Critter Culture
Adopt, Don't Shop: Puppy Mills and Pet Shops

Adopt, Don't Shop: Puppy Mills and Pet Shops

Critter Culture Staff



Many pet owners and animal welfare organizations encourage people to "adopt, don't shop" when looking for a new dog. The slogan draws attention to the problem of under-regulated and abusive puppy mills. Supporters of the adopt-don't-shop movement say that adopting animals from shelters reduces the number of shelter pets euthanized yearly.

In response to this movement, states and municipalities have begun passing laws regulating humane pet sales. These adopt-don't-shop laws could have significant impacts on how people find new animal companions.


The problem with puppy mills

Puppies in a Cage Manuel Schäfer / Getty Images

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are more than 10,000 puppy mills operating around the country. These breeding facilities are operated purely for profit and sell puppies to pet stores and through their own websites. Puppy mill owners generally don't care about the health or well-being of their dogs.

Mother dogs are often kept in cramped cages and given little recovery time between litters. Puppy mill dogs are both physically and emotionally neglected. Inbreeding is also a problem in these facilities. The result is that puppy mill dogs often have serious health issues later in life.


Exceptions: There are good breeders

puppy waiting in a cage PongMoji / Getty Images

Not all facilities breeding dogs are bad. There are many reputable breeders in the U.S. who take excellent care of their animals. The American Kennel Club has a variety of breeder programs that require certification and extensive animal health testing. Good breeders provide

  • Safe, comfortable, and clean living spaces for their dogs.
  • Regular exercise opportunities both indoors and outside.
  • Plenty of socialization opportunities for puppies.
  • Routine veterinary checkups along with emergency vet care as needed.


Is animal overpopulation still a problem?

Stray dogs on sidewalk in city,Derbent,Republic of Dagestan,Russia Maria Tsegelnik / 500px / Getty Images

Animal overpopulation occurs when there are more animals available than people willing to adopt them. According to some estimates, about 6.3 million companion animals are surrendered to shelters in the U.S. every year. Only 3.2 million of those animals are adopted. Another 1.5 million are euthanized. This has led to a major animal overpopulation problem that costs both non-profit organizations and taxpayers millions of dollars every year.


Existing Laws on Adoption and Animal Breeding

Application for Adoption Form asbe / Getty Images

More than 75 percent of U.S. states have some type of humane animal sales and breeding laws as of June 2023. California, Maryland, Maine, Washington, Illinois, and New York have all banned pet stores from selling dogs bred in puppy mills. In these states, pet stores have either stopped selling puppies or only adopt out puppies from local shelters. Many other states and municipalities across the nation are trying to pass similar laws and put puppy mills out of business.


Animal adoption laws outside the U.S.

Image of beagle puppy is in the cage. yod67 / Getty Images

The United States isn't the only country trying to crack down on unethical puppy breeding. Puppy mills and animal overpopulation also pose serious problems globally. The worldwide dog population is currently estimated to be over 900 million—many more animals than the ecosystem can naturally support. In response, Spain, Australia, the UK, and Canada have passed laws that effectively ban puppy mills. Like U.S. laws, international statutes focus on banning puppy sales in pet stores.


What are the consequences of banning breeding?

Dog on the grass PaulShlykov / Getty Images

Dog overpopulation is an undeniable problem, but that doesn't mean there's no place for reputable breeders. Every pure dog breed has a special set of skills and talents. This makes some dogs ideal for hunting and others excellent companions and service animals.

Without reputable breeders, it would be impossible for these lines to survive. This could have an especially negative impact on those seeking stability in service dog breeds like German shepherds and St. Bernards. Over time, it could even lead to a lack of genetic and breed diversity in the dog population.


The role of rescue organizations and shelters

adoption shelter StefaNikolic / Getty Images

Like reputable breeders, rescue organizations and shelters are vital to healthy dog populations. They care for animals who have been surrendered and try to place them with loving owners. Shelters also provide important services like:

  • Low-cost spaying and neutering
  • Public education about animal populations
  • Reduced-cost vaccinations

Animal shelters also provide pets to pet stores in some states. Instead of being sold, these pets are adopted. The relationship between shelters and pet stores is poised to become more common in the future.


Public opinion and advocacy efforts

Group of American activists is protesting Rawpixel / Getty Images

The adopt-don't-shop movement has been successful in changing both public opinion about shelter dogs and laws regulating puppy mills. Last Chance for Animals (LCA) has been at the center of these advocacy efforts. The organization educates the public and lobbies both municipal and state bodies to ban puppy mill dog sales. Not all pet owners agree with adopt-don't-shop, but it is becoming the norm across the U.S. regardless.


Transitioning to an adoption-only system

Young woman in animal shelter Group4 Studio / Getty Images

Some states have already transitioned to adoption-only systems. Some of the things that can make transitioning to this system easier include

  • Increasing funding for animal shelters and welfare organizations
  • Providing better education about animal welfare to the public
  • Creating partnerships between major pet stores and animal welfare organizations
  • Offering more free spay-and-neuter clinics


The future of pet ownership

dogs people connection adoption VILevi / Getty Images

Adopt-don't-shop laws will likely change what pet ownership looks like in the future. Shelters will use stricter screening and adoption criteria than pet stores. While this might be frustrating for some buyers, it should help cut down on the number of animals surrendered to shelters every year. In order for these laws to work, animal advocacy organizations and law enforcement will need to work together to crack down on illegal dog sales.


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