Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster (foreground) and Dept. of Agriculture Director Jon Hagler inspect dogs in Doolittle; Mo. before Humane Society staff begin seizing the animals as part of a Prosecution Bark Alert raid. (Photo courtesy state of Missouri)

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster (foreground) and Dept. of Agriculture Director Jon Hagler inspect dogs in Doolittle; Mo. before Humane Society staff begin seizing the animals as part of a Prosecution Bark Alert raid. (Photo courtesy state of Missouri)

CITYWIDE — Six Santa Monica pet stores have pledged to take a stand against puppy mills and instead only support local animal adoption programs in their quest to connect Santa Monicans with their new best friends.

The stores also pledged to not sell pups — period.

The pact is part of an ongoing effort by the Humane Society of the United States to end support of “puppy mills,” a practice where people breed and rebreed the same female dog repeatedly to produce a large number of puppies that can then be sold to pet stores.

According to the Humane Society, the majority of puppies sold by pet stores come from these kinds of breeders, and by signing the pledge, pet stores throughout Santa Monica can be exemplars of a more enlightened business practice.

“These stores have set a positive example of corporate responsibility for other businesses to follow,” said Jennifer Fearing, the California senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Roughly 3,000 independent pet stores in the United States carry puppies, roughly 4 million of which are sold each year.

Of those, the Humane Society estimates that 2 million come from puppy mills.

Animal rights advocates say the practice of overbreeding dogs is cruel not only to the mother, which suffers huge physical damage in repeatedly bearing offspring, but also to the dogs, which, by federal law, may be raised in cages that offer them no more than six inches between the tip of their nose and the wall.

The dogs grow up in terrible living conditions, and their health suffers for it, said Emylia Clark, rescue coordinator with the Animal Wellness Centers, one of the six Santa Monica businesses that signed the pledge.

The limited genetic pool also spells problems for the dogs and for their future owners.

“When you have breeding situations like that, it’s often not someone who has a lot of knowledge of genetics,” she said. “They’re turning out dogs that have all these issues, like eye problems and deformed limbs.”

Clark used to work at a rescue group that rescued puppy mill dogs from the pound, where they were dumped after they could no longer breed.

“They used them up and threw them away,” she said.

The biggest problem that Clark sees, however, is the fact that the millions of new puppies produced by the mills add to an already crowded canine situation.

According to the Humane Society, 4 million cats and dogs are put down every year in the country. No Kill Los Angeles, an animal advocacy group, estimates that in 2011 alone 17,401 healthy dogs and cats were put down in Los Angeles city shelters.

“With so many animals being euthanized in city shelters, it’s a tragedy that they are continually breeding and breeding even if they can’t find homes for the dogs,” Clark said.

Santa Monica’s Animal Shelter has a much better track record. Roughly 98 percent of the dogs that come through its doors are either adopted out or returned to their owners, as are 77 percent of cats, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, spokesperson for the Santa Monica Police Department, which runs the shelter.

The Animal Wellness Centers do not sell dogs. Instead, they adopt out animals rescued from city shelters, particularly those that are about to be euthanized.

In signing the pledge, Animal Kingdom of Santa Monica, Centinela Feed & Pet Supplies, Got Pet Food, Healthy Spot and To Wag For have all committed to helping shelters reach local families.

As of last week, over 2,000 pet stores have made the pledge.

It’s not a legislative act, and it won’t stop puppy mills overnight, but it’s a highly symbolic one, said Dale Bartlett, public policy manager with the Puppy Mill Campaign at the Humane Society.

“Really what it does is send a statement that it’s not only possible for pet-related businesses to thrive without selling puppies, but it’s the right thing to do,” Bartlett said.

Those who sign the pledge may display a placard that reads, “We love puppies; that’s why we don’t sell them,” to display in their stores, as well as materials about adopting a dog or finding a responsible breeder.

For more information about how to find responsibly-bred or rescue animals, visit www.hsus.org.

 

ashley@smdp.com

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