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September 13, 2011

Pet Mills Churn out More Than Puppies

  • The HSUS rescued this beautiful cat from a mill-style breeder near Montreal. Michelle Riley/HSUS

  • Birds in pet stores probably come from a bird mill, or else were captured in the wild. Neither one is a humane choice. Michelle Riley/HSUS

  • Our Animal Rescue Team rescued this lop-eared rabbit from a mill in North Carolina. Kim Alboum

Pet stores are full of animals that seem to fit almost any lifestyle.

Allergic to cats? Try a guinea pig instead!

Small space? Get a hamster or a gerbil!

Rodents give you the heebie jeebies? Try a parakeet.

The impulse purchase of a pet is usually a big mistake—small pets don't always have small needs, and the decision to provide a lifetime of care to any animal should never be taken lightly.

But when choosing a pet there's something more to consider: Your dollars might be supporting a pet mill.

Industrial Breeding More Than Puppies

Puppy mills are mass-breeding facilities that crowd hundreds of dogs into barren cages with little regard for their welfare. The breeding dogs at these farms are forced into lives of confinement, only to be destroyed or discarded when they can no longer churn out puppies.

But puppies aren't the only products of breeding mills: Kittens, ferrets, rabbits, birds, and small pets like hamsters and guinea pigs are also often churned out in deplorable, factory-style conditions by dealers who sell them to pet stores.

Shocking Conditions

Commercial pet dealers who breed or sell most warm-blooded animals to pet stores are required to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But The HSUS' review of USDA inspection reports reveals that many of these breeders are guilty of repeated violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act for crowded and dirty conditions.

Inspection reports from 2004-2006 reveal Animal Welfare Act violations that include:

  • a cattery full of expired medications, which could leave the kittens exposed to deadly diseases
  • a small-animal dealer with over 2,000 hamsters and other small pets inside cages that had reportedly not been cleaned in weeks; sick hamsters being treated without a veterinary consult; holes in the facility walls, and accumulation of dust, cobwebs, and rodent droppings throughout the facility
  • a small-animal breeder with "dead hamsters found in different enclosures housing other hamsters," as well as "green algae" growing in some of the animals' water bottles
  • 11 guinea pigs housed inside a small tub only large enough for four
  • a ferret and chinchillas without enough room in their cages to stand up
  • rabbits in overcrowded enclosures less than 9 inches tall  

Don't Support the Industry

As poor as conditions are for many of the animals in USDA-licensed facilities, conditions are even worse in many bird or reptile mills. Because these facilities are not subject to USDA licensing or inspections at all, birds and cold-blooded animals often spend their lives without sufficient space, vet care, fresh air, and sunlight.

Without laws in place to protect these animals, the best way for pet lovers to stop the pet mills is not to purchase pet-store animals.  

Finding the Perfect Match

So how do you share your home with a bird, bunny or hamster without supporting a pet mill?

First, research the pet's needs to see if you truly have the time, space and dedication to give him a lifetime of good care. Just because a pet is "cheap" does not mean his housing or vet care will be.

Next, visit your local animal shelter. Many shelters have a variety of small pets waiting for new homes, and some keep a waiting list for people seeking a particular species.

In addition, private rescue groups exist for almost every kind of pet, from rabbits to reptiles. Visit www.Petfinder.com to look up a shelter or rescue group in your area.

With so many loving pets in need of homes waiting at shelters and rescue groups, avoiding pet-mill purchases should be simple.

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