Puppy Mills are Bad Capitalism – Blog the Change for Animals

You and I know animals are not just commodities. And that puppy mills are inherently cruel. This post is for the folks who say, “It’s just a dog.” Spread the word.

Puppy mills hurt consumers

Puppy Mill Outlet?

Capitalism Gone Awry - This is Not How You Buy a Puppy

So let’s define our terms. Just what is a puppy mill? And what is capitalism?

The ASPCA simply defines a puppy mill as a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad to you. After all, we’re just talking about dogs here. What’s wrong with making profit? Isn’t that the point of capitalism?

Well, scholars have been arguing over the definition of capitalism since its development as an economic system in 16th century Europe. Most agree that capitalism is defined by several key features:

  • private ownership of the means of production;
  • the intention to make a personal profit (yep, you were right); and,
  • a competitive marketplace.

Puppy mills certainly have the first two features. They are owned by individuals or private companies to make as much profit as possible.

But is the puppy market actually competitive? And does it give consumers a good product? I argue no. And here’s why.

Puppies are not uniform

Unlike blenders or cars, each puppy is unique. A puppy is a living creature created from the genetic material of two other dogs. And the results are never certain.

So while a pet store might sell every Saint Bernard for $1,800, you don’t know if the puppy is “worth” $1,800 because each dog is different.

Imagine how angry you would feel if you went to a car dealership to buy a two door car with a manual transmission just to find afterwards that your neighbor got a fully-loaded version of his car for the same price you paid? You’d probably be telling everyone in the world how that dealer ripped you off.

And yet people routinely buy puppies at pet stores at a set price without knowing if it’s actually the same quality as the puppy in the next cage.

Puppies have bad warranties; or none at all

For years pet stores would offer a money back guarantee if your puppy became ill in the first week. Just return the puppy and you’ll get a refund for the price you paid.

But here’s something crazy about puppies that isn’t true of refrigerators: they’re cute. Oh, and lovable. And most decent human beings are not willing to return a sick puppy to a pet store to be killed just to get their money back. Most people will concentrate their efforts on trying to make the puppy well.

Stories from people who bought pet store puppies just to find they were seriously ill led to the passage of “puppy lemon laws” in several states, fewer than half, actually. You can find the list of states with puppy lemon laws here along with the conditions for filing a claim.

If you live in one of the 32 states with no lemon laws, you’re out of luck.

Puppies have an unreasonable markup

Nothing will stop a consumer from buying something faster than knowing they’re being overcharged for something that costs very little to make. “You expect me to pay $100 for that? It only cost 50¢ to make!”

Well how much of a markup do you think that $3,000 pet store puppy has?

According to an article by the New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse, a commercial breeder receives as little as $10 to $100 for a puppy he’s bred. Which means the pets store mark up can be as much as 30 to 300 times the original price of the dog. That would be like paying between $60 and $600 for a t-shirt! To give you some perspective, new cars have a typical markup of 5-8%.

Puppy mill pups are inferior “products”

Because puppy mill owners do not do expensive x-rays and genetic testing on their dogs (like responsible breeders do), provide optimal raising conditions, and socialize their dogs, pet store puppies from mills are sickly, more likely to have genetic problems, and are subject to behavioral problems.

If you are buying a cute puppy for your child, don’t you want to give them a dog who will be healthy for years to come and a loving companion?

And yet it’s about more than just capitalism

Sure, you might say “It’s just a dog.” And you might not think it matters too much where a puppy comes from.

But I know you. You may  spout a bunch of hardcore rhetoric about crazy animal lovers that don’t understand business. But you don’t always make decisions based on economics. And deep down, you don’t want to perpetuate a cruel system. You just want a cute puppy for your kids.

Here’s how you can straighten out the unfair marketplace where poor quality, overpriced dogs are sold to consumers with few protections. And get a cute puppy at the same time.

  • Check out Petfinder. At the Petfinder search engine, you can look for puppies in your area at local shelters and rescue organizations.
  • Set on a pure bred dog? Check out a breed rescue group. You can find many here.
  • Breed rescue groups can also refer you to high quality, hobby (as opposed to profit-making) breeders.
  • And keep your mind open. Sure puppies are adorable. But they chew and poop and cry. A beautiful older dog might be a better fit. Once again, Petfinder will give you hundreds of options.

Puppy Mills - Boycott Stores that Sell PuppiesGive in to your highest ideals to prevent cruelty to animals. Or just be a good capitalist. I don’t care which. Just don’t support puppy mills. Don’t buy your pet from stores that keep them in business, like Petland.

[Photos from Flickr, found here and here.]

Today is Blog the Change for Animals. Read more here:


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  1. Here here! I love the angle you have taken here. If you can’t appeal to one’s genuine love of animals, find a way to argue using the type of logic he or she does understand. In order to reach people who don’t already care we need to be more creative. I feel kind of tapped out on that front, unfortunately. You have given me some new inspiration!

    After all, who wants a lemon puppy?

    • The thing is not everyone really loves animals–including people who live with them. My only hope is this pops up on someone’s FB page and gets read by someone who hasn’t thought about this yet.

  2. Thank you for posting a sane argument against bad puppy-raising practices. As a former Corresponding Secretary of a national breed club, I’d just like to add that it’s the Corresponding Secretary’s job to know who the careful breeders are, and to provide pointers to people asking about puppies of that breed. You can find contact info listed for every breed at AKC.org.

    Many people really just want to buy a puppy the same way they buy other commercial goods. Price is what matters. A conscientious hobby breeder will charge a goodly amount of money for a puppy, but that money goes to recop the costs of genetic and health tests, prenatal checkups, the breeding itself, all of the supplies and supplements needed to take care of the puppies, veterinary care for everybody, shots, food and supplements for the bitch, OFA and CERF testing and registry… it goes on and on. A lot of people look at that and say, “Wow — that much for a puppy? I just want a bargain pet.” Most of those bargain pets are the ones who end up at the shelters and in the rescues later on.

    • I’m very thankful to the local Golden Retriever breed club for pointing me to Honey’s breeder—after spending a long time grilling me and sharing every bad point of the breed.

      You’re right that most people have no idea what responsible breeders do to guarantee healthy dogs.

  3. I really love your last section. Many people who go to stores like Petland do so because they just want a puppy for their kids… the people outside the dog-world so much that they do not know the problems with Petland probably don’t know where else to find a dog. They are also, probably, some of the people who don’t think they can find purebred dogs in shelters.

    Anyhow, I really liked the more ‘clinical’ look at puppy mills.

    Found you through BTC4A blog hop

    • Thanks for stopping by. There were so many eloquent posts on this topic that I knew I needed to look at things a little differently. I’m hoping this gets some attention on FB or elsewhere outside the dog blog world.

  4. Great post! Like Kristine said, you’ve provided a totally new angle that will appeal to more than our regular “catchment”.

  5. Money talks! Very well said!

  6. I like how you break this down. Jen’s dad and wife bought a poodle from a pet store because it looked so cute and so lonely. Later they discovered the poodle had heart problems. Is that because of poor breeding? Hard to say, but the fact remains that, like you said, they had no way of knowing.

    • What a great angle, indeed! Yes, Rumpy, I think that’s what they’re counting on – those big sad eyes looking so cute & lonely. Our entry into today’s blog event talks specifically about all the horrible medical issues our local shelter is dealing with in their fight against puppy mills. [Some of the dental issues – wow, I had NO idea!]

      If we can convince the general public that it’s not just supporting cruelty to animals (I can’t believe I just said “just”! As if that’s not enough???) but that it’s also a Buyer Beware situation, hopefully we’ll be able to convince even more people to stop supporting this “industry” by buying from stores like PetLand.

  7. This is a wonderful article – I hope it reaches some capitalists who might fall for the cute pup in the store with the astronomical mark-up. Sigh.

  8. Excellent post, Pamela. Love the unique angle and hope it gets people thinking. Thanks for “Being the Change”!

  9. This is such a great post!
    I really like the angle you’ve taken here.
    Often arguments against retail pet sales are met with talk about consumer freedom and capitalism. I will definitely have to remember your points. Not only does it not make sense from a pet-loving humane perspective, it doesn’t make sense from a money-making business perspective, either.
    Great argument!

  10. Fantastic post Pamela! Seriously!
    What interesting and well thought out argument against puppy mills. I think your points about a competitive market place are correct. In most cases, puppy mill puppies are inferior “products” because neither they nor their parents receive any real medical care in most cases. Add the issue of genetics to it and well, how could you say you’re buying anything worth the $1200 you spend on it?

    I did want to just add to your point about the unreasonable markup. Places like Petland and puppy millers who sell over the internet often count on the markup, and the cutsie names they give these dogs, to be appealing to people. You know that whole “keeping up with the Joneses” thing? Well, it’s not all that different with dogs. Being able to brag to a friend that you got your Morkiepoo or Yorkiepoo or Labradoodle for $1200 makes you sound like a big roller. That somehow the price you paid equals the quality of the dog. Thus, the term “designer dogs breeds”. They’re suddenly like a pair of Jordache jeans.

    Getting people to realize that paying a lot for a dog doesn’t mean anything is a hard thing to do. Appealing to the fact that that $1200 could turn into $3000 or $4000 in medical care just might. At least I hope so.

    Thanks for bringing such an interesting angle to this cause Pamela. As always, you make reading your blog so very interesting.

    Mel Freer

  11. Fantastically witty! Love it! There’s more than one way to crack a nut, isn’t there? 😉

  12. Excellent post, Pamela. I can’t add anything, you and the other commenters have said it all:)

  13. Awesome post! I really love your appeal to those outside the dog community, based on common sense. You always approach things in such a diplomatic way, it’s hard to disagree with your conclusions. Glad you’re on our side, you’d be a weight opponent ;0)

  14. You always have such logical arguments for your points. It’s one of the things I love about your writing! I think you’ve laid out great points for why people shouldn’t support puppy mills and pet stores who support them.

  15. Loved your reference to all the States with missing the “no-lemon” law! I think that more of us need to focus on the simple dollar and sense (intended;) economics of “why pay more when you are getting so much less”. I think most consumers don’t like to be considered suckers, so the high price point can start to work against Petland and their ilk in this context – especially when we have quotes from Petland themselves about how this is strictly a numbers issue. In other words, it has nothing to do with compassion or protests.

    Having said that, I agree with Mel regarding a goodly portion of our culture that equates price with quality, status, and an emotional satisfaction of having something others cannot afford. Our economic downturn has not knocked the sense into or the stuffing out of those who measure their own value in this way. But the approach you have taken here will absolutely help the vast numbers of the public who are completely uninformed or who only care about their convenience. And *that* is who we want to send the message to!

    Thanks so much for joining this effort, Pamela – I always enjoy your perspective on issues!

  16. Brilliant. What more can I say? Just brilliant.

  17. Yeah, that’s part of the problem, innit? When people pay $1,000 for a dog at a pet store, they assume they’re getting quality, because, after all, you get what you pay for. Conversely, a dog from a rescue “must be” damaged goods (at the very least, used!) because you’re not paying top price. And what do people want? Something they can brag about. “Guess what this dog cost me. Guess!”


  18. Absolutely fantastic post. I love that you explored the issue from a different angle.

    It’s too bad that people can’t keep up with the Joneses by being the most savvy consumer and the one with the biggest heart, rather than the one that spent the most on a designer dog. Maybe someday…

  19. Fantastic post! I had no idea how much the markup is on puppies (though I figured it must be a lot). I think if we can continue to educate the public that the quality of these puppy mill dogs are seriously questionable, we might be able to make some progress. No one wants to feel like they’ve been hustled. Great post!

  20. Pamela,
    My sister always says I am so diplomatic, but you put me to shame! You are always so spot on in putting things in perspective, and breaking the topic down and relating it to something people can understand.

    I will post this link on my facebook page.

    As someone above me said, I’m glad you’re on our side!

  21. I seriously love your take on things and this post is no exception. I wish we could make sure every person considering buying a puppy from a pet store could read this post 😉