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Animal Cruelty Could Soon Become a Federal Crime—But Why Are Puppy Mills Still Allowed?

The PACT Act makes animal cruelty and abuse illegal on a federal level, but does it go far enough in its effort to end animal cruelty?

Puppy and BlanketRosalie.S.Photo/Shutterstock

What is the PACT Act?

In a time when it seems Republicans and Democrats can rarely agree on anything, a new bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed unanimously on October 22 has the rare distinction of gaining support from both sides of the aisle. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act aims to strengthen a previous law passed in 2010. But does the bill go far enough in its effort to protect animals? Find out 15 weird laws pertaining to dogs you didn’t know existed across America.

two dogs are under the blanket. sweet pets nose. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and Jack Russell Terrier are heated home on the couchdezy/Shutterstock

What the law covers

The PACT Act makes animal cruelty and abuse illegal on a federal level, allowing for federal charges for the acts of crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling, and sexually exploiting animals. Jme Thomas of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue says, “PACT is a critical step in animal rights because it brings animals to a higher level of recognition,” in the eyes of the law. “This legislation raises their status from that of property to one of a living being sensitive to pain,” she says. If your dog could talk these are the 30 secrets it would tell you.

dirty dog jack russell terrierdezy/Shutterstock

Why was the law necessary?

Because animals are considered property in the United States, it makes convictions of animal cruelty very difficult, explains Kelly Reeves, co-founder and president of Paw Prints in the Sand Animal Rescue. “This is a step in the right direction to seeing animals as sentient beings and not just a piece of property.”

That said, many animal rights activists still believe the PACT Act falls short. “Unfortunately, there is still so much more that could be done to bring the treatment of animals as a whole to a humane, sentient level,” says Thomas. One big area where the new bill is considered inadequate: Puppy mills.

Dog sleeping on the couch. Cute staffordshire terrier resting on a sofa in cozy living roomAleksey Boyko/Shutterstock

What are puppy mills?

Puppy mills are exactly what they sound like: Large-scale breeding operations. Their mission? Churning out as many puppies as possible for monetary gain. “At puppy mills, animals are bred over and over without consideration for their well-being or temperament,” Thomas says. “Because of this, animals become products; and when living beings are treated as a commodity, their quality of care always suffers.”

If the thought of that makes your heart hurt, take a break with these adorable puppy pictures that will make you melt.

homeless puppies strollers starve and live on the street, do not have homes and ownersNina Drozdowa/Shutterstock

What are some of the biggest concerns about puppy mills?

Most puppy mills are loud, scary places where the dogs are given the bare minimum food and water and kept in constant confinement, often next to their own waste, Thomas says. “Many of the dogs have never been out of their cages and do not understand grass or sunshine.”

In addition, “The dogs are denied adequate veterinary care, so many suffer and die of very treatable conditions,” Thomas says. “That’s partially because there are so many animals no one notices, but also because their value is not in being healthy, just producing.” Responsible pet owners need to know the silent signs their dog is sick.

sweet red dog peeks out from under the blankets. Pet lies on the beddezy/Shutterstock

How common are puppy mills?

The Puppy Mill Project reports there are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the United States. These mills breed over 2 million puppies each year, while an estimated 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in shelters every year. That’s just one of many secrets your pet store won’t tell you.

dog look at outsideIvanova N/Shutterstock

Why are puppy mills considered controversial?

Based on that description, one might think shutting down all puppy mills would be easy. But as Thomas explains, “Puppy mills are controversial because they sadly meet a demand.” That demand, of course, is for cute puppies on behalf of the public.

But Thomas says most people have no idea how horrific the conditions in these settings can be. Or how many issues puppies bred under these conditions can have.

Some, she says, may not realize until too late that they are adopting from a sketchy person or operation. At that point, she explains, they “want to save the dog, but inadvertently support the very evil that allows mills to continue.” Adopting a shelter dog, on the other hand, discourages puppy mills—that’s just one of the 15 surprising benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

Brown puppy with white nose looking into camera with sad begging eyesReanC/Shutterstock

Why aren’t puppy mills included in the PACT Act?

Given all this, one might wonder why the most recent legislation didn’t include anything related to puppy mills. But Reeves says it isn’t quite that simple, especially because the PACT Act was a revision of a previous bill, one that is now almost a decade old. “It likely wasn’t included in the bill when it was presented.”

Cute puppy against green grass background. Snout close-upnaten/Shutterstock

How are puppy mills still in business?

Ultimately, puppy mills remain in business not because the federal government has so far failed to strike them down, but because people are still willing to buy from them. “People will pay the high prices for these puppies,” says Sara Ochoa, small and exotic veterinarian and consultant for Dog Lab. Which means breeders “see this as an easy way to make money. If people would only purchase dogs from a reputable breeder, these puppy mills would stop.” Consider these 20 things before you adopt a dog from a shelter.

Adorable, but sad and lonely dog laying down on the sofa.Hoover Tung/Shutterstock

What if you want a specific breed of dog?

Some might argue purchasing through a puppy mill because they have a need for a special dog, one who is hypoallergenic or can be trained as a support animal, for instance. But Thomas says, “There is a rescue for every kind of dog—including those who are hypoallergenic.”

The ASPCA suggests those looking for a specific breed start with a breed-specific rescue group, and if that doesn’t work out, look into buying a puppy from a responsible breeder. These are the 14 red flags you can’t trust a dog breeder.

Funny and happy dog muzzle, Australian Shepherd in the grassdezy/Shutterstock

Communities that have banned puppy mills

While the federal government has yet to address puppy mills, there are a few states and cities that have. California and Maryland both have laws preventing the retail sale of dogs and cats, and New York has introduced legislation that would accomplish the same if it is passed next year. In addition, several cities in 26 separate states have enacted laws to both regulate and end puppy mills. These laws put puppy mills out of business by cutting the connection between them and the pet stores they sell to. Ready to adopt? These 50 shelter dogs need homes before the end of the year.

Leah Campbell
Leah Campbell covers technology for Reader’s Digest as well as sites including Reviewed.com. She has a degree in developmental psychology and has written extensively on topics relating to infertility, dating, adoption and parenting. A single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter, Leah is also author of the book Single Infertile Female. She lives in Alaska. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin.