Political Animal

Supervisor Katy Tang helps ban pet stores from selling puppy mill purebreds

Puppies crammed into wire cages are shipped from mills to pet stores and online buyers across the country. photo: Gaikphotos

The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Kudos to District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang, San Francisco’s animal angel, for her proposal to ban the sale of nonrescue dogs and cats at local pet stores, which the Board of Supervisors passed unanimously last month. The amendment to the city’s health code also bans the sale of animals younger than 8 weeks. “We really do believe that it will send a great message not just in San Francisco but across California, nationwide and hopefully worldwide,” Tang said at the board meeting. Not only does Tang want the thousands of animals taken in by shelters and rescues to have a better chance at finding a forever home, she also wants to prevent pet stores from selling dogs from puppy mills.


Last December, Rolling Stone magazine published journalist Paul Solotaroff’s damning exposé on America’s puppy mill industry, “Inside the Dog Factory,” in which he chronicles a North Carolina raid with the Humane Society of the United States. Breeder Patricia Yates was selling puppies on multiple websites without a license, but the operation was even larger than HSUS had expected. Inside pitch-black rooms reeking of feces and disease, purebred parent dogs who had never been out of a cage or seen the light of day were blind, their jaws missing after their teeth rotted out, some so weak they couldn’t stand; their paws were urine-scalded, their wrists deformed from squatting on wire cages, and some were missing eyes or limbs. One hundred and five dogs came from the Yates house, many of them pregnant or in heat.


Dog auctions, a lesser-known side of the industry profiled by Solotaroff, are held at warehouses in tiny towns like Wheaton, Mo. “One by one, some 300 dogs were placed on a table and sold. Their crates were stacked in an uncooled space in the walled-off half of the warehouse. It was stifling back there, and the air unbreathable from the waste of unwell dogs,” Solotaroff writes. These are the older dogs that breeders no longer want, but that can still fetch top dollar from others who want to profit from the multimillion-dollar purebred machine. There were dogs with “stomach hernias and bleeding rectums and ears rotted off from hematomas,” and auctioneers called out bids while touting the dogs’ ability to produce a few more litters. (“She’s a 2012 model and showin’ a belly; she’ll work hard for you!”) A pair of French bulldogs — the canine du jour, particularly in San Francisco — “battered and sick after eight or nine years of being bred” went for top dollar.


Roughly half of the 2 million puppies bred in mills are sold in pet stores (the rest are sold online). “Most every pup sold in stores in America comes from this kind of suffering — or worse,” John Goodwin, the director of the puppy mills campaign for HSUS, told Solotaroff. “If you buy a puppy from a pet store, this is what you’re paying for and nothing else: a dog raised in puppy-mill evil.”


It is shocking to me that a nation thought to love dogs so much has done nothing to stop not only puppy mills, but also the backyard breeding industry. Then again, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees dog breeding, has a budget under $30 million (the Department of Defense spends that every 25 minutes). The USDA also has just one law to govern “commercial dogs,” the antiquated 1966 Animal Welfare Act, which says dogs “can be kept their entire lives in crates inches bigger than their bodies. They can be denied social contact with other dogs, bred as many times as they enter heat, then killed and dumped in a ditch whenever their uterus shrivels,” as Solotaroff points out.

Under the administration of President Donald Trump, what little protection these animals had will be gone (the USDA recently removed animal welfare and cruelty records from its website, including information about puppy mills). We put down roughly half of the animals taken into shelters in this country annually — 2 million of them are dogs. Approximately 37 percent of shelter animals are purebreds (my dog, Skylar Grey, whom I rescued from San Francisco Animal Care and Control at eight weeks, is a purebred American Staffordshire terrier).

Yet we impose no limits on the number of dogs that puppy mills and backyard breeders can breed. In England, where a license is required to breed even a single litter, a total of 5,000 dogs were euthanized.

It’s hard to say America loves dogs with statistics like that.

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