How Backyard Breeders are Negating Pet Shop Bans
An Animal Rights Article from

FROM Elizabeth Burns, Animal Blawg
March 2020

Backyard breeders are filling in a gap in the marketplace that allows buyers to get dogs at lower prices under the guise of a “family breeder” as opposed to a dog from a puppy mill.

Pug Puppies
Sick Pug puppies - Photo courtesy of The Pug Queen (instagram: @thepugqueen)

Just over a month ago, two pug babies were surrendered to The Pug Queen and Tiny Paws Pug Rescue. Sisters Bella and Sadie were only 3.5 months old, but both had tested positive for canine distemper. The virus begins by attacking the respiratory system before replicating and attacking the rest of the dog’s lymphatic system, gastrointestinal tract, and central nervous system. Canine distemper is usually fatal if contracted, and even if a dog survives the disease, it often has lasting nervous system damage. Sadly, despite all these rescues did to treat and care for these babies, both succumbed to the disease. Distemper, while incredibly deadly, is highly preventable with the distemper vaccination.

The Pug Queen and other rescues in Southern California are all too familiar with situations like this. Most of the dogs that these rescues take in come from backyard breeders. Backyard breeders are generally different from puppy mills. Puppy mills are considered large-scale commercial facilities that breed as many puppies as possible to sell to vendors (i.e. pet stores). The dogs are often kept in deplorable conditions with little care. Backyard breeders share some similarities with puppy mills. These breeders are considered to be unethical, and they are often in the business solely for the money. They are usually inexperienced in dog breeding, and they take little consideration of their dogs’ needs, often providing minimal food, water, shelter, and veterinary care. Most backyard breeders also don’t take selective breeding or genetic issues into account. The result is sickly puppies often sold before they are supposed to be separated from the mother. However, backyard breeders are often attractive because they advertise “purebred” dogs.

Despite the purported benefits of owning a mutt, a lot of people are still drawn to purebred dogs. When getting a purebred people know what they are getting, i.e. there are breed standards for each recognized purebred that help inform a potential owner of health issues, temperament, or care requirements. Respectable, reliable breeders also know the history and health of the bloodline of their dogs and can inform potential owners of any issues to watch out for. Breeders also often guarantee the “quality” of their dogs and will even take “returns” of dogs that fail to meet health or other standards. There is also a sense of prestige and status that comes with owning a purebred dog. When buying a puppy from a breeder, the owner is given purebred paperwork that can be filed with the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Many people also choose to buy purebred puppies from pet stores. Before the plight of puppy mills became widely known, people often chose to buy puppies from pet shops. With campaigns against puppy mills, pet stores have tried to rebuild their reputations by showcasing the “breeders” they obtain their puppies from. Putting a face and name to the breeder often helps consumers feel better about buying from a pet store. Puppies still come with paperwork, and it is easy to find the breed you are looking for. There is also a misconception that pet store puppies are well-taken care of as opposed to buying from other sources. However, California, Maryland, and possibly New York have decided to ban the sale of puppies, kittens, and rabbits in pet stores, but pet stores can offer services and allow shelters to showcase adoptable animals. While this sounds like a great way to stop supporting puppy mills and encourage adopting a shelter animal, it also drives people to find other ways to get the specific dogs they desire.

Unfortunately, as with any product on the market, consumers look for the cheapest way to get what they want—maximize benefit at the lowest possible cost. Pet stores and good breeders charge a lot for their dogs, and these prices are not affordable for a lot of people. For example, a purebred French bulldog from a reputable breeder can average about $3,000 depending on the coloration. Why buy a $3,000 puppy when you can get a puppy of the same breed for $800? Backyard breeders are filling in a gap in the marketplace that allows buyers to get dogs at lower prices under the guise of a “family breeder.” People inherently feel better when they buy from a person breeding dogs in their home. The operation is not a puppy mill, and there is an expectation that small-time and hobby breeders take good care of their dogs. But, as The Pug Queen and other rescues know too well, the majority of the dogs they take in come from backyard breeders who neglect their dogs and only breed for profit.

Backyard breeders are harder to police than traditional puppy mills or other unethical breeding operations. These are small, out-of-home breeders that often only have a few dogs. The noises and smells associated with poor care may not be present in the case of a backyard breeder or are far less apparent than in a larger commercial operation. Often, these breeders sell through online websites, such as Craigslist, who do not prevent the sale of animals through these sites and do not ensure the animals are well-cared for. Shutting down backyard breeders largely depends on citizen reporting or rescue intervention, but the enforcement and penalties just do not exist on a level to stop backyard breeders from operating.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has filed a lawsuit in California over a backyard breeding scheme that reaped in thousands of dollars in profits from misrepresenting the puppies being sold. The defendants in the case lied about the age, health, sex, and breed of the puppies they sold. Once purchased, the puppies often died within a few days of arriving at their new homes because of lack of veterinary care. Most puppies had never received vaccinations or even visited a veterinarian before being sold. All the suffering, both for the puppies and the people who bought them, came about because of the drive to make as much money as possible. The ALDF’s primary argument in this case focuses on consumer protection and fraudulent business practices. If ALDF succeeds, the human purchasers in the case will be able to receive some kind of remedy. This case does not specifically highlight the plight of the animals and their entitlement to relief, but a victory would help stop such practices and ultimately protect other animals from similar fates.

Still, the best way to protect animals and stop the demand for backyard breeders is to do research before deciding to buy any pet from an in-home breeder. Research the family, ask other people who have purchased from them before, schedule a home visit, and see the animal in person. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Responsible breeders will be forthcoming with information; unethical breeders will be hesitant to allow visitations or provide photos. Also, do not forget about local shelters and rescues which the pet shop bans are intended to promote. Shelters often receive purebred dogs, and people can set up notifications from the shelter when a dog they are looking for is taken in. Local rescues also often get purebred dogs and many are breed-specific. There are many options that allow people to add a new furry member to their family without having to resort to a backyard breeder.

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