandating that pet stores only sell rescue animals, California's law places responsibility right where it belongs -- and where it can be effectively monitored.
Can't Michigan move in this direction?
Last year the Michigan Humane Society, for the first time, reached its goal of placing 100 percent of its healthy and treatable animals in private homes and has a goal now of guaranteeing 100 percent placement going forward. Can't we help them by making healthy, well-adjusted animals from them and other well-regulated rescue organizations the only pets that shops adopt out? How much is that shelter doggie in the window? I do hope THAT doggie's for sale.