The Humane Society of the United States is urging those looking to adopt a pet during the pandemic to steer clear of the hundreds of puppy mills that remain in business despite years of animal care violations.
"We urge the public not to purchase dogs from pet stores or websites, because puppy mills hide behind these fronts," said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the animal welfare advocacy organization. "We also ask families to consider adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue organization as their first option."
Each May the organization releases "The Horrible Hundred," a report detailing violations at one hundred puppy breeding facilities in the U.S. Though many of the breeders are repeat offenders, the organization said its work in encouraging people to avoid these mills is all the more urgent as record numbers of people adopt pets from animal shelters amid lockdowns. In fact, the Humane Society worked with its more than 400 of its shelter partners to facilitate these adoptions.
"As many families consider bringing a new pet into their home amid the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to refuse to support puppy mills and puppy-selling pet stores, and instead help the community by adopting from a shelter or rescue," Block said. "There are many animals looking for homes through shelters and rescues throughout the country — in fact, this time of year is often called ‘baby season’ due to the influx of kittens and puppies in shelters."
The report, which was released Monday, documented numerous cases of the mistreatment of animals, including sick and emaciated dogs who weren't taken to a vet and puppies who were exposed to extreme cold or heat without adequate housing. Some dogs were forced to live in filthy conditions and were left covered in their own excrement.
Though all the cases might be described as disturbing, Block said there were a few that were especially notable, including that of Iowa-based Stonehenge Kennel, has been found with nearly 50 sick or injured animals since 2015, yet it remains USDA-licensed, which "enables them to sell puppies to pet stores almost anywhere," according to Block. The USDA and Stonehenge Kennel did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.
Block also noted that situations for puppy mill dogs may become more dire as "agencies have been forced to pause their inspection programs" amid the spread of COVID-19 and that since the organization's last report was published, zoonotic disease outbreaks like Brucellosis and drug-resistant Campylobacter have become more urgent public health problems.
Block attributes the spread of these diseases, which have led to the hospitalization of people, to dealers who fail to properly vaccinate puppies and who perform their own procedures on dogs in lieu of visiting a licensed veterinarian.
She is calling for stronger kennel inspection and animal cruelty laws as well as laws to end the sale of puppies in pet stores. In the meantime, she urges the public to be selective about where they receive a puppy to spend their lockdown with.
"The joys that the human-animal bond has highlighted during this pandemic should not bring misery to breeding dogs stuck in puppy mills," Block said. "When consumers buy puppies at pet stores, they are unknowingly supporting the suffering and neglect of animals at puppy mills."