In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, shelters and rescues have pivoted swiftly to ensure that more animals get adopted and to make space for others in need. I’ve been reporting on this blog about shelters and rescue groups successfully placing animals into loving homes through expanded fostering programs and innovative adoption strategies, helping both homeless pets and people for whom the love of a companion animal can be a blessing in stressful times like these.
Unfortunately, some puppy-selling pet stores have sought to take advantage of the crisis to fatten their own bottom lines. A phone survey by Humane Society of the United States investigators has found that many pet stores are now doing brisk business in selling dogs, many of whom—we know through our own investigations of these animals’ true sources—are coming from puppy mills. Some stores reported they are selling more puppies during the pandemic than ever before.
The survey of 31 puppy-selling pet stores in 13 states found most pet stores we contacted remain open for business and are selling puppies. Half said puppy sales have been unusually high during the pandemic. Employees told our investigators, who did not identify themselves as HSUS employees, that people believe “now is a good time” to buy puppies because they are home to train the puppies, and that “it’s like Christmas right now.”
The pet stores we called were in states including Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin—all states with “essential business only” mandates. And pet stores that sell food, over the counter medicine and other necessities for animal care should be considered essential. But that doesn’t mean some stores should be using this opportunity to cause more puppy mill suffering.
One pet store even reported long business hours: a saleswoman at Puppy City in Harrisonburg, Virginia, described puppy sales during the pandemic as “crazy,” adding that the store is open seven days a week because they have been selling a lot of puppies over the past two weeks.
Bow Wow Babies in Huntington, New York, said it is selling puppies by appointment-only and limiting puppy buyers in the store to one-at-a-time. Yet on March 30, 11 customers put down deposits on puppies the store has on order—puppies who are not even in the store yet. A Petland, in Florence, Kentucky, said it is "experiencing more puppy sales than normal right now, and suggested puppy shoppers make an appointment because walk-ins may have to line up outside the store.”
Of the 31 puppy-selling pet stores HSUS surveyed:
- 17 reported puppy sales are higher than usual
- Four reported puppy sales are steady, which is normal for this time of year
- Five reported slower than usually puppy sales, but they remain open and are selling puppies
- Three wouldn’t comment on sales, but remain open and are selling puppies.
- Two are temporarily closed during the pandemic.
Lawmakers are increasingly recognizing the dangers of the puppy-mill-pet-store pipeline and so far three states and more than 350 localities have passed measures to end the sales of dogs in pet stores. Many more states and localities are considering similar measures.
But it is consumers who can strike the biggest blow against puppy mills. When consumers buy puppies at pet stores, they are unknowingly supporting the suffering and neglect of animals at puppy mills.
Pet stores also do not prepare consumers for bringing an animal home, which could, in the long run, contribute to more pet homelessness. Our puppy mills campaign frequently hears from consumers who buy puppy-mill-sourced puppies from pet stores only to have the animals fall sick or even die.
On the other hand, there are many benefits to bringing home an animal from a shelter or rescue. Shelters provide advice and offer support to help keep pets and families together. Most shelters conduct thorough behavioral analyses of each pet to ensure they will be the right fit for a family. Shelters also offer opportunities to foster the animals in their care, which gives potential adopters a chance to bring home an animal and bond with them before making a final commitment.
The joys that the human-animal bond has highlighted during this pandemic should not bring misery to breeding dogs stuck in puppy mills. If you’re looking to bring a companion animal home, please reach out to your local animal shelter. In addition to dogs and cats, shelters have a variety of small animals available, including rabbits, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchilla, ferrets and even fish. Most are now using innovative social distancing programs to help place the animals in their care, and there’s never been a better time to save a life.