Puppy mill

The shady economics of a puppy mill

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Now this will be an unusual, but inevitable post about a very serious and difficult topic. There are over 60 million dogs in Europe alone and this number is growing exponentially. 10-20 years ago one would have to pass a thorough interview and pay a hefty sum to get a puppy, especially a working Nordic breed puppy such as Alaskan Malamute or Siberian Husky, from a professional kennel. Now, due to enormous puppy mill market, you can get a puppy online, from dedicated web shops or social media groups, ad pages and even special apps for a margin of the price and get it delivered to your doorstep. The outcome?

Health risks and consumer protection

The UK Kennel Club has assessed in 2012, that over 20% of puppies bought from non-professional breeders and puppy mills die before they reach an age of 6 months. Another 12% end up with serious health problems that require expensive on-going veterinary treatment from a young age, which amounts to every 3rd puppy bought from a non-professional breeder and/or puppy mill being seriously ill and die! In comparison – 94% of puppies bought directly from a professional breeder were reported as having good overall health.

What does this mean in terms of consumer protection? Astronomic veterinary costs, potential fraud of not receiving the puppy at all (perks of online trading), risk of both animal and human transmitted zoonotic diseases due to poor kennel conditions. Also, the emotional cost of losing your pet to a serious illness and death is incalculable.

The economics of a puppy mill

A case study in France (2014) has revealed, that private non-professional breeders (unregulated breeding of dogs without a license and breed certification) are earning at least 4 times more money than professional breeders, who abide by the kennel regulations and provide the buyer with breed and health certificates. Puppy mills can easily reach (and they usually do) a 10 times bigger profit by cutting costs on conditions, mandatory vaccinations, etc. It was estimated that total breeding cost per sold puppy in France is 1400-1700 EUR, which provides almost no economic benefits at the first litter and up to 20% profits from the later litters. Non-professional private breeders cut the breeding cots per puppy to 360-380 EUR, which allows for a 50% profit at the first litter and over 80% profits afterwards. Again, puppy mill costs are even lower, thus the profits per sold puppy usually exceed 100%!

In comparison, accounting/bookkeeping firms, commercial/residential real estate leasing companies and auto rental/leasing companies generate net profit margins, on average, that exceed 15%, which is more than twice the average for all industries, according to Sageworks’ financial statement analysis (2015) of privately held companies.

And don’t forget, that private non-professional breeders and puppy mills do not pay taxes. The data from France shows that puppies sold through classified ads alone amounts to 312 million EUR of VAT lost each year, which would be paid by professional breeders per sold puppy. Tax loss to puppy mills can not be directly calculated due to the anonymity and difficult traceability of the sellers, but taking into account that internet dog sales amount to at least 50% (up to 80% in some countries) of total dog sales – the tax loss is enormous.

The ugly side of pure breed kennels

Unfortunately, some of the professional kennels find a way around the system and break the rules in pursuance of bigger profits, or in seeking, sometimes horribly ridiculous, special traits in their dogs. The Science and Dog blog has published an article “100 Years of Breed “Improvement” where they put together a side-by-side comparison of several popular breeds from the 1915 book “Dogs of All Nations” by Walter Esplin Mason, showing what they look like and what their health condition is today.

Speaking about Alaskan Malamutes, there are 4 most common cases of breed “upgrades”: 1) making them bigger and fluffier (usually with a Saint Bernard mixed in at some point of the kennel breeding lines), 2) making them faster (usually with Alaskan Huskies or simply Siberian Huskies – this is how blue eyes in Malamutes show up from time to time), 3) breeding with one of the dogs being non-purebred (but selling the puppies as purebred), and 4) not disclosing illnesses carried by the bred dogs. Sadly, these practices usually involve corruption and/or fraud at the official kennel clubs in allowing and registering such litters and benefits non-professional breeders and puppy mills as it’s usually their dogs involved. Such breeders have nothing to do with professionalism and honesty, thus dedicating generous time to research the kennels is of utmost importance when looking for a puppy.

Part of such kennels do those things on purpose, some – due to unfair competition with non-professional breeders and puppy mill owners who sell the same puppies (at the first sight) at a much lower price, and some simply make bad and/or dishonest choices in selecting dogs for breeding. Even though such practices can never be justified, stricter breeder regulation and accountability, bans on private breeding and puppy mills and more and louder information for the public could help dealing with these issues. There are plenty of good examples in national legislation, but to learn from it – we need to start educating ourselves, our friends, colleagues, politicians and anyone who has even a slightest idea of getting a dog.

Without doing this, we will continue seeing a double rise in numbers of Malamute, Husky and other breed look-a-likes at the animal shelters each year as it is happening since 2010 thanks in part to the TV and movie craze, but still mostly happening due to the lack of education on these topics.

So please, do not support illegal businesses and do not make people behind them infinitely rich by buying a dog from an unrecognised kennel or a puppy mill – adopt a shelter dog instead, or commit to serious research and expenses in finding your best friend for the next 10-15 years from a respectable professional breeder.

* Data and information used for this post was originally presented in VIER PFOTEN / FOUR PAWS publication “The online trade of dogs and cats in Europe: The imbalance of the dog/cat market in favour of the smugglers and non-professional breeders”, November 12th, 2015.

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