In a disturbing trend, pet stores say they are selling more puppies than ever before during the coronavirus pandemic that has forced many non-essential businesses to close doors.

A phone survey of 34 puppy-selling pet stores in 14 states conducted by the Humane Society of the United 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 and that “it’s like Christmas right now.”

When they patronize pet stores, consumers unknowingly support the suffering and neglect of animals at puppy mills, which often supply dogs to pet stores. More business for pet stores equals more business for puppy mills and therefore more suffering for animals at these large-scale commercial breeding operations, which often deny the animals in their care the most basic needs, including food, water and veterinary care.

The pet stores we called were in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, 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 those stores should be selling puppies in the midst of a pandemic.

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 34 puppy-selling pet stores HSUS surveyed:
  • 18 reported puppy sales are higher than usual
  • Six 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 selling puppies
  • Just two puppy stores of the 34 surveyed are temporarily closed during the pandemic.

Many of the pet stores surveyed said they’ve taken steps to reduce potential coronavirus exposure to their customers by reducing store hours and/or only selling puppies by appointment. But puppy shoppers risk more than coronavirus exposure when they bring home a pet store puppy.

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tied pet stores to an outbreak of a strain of campylobacter—a bacterium that can spread from dogs to people, and that causes severe diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain--that’s resistant to multiple drugs. The CDC, for instance, documented a case of a senior citizen who had to have part of his stomach removed as a result of his campylobacter infection after he bought a puppy at a pet store.

HSUS investigations of pet stores like Petland have also revealed sick puppies suffering from distemper, parvo and campylobacter and we hear all the time from consumers who buy puppy-mill-sourced puppies from pet stores only to have the animals fall sick or even die.

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.

The company of a pet can be invaluable during stressful times, and especially now, when most of the country is forced to stay indoors for an indefinite period. Many animal shelters are expanding their foster programs during the pandemic and encouraging adoptions. 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. If you’re looking to bring a companion animal home, please reach out to your local animal shelter. Most now use innovative social distancing programs to help place the animals in their care, and there’s never been a better time to save a life.