by Megan Fontecchio, McCormack Graduate School student
As a child, a fun Saturday activity for me and my family would be to go from pet store to pet store in my neighborhood for the sole purpose of playing with the puppies that were for sale. My parents always adopted from shelters; however, these pet stores were right down the street and passing by any window without going in was nearly impossible. As a young child, I never understood why my parents would not let me get the cute, fluffy teacup Yorkshire terrier that matched the stuffed animal I had on my bed. I never thought twice about where these dogs came from, what they have been through, and what they go through on a daily basis in the local pet store. I continued to hear the words “puppy mill” leave my mother’s mouth, but I never fully understood what that meant.
Puppy mills tend to be large facilities that breed puppies in mostly inhumane conditions, without proper care, food, or any type of socialization. The main purpose of these mills is to make a profit with very little regard to the health of the puppies, or their quality of life. These puppies then get sold to pet stores around the country and then get sold to customers for upwards of $1000. It becomes hard to tell where these puppies come from once they are in a store. Although store owners do usually have licenses to show that the transaction was legal, it does not prove that these puppies had not suffered or are entirely healthy.
In the past few years, puppy mills have become a burning issue across the United States, more so than in the past. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has been working to shut down puppy mills and encourage those looking to purchase a puppy to adopt one instead. Many local governments have taken on this issue and have put forth laws in their cities or towns that either makes it illegal to sell any dogs at local pet stores, or only allow shelter dogs to be adopted from local stores. In March 2016, the City of Boston under Mayor Marty Walsh became one of about 120 cities in America that has enacted similar bans and this number continues to grow.
The issues that the puppy mills create do not only affect the dogs themselves, they also end up hurting the owners who immediately fall in love with these animals. By purchasing a puppy at an unreasonable price only to find out that they have an underlying disease can cause an individual financial and emotional hardships. Veterinary visits add up very quickly as many of these dogs may eventually need medications or surgeries. The strain on the puppy and the families is very real and completely unnecessary. No individual, family, or animal should have to go through this experience and, little by little, cities across the United States are coming to realize that.
I am proud to be living in an area that recognizes this issue and cares for the quality of life of all animals. Massachusetts has not only shown its dedication to puppies but also has set strict laws for other animals and livestock. And the Department of Food and Agriculture has set terms about treatment of all animals in any facility and requires yearly licensing to make sure that all animals are being treated well and that the facilities are sanitary and up to code.
Going to the pet store when I was younger really was a great way to spend a Saturday. Playing with lots of puppies was every child’s dream. However, with what we know now about where these puppies come from and how they have been treated makes me happy that in many places children can no longer spend their Saturdays as I once did. Even in the town where I grew up, no more puppy stores exist. In fact, my town was the first area in New York to establish the ban on selling puppies in pet stores which has encouraged other cities in the area to follow suit.
Megan Fontecchio studies public administration at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.