Anyone who has ventured into the world of animal rescue knows that the list of challenges facing them seems endless. Every day, there is another crisis, another urgent call for help and another day of feeling desperately overwhelmed. Despite the awareness of pet overpopulation and the knowledge that scores of dogs and cats are euthanized in Alabama every day, many continue to allow their pets to have litter after litter of puppies and kittens.
Not long after the world was introduced to Facebook, pages began popping up in every city and county with people selling dogs, cats and other animals. Facebook has since enacted a policy that prohibits the sale of live animals, pets or livestock. A feature was added in 2017 that allows users to report posts selling animals. Despite these policies, the sale of animals continues. One quick search on Facebook resulted in countless listings with threats of “taking to the pound if not gone by the weekend.”
Facebook provides a great opportunity for shelter pets to be seen and networked. Unfortunately, it also provides a new marketplace for those simply wanting to profit from the irresponsible breeding of more animals.
The Tribune spoke with several individuals, who asked to not be identified, who have purchased animals from Facebook animal sites.
One woman explained, “I wanted to adopt, but shelter animals cost more.”
She acknowledged that shelter animals did come with a history of vet care and spay/neuters already performed but was still deterred by the adoption fees.
Another individual admitted, “I was scared for the animal and felt guilty, so I took it.”
Both individuals expressed their desires to adopt an animal from a shelter but opted for the alternative due to personal convenience, breed preference and cost.
Another individual, who was also deterred by an adoption fee, regretted his choice, stating, “The adoption fees were a lot cheaper than the cost of a vet visit. I know that now.”
Reputable breeders do NOT use threats or scare tactics to force a sale. Animal shelters and reputable rescues are NOT the worst-case scenario; These places almost always invest more into an animal than they get in return. Beware of irresponsible “rescues.” Ask if it has a 501(c)(3) and is operating as a recognized nonprofit. Always research the history of a rescue prior to donating.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) both urge people to resist purchasing pets from “backyard breeders” and puppy mills despite the tactics used to generate guilt and pity.
Backyard breeders are defined by Almost Home Rescue as “Someone who keeps a number of dogs and either breeds them deliberately or just lets them breed. They usually have no understanding or concern about breed standards, genetics, socializing and maintaining health.” The successful backyard breeder often seeks additional dogs for breeding by obtaining “free to a good home” dogs and are at high risk of escalating into puppy mills.
Purchasing dogs from irresponsible breeders, puppy mills or irresponsible rescues perpetuates the irresponsibility and contributes to more animals being produced regardless of the demand or lack thereof. To help combat pet overpopulation, people should make sure they aren’t inadvertently supporting and encouraging these operations. Many pet stores serve as the middle man between puppy mill and buyer, so make sure to research from whom the pet store obtains its dogs.
According to HSUS, ASPCA and other animal welfare organizations, these are some of the most common signs of backyard breeders and puppy mills:
- Refusal to provide veterinarian's name or documentation
- Individual, breeder or rescue selling large number of puppies with constant availability. Beware of “rescues” with large quantities of purebred puppies. Not all rescues are reputable.
- Constant advertisement in newspapers, social media or fliers
- Content with animal going to first person with cash in hand
- Roadside or parking lot sales
- Seller has multiple breeds including rare or new ones
- Money is their top priority. Suitable home and getting to know the new owner should be most important.
- Sales at flea markets
- Not allowed to meet the puppy’s parents or view their home/breeding facility
- Discourages spay/neutering
- Foul odor from the animal or property of seller
- Unhealthy appearance
- Available before 8 weeks old
- No health or return policy
If you suspect that someone is irresponsibly breeding animals or operating a puppy mill you can notify Animal Control. Currently there are no laws prohibiting puppy mill operations, but these operations are required to maintain food, water, shelter, health and other standards by Alabama law. In the city of Cullman, residents are always required to have all pets licensed through the City as well as proof of rabies vaccinations. The County does not require a license, but rabies vaccinations are state mandated.
If an individual says a pet is current on vaccinations but has not seen a veterinarian, that is a red flag. Rabies vaccinations are required by law and are only administered by licensed vets. Rabies vaccinations cannot be purchased at a store or given at home.
The Tribune spoke with Capt. Tim McKoy, director of Cullman County Animal Control, about Cullman and the existence of puppy mills.
“We have puppy mills in Cullman County, but there are no laws against it,” said McKoy. “We do welfare checks multiple times a year and as long as they are meeting the minimum requirements, that's all we can do.”
Each year the Animal Legal Defense Fund releases the U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings, listing each state and U.S. territory in order from best to worst based on laws and ordinances in place to protect animals. Every year, Alabama is in the lowest tier, ranking 41st in 2017 below Puerto Rico and Guam. Animal Control cannot enforce laws that do not exist.
Atti’s Bill was introduced in the 2017 session of the Alabama Legislature in hopes of putting a stop to puppy mills and backyard breeders. The bill had its merits but met strong opposition from the American Kennel Club (AKC) for overreaching in its intended effect. According to AKC, the bill would have “criminalized not feeding your dog twice a day, not providing constant access to and from an exercise yard, not providing an indoor enclosure that does not fall below 45 degrees regardless of breed and enclosing a dog in a dog crate.” It was not passed. A revised version of Atti’s Bill is set to be introduced in 2019.
As animal advocates continue to push for stronger laws in Alabama to protect our animals, such as puppy mill legislation, spay/neuter initiatives and hot car laws, there are other ways individuals can help. Get involved and volunteer with shelters and rescues. Have your pets spayed/neutered to prevent unwanted litters. Consider adoption from a shelter or rescue first. If you don’t find the perfect pet there, seek a reputable and highly recommended breeder. Ask local veterinarians for advice or guidance when searching for a pet. Know where the animals are coming from and avoid providing financial support to those contributing to the overpopulation. Report Facebook posts that violate policy.
Christy Perry is a general news reporter for The Cullman Tribune and can be reached at christy@CullmanTribune.com.