Iowa's puppy mill progress in national rankings may be misleading

A look at one puppy mill in Eastern Iowa (courtesy of Cedar Valley Humane Society).

Iowa has been among the nation's leaders in commercial dog-breeding establishments -- commonly referred to as puppy mills -- for many years.

Ranking second annually in 2016, the state dropped to fourth in 2017, seeming to indicate some semblance of progress in addressing inhumane conditions and eradicating the puppies-for-profit approach.

However, animal advocates say the change in ranking is due to the industry expanding in other states -- including Ohio (now #2 on the list just behind Missouri) and Indiana (#3).

The problem with the growth -- and puppy mills in general -- is the poor conditions the dogs live in, according to Lynn Snyder, an animal advocate with Iowa Friends of Animal Companions.

"The conditions are just deplorable," said Snyder. "No dog should ever have to live like that."

The conditions Snyder is referring to include dirty drinking water, low-quality food, and fecal buildup.

Some breeding dogs are "confined to a small box for [their] whole life," said Snyder, which can result in medical complications and behavioral issues.

Oftentimes medical issues don't immediately surface, so as animal advocate Preston Moore explains, consumers purchase what appears to be a perfectly healthy animal.

"A lot of times when people get puppy mill dogs, they may appear healthy, but a few years down the road, they have something develop that's kind of scary," said Moore, the director of development at Cedar Valley Humane Society.

To protect against potential issues, Snyder recommends being proactive.

"Meet the parents of the dog," said Snyder. "If you go to the facility, you see where the dog is being raised, you see the conditions, you know you're going to get a healthy puppy if it's clean and you see the parents."

While local laws could be seen as lax by animal rights advocates, California recently passed a law banning the sale of puppies, kittens and rabbits not from a rescue or shelter, which Snyder described as a "monumental move."

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