Some Notes On Pennsylvania Puppy Mills

Pommy Jones lives in Pennyslvania, a state known as the puppy mill capital of the east. Of the seven most notorious puppy mill states, it was the only one east of the Mississippi River. When it launched its campaign against puppy mills, the Humane League listed Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma along with Pennsylvania as the worst puppy mill states.

A puppy mill is an dog breeding operation that places profits ahead of animal welfare. Cheap accomodations help improve profits but they rarely benefit the animals. In 2008, MSNBC famously depicted puppy mill dogs in small crates with chicken wire floors stacked one on top of another. The dogs were forced to relieve themselves in their cages, often soiling the dog below. The puppies are often weened from their mothers prior to the recommended eight to ten weeks. And females are often impregnated the first time they’re in heat after the last delivery.

While puppy mills can be located around the country, they are found in higher concentrations in the Humane League’s notorious seven states. These states have a legal framework that permits or tolerates substandard conditions for breeding dogs. Rural Lancaster County is home to hundreds of low-budget, high profit operations. In 2005, it was estimated that the Amish country produced over 200,000 puppies a year. Wholesale production of dogs doesn’t produce quality animals. Two notorious puppy mill owners, Raymond and Joyce Stoltzfus, were forced to compensate customers who purchased dogs with an vast array of health problems.

Pommie Jones lives in Lancaster but he wasn’t purchased in Amish country which is only a dozen miles outside the city. He arrived from upstate Pennsylvania. When we found him, he wasn’t living in a crated cage. He was quartered in the breeder’s house.

The best breeders follow a breeding strategy with the goal of improving the health and traits of the breed. They continuously study pedigrees, routinely check the health of all their dogs, properly socialize their animals and stand behind all their puppies. When you talk to a breeder, ask questions to help discern how closely they follow this strategy.

In 2008, conditions improved for dogs and dog lovers. That year Gov. Ed Rendell signed a complete overhaul of Pennsylvania’s dog law. The state went from having some of the most lax laws in the country to the strictest. Scores of substandard kennels were closed and tens of thousands of dogs were freed from stark conditions. Many breeders were forced to invest thousands of dollars to improve conditions for their animals.

Many Pennsylvania breeders simply closed shop rather than comply with the law. The number of commercial breeders plummeted by two-thirds when the law went into effect. Needless to say, the breeders who took this course, were not the ones who followed the philosophy mentioned above.

We remain uncertain about Amish country dogs – largely because we find most Amish breeders are driven by profit and not by a desire to improve the breed – but we do feel better about Pennsylvania dogs in general. We’d still like to see a systematic enforcement of the new standards over an extended period of time.