Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Competing with a Puppy Mill

An old saying sums up my feeling today: "Bad money drives out good."  Perhaps, I shouldn't be pessimistic, but competing with a kibble-fed, puppy mill is hard for a proud breeder of Labrador retrievers.

It all started three years ago, when my then-friend and fellow breeder had a handful of dogs and took good care of her puppies.  She ordered raw meats and meaty bones from the same meat processing plant that supplies my kennel.  She also fed Honest Kitchen's dehydrated meats and veggies, at considerable expense.  At the same time, I was feeding raw-meaty-bones and a homemade concoction of cooked brown rice, minced veggies, raw eggs, and assorted home-grown fruits.  We were both proud not to be feeding kibble to our dogs or our puppies.

About the same time I discovered Raw Meaty Bones and changed my dogs' diet to rmb exclusively, she began to feed her dogs and puppies mostly kibble.  She and her husband had bought a larger property and installed a gorgeous pool that turned out to cost far more than planned.  Finances began to dominate everything, including care and breeding of the dogs.  From a kennel of 6 dogs, she expanded her brood to 12 and later to 18, including a dozen females of breeding age.  Two years ago, she produced at least 30 puppies, last year 40+, and this year promises a bumper crop of 75 to 80 puppies.

My kennel has a consistent record of three to four litters a year, with about 20 puppies total.  I care for each and every litter in a whelping box in my bedroom, followed by a few weeks in a special puppy yard by the house, when puppies are big enough to climb out of the whelping box.  Their mother visits them at will to continue to nurse them until they leave at 8 to 9 weeks of age.  They get lots of attention from the many people who come to the farm.  At three weeks, when they begin solid foods, they are fed minced beef, ground beef heart, raw eggs, and a bit of yogurt.  When they can chew, they get chicken wings and graduate to chicken legs, hunks of beef heart and liver, and meaty bones. 

The other breeder used to have the same feeding routine, when she had a smaller number of puppies.  Now, she has multiple whelping boxes all over the house, weans the puppies at 3 weeks, shoves them out into pens at some distance from the house and leaves large bowls of kibble around for them to eat at will.  She alone cares for as many as a dozen litters, along with many other chores she has undertaken to keep their financial ship afloat -- she raises, picks, and delivers flowers to sell for lei, refines and packages honey for sale, and makes beeswax candles to sell at craft fairs.  This woman is an entrepreneur, but puppies cannot be getting the care and attention they need to become calm, happy family companions.  She places many puppies before 8 weeks of age, which is poor practice.  It is understandable, however, that getting rid of as many puppies, as early as possible, makes her overburdened life that much easier.

Last year she ran continuous advertisements for puppies from March through August in the state's largest newspaper and in the local paper.  Nothing was stated in her ads about the parents of the puppies, whether they had hip and elbow certifications or eye examinations, and how the puppies were fed or cared for.  Some visitors to her kennel remarked on the dogs' crowded conditions and the chaotic situation, with so many puppies that she could not keep them straight.  They also remarked on some puppies' unhealthy coats and poor general appearance.  A kibble diet and human neglect can do that to young puppies.

As I consider how to sell my 3 or 4 litters of puppies this year, I find it hard to differentiate my kennel from hers in public statements.  Bad-mouthing competitors is not attractive.  I can stress the raw-meaty-bones diet, the weeks of maternal care, the healthy condition of all my dogs, their daily exercise regime, and how my puppies are well-socialized.  Success in attracting buyers will have to depend on their discerning eyes and ears, to see and hear our different ways of breeding and raising puppies. 

Hawaii is a small market for so many Lab puppies.  With a total population of 1.3 million, selling nearly 100 Lab puppies a year is a challenge.  I hope that as many potential buyers as possible with visit my kennel and hers to see the differences and that they will have some standards of care in mind, by which to compare the two.  Competing with a puppy mill is an unattractive business.

2 comments:

  1. I can really understand your frustration. When you're passionate about a breed, you want to see that breed raised and bred properly. I agree that your competitor's breeding practices are poor. But, I wince a little at the term 'puppy mill'. I work in rescue on the mainland, and some of the dogs we get come from puppy mills. To me, a puppy mill is a maze of wire cages stacked 4, 5, or 6 high with excrement falling from the top cages into the lower ones. It's dogs that will never set one paw outside of their tiny confines until they're too old to breed and, if fortunate, are placed into rescues or, if less so, are put down. It's dogs with their mouthes destroyed by gum disease and infection, their bodies ravaged by the non-stop production of puppies and their spirits crushed by the neglect and misery they've endured.

    While your competitor doesn't use very admirable practices, I'd still hesitate to lump her with people who treat puppies like crops. She may be heading down that road, but I don't think she's a puppy mill, yet.

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