Puppies sold at pet stores often come from inhumane puppy mills, says Linda Haghgoo, and that's why the two Pet Club stores she manages in Chandler and Gilbert have pledged never to sell them.
Fourteen pet stores in the East Valley have signed on to the Humane Society of the United States' "puppy-friendly pledge" in an effort to combat the proliferation of puppy mills, which exist to turn out puppies for profit. Instead, the stores have pledged to support adoptions from shelters, rescue organizations and responsible breeders who care for their animals.
"There are plenty of pets out there that need homes," Haghgoo said. "We don't need more puppy mill puppies."
Beau Archer, Humane Society of the U.S. spokesman, said puppy mill operators keep their dogs in cages for up to 24 hours a day and breed them continuously. The cages often have wire floors, and the dogs get little vet care and no socialization. It's cruel treatment, Archer said.
About a third of the roughly 9,000 pet stores in the country sell puppies, he said. Generally, a broker buys a large quantity of puppies from puppy mills in Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa and Arkansas - although there are puppy mills in every state - and sells them to pet stores, he said.
"Most of the animals are coming from the Midwest," Archer said. "Most pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills."
The campaign against puppy mills began in July and now has 300 stores participating nationwide, he said. The group estimates that 2 million to 4 million puppy mill puppies are sold each year in the U.S.
So far, the Humane Society of the U.S. is courting stores that did not previously sell puppies in an effort to show pet store owners who do sell the animals that puppies don't have to be a vital component of the business.
"There are very, very successful pet stores that don't sell any animals at all, and they're doing great business," Archer said. "We want to be able to congratulate them and give them some praise."
DISEASE & DEFECTS
Archer said puppies from puppy mills are often prone to medical problems.
Haghgoo, whose stores sell pet supplies but not animals, said customers who bought puppies at pet stores often complain about their pets' health issues.
"I really haven't heard any good, healthwise, come out of them," she said.
One local chain that does sell puppies at 10 pet stores throughout the Valley insists it deals only with reputable breeders. The Phoenix-based Valley Pet Group of Companies owns Puppies 'N Love in the Chandler Fashion Center and at shops in Superstition Springs Mall, Santan Village, Arizona Mills Mall and Scottsdale Fashion Square.
Messages left with the corporate office went unreturned. However, the company's Web site claims that their veterinarians will not accept unhealthy or physically impaired puppies. The puppies they do select receive weekly veterinary examinations and are kept in clean kennels. They also are rotated throughout the day to designated play areas to ensure they are getting exercise and socialization, according to the company's Web site.
"Our puppies are purchased only from caring private breeders," the site states. "We do not support puppy mills nor any other unethical breeders."
Scott McComb, a veterinarian with McQueen Veterinary Clinic at McQueen and Pecos roads in Chandler, said it's difficult to discern if puppies bought at pet stores have a higher incidence of disease or genetic defect, even though his clients commonly state where they acquired their pets. He said he sees ill dogs from shelters, rescues and even reputable breeders.
People often have an "emotional answer" that pet store puppies are bad, he said.
"But the reality is, there are a lot of problem puppies out there," McComb said.
And the quality of pet stores that sell puppies can vary, he added.
"I can't really guarantee that all pet stores would fit the same bill," McComb said.
Jan McClellan, an animal rights advocate and Chandler resident, is among a handful of protesters who have targeted Puppies 'N Love at the Scottsdale Fashion Center every Saturday for more than a month. McClellan previously was a co-founder of Citizens Against Covance, an animal testing lab that opened in Chandler this year.
She claims that the "peaceful pet store protests" have been instrumental in shutting down three other Scottsdale pet stores that sold puppies. The phone numbers of the three pet stores she named - Posh Puppy, Just Pets and Pet Landing - have been disconnected, and their Web sites also have been taken down.
The group doesn't aim to shut them down, though, only to get them to stop their "collusion" with puppy mills, McClellan said.
"We are aware that they all deny that the puppies come from puppy mills, but they do," she said.
McClellan said that after the initial successes, group members felt it was time to take on Valley Pet Group.
"We thought it was time to go after the big guys," she said.
The protests are slated to continue every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Scottsdale Fashion Square indefinitely, until it has some impact, she said.
TO A GOOD HOME
Kari Nienstedt, Humane Society of the U.S. Arizona director, said anyone can walk in and buy a puppy at a pet store. Responsible breeders care about their animals and want to meet the person to whom they are giving a puppy, she said.
"Generally, reputable breeders don't sell to pet stores," Nienstedt said. "Puppy mills only thrive because people buy the puppies."
Archer said his and other Humane Society groups wants to encourage people to adopt from animal shelters and rescue groups. If someone does buy from a breeder, they should visit the breeder's home to see how the dogs are treated, he said. Responsible breeders keep few breeding animals and treat them as pets, and they'll want to meet whomever wants to adopt the puppies, he said.
Maricopa County's East Valley animal shelter, at 2630 W. 8th Street in Mesa, had around 20 puppies awaiting adoption as of last week. Donna Stepp, a shelter supervisor, said the number of animals brought to the facility usually drops off in autumn, but not this year.
"We're still pretty full," she said.
The shelter, which has a 400-animal capacity, gets about 26,000 animals a year and has more than 300 dogs and cats right now, Stepp said. Some of the increase has to do with the economic downturn and people losing their jobs, she said.
Puppies normally are adopted quickly, unlike older dogs, which often languish, she said.
The county has an application process for people wishing to adopt a pet, Stepp said. The shelter checks such things as the person's living situation and whether they have young children.
Stepp said she would discourage people from buying a puppy at a pet store. Those puppies often are overpriced, have health problems and lack socialization, she said.
For more information on puppy mills, visit www.humanesociety.org/puppymills.