Backyard Breeders

Contributing to the Pet Overpopulation Crisis in America

By Anna Morrison-Ricordati
Attorney at Law

Last spring, a friend of mine who knew of my involvement in animal rescue called in desperate need of help. Her mother's dog was pregnant. She didn't have a regular veterinarian and money was tight. What would her mother do with all of the puppies? I immediately recommended the local, low-cost clinic for spay surgery, but my friend exclaimed that her mother was Catholic and would never consent to spay/abort. I agreed to help my friend on the promise that she take the dog for spay surgery following the puppies' birth. For the next three weeks I reviewed my lists of rescue organizations and persons seeking dogs and referred all leads to my friend. I provided my friend with sample adoption contracts and prayed the no-kill shelters would not be so inundated as to reject these little guys if she couldn't place them all. Spring is a tough time to be an unwanted dog in Chicago. Two weeks passed. No word from my friend. A month passed. Still no word. Finally, I called one woman I had referred to my friend. "I probably paid too much," she said, "but he's a great little dog."

"Was that part of the adoption contract?" I asked.

"There was no contract," she said, "I just paid $250 to the older woman selling the puppy dogs."

Almost a year passed before my friend called again. Unfortunately, her mom missed the appointment for low-cost spay surgery and her dog was pregnant with a second litter. Did I know of anyone else looking for puppies? When I asked about the last litter, she replied, "My mom found homes for five of them "¦ but left the rest at Animal Care and Control when they got too big. It was so sad. My mom just couldn't afford to care for them all. You've got to help us find homes for the puppies."

I held my breath for a moment and said, "Look, I know what you are doing."

After a long silence, my friend huffed, "My mom doesn't have any income. She needs these dogs to pay her bills. If you don't want to help us, then fine. That's just one more that will end up at the shelter."

There it was "¦ the truth. My friend's mom was a backyard breeder. And there was nothing I could do to stop her. It was all perfectly legal.

Of the more than 50 million dogs in the United States, two-thirds come from backyard breeders (BYBs). Motivated by a quick buck, BYBs breed available dogs by "˜accident' or convenience, typically without knowledge of breed specifics and without concern for the dogs' health.

How to spot a BYB.

Not all small-time breeders and/or animal providers are BYBs. Instead, they may fall into one of the following general categories:

  • Backyard Breeder "“ breeds available dog(s) for quick sale, with or without adequate care for the dogs' (and puppies') health.
  • Irresponsible/Puppy Mill Breeder "“ breeds a large number of dogs, usually purebred, with little or no care.
  • Responsible/Reputable Breeder "“ breeds a large number of dogs, usually purebred, with adequate care.
  • Hobby Breeder "“ breeds a small number of dogs, usually purebred, with adequate care.
  • Broker "“ sells dogs not bred by the seller.
  • Shelter/Rescue "“ adopts out dogs that have been relinquished by the owner or found astray.

BYBs seldom refuse a purchaser and offer no pre-sale testing for diseases and/or genetic abnormalities. Most have limited knowledge of the puppies' parental lines, use make-shift housing and provide no health guarantees. Seldom will a BYB offer to take a puppy back if the purchaser can no longer care for that puppy. As the puppy's age becomes less desirable, BYBs may reduce prices for quick sale. To garner sympathy, BYBs sometimes pose as "rescue" groups, but do not provide puppies that have been spayed/neutered or contacts for the new owner to obtain such services; most charge amounts exceeding what would be required for vaccines and primary veterinary care.

Who regulates a BYB?

Currently, no one. While larger breeding operations may be registered with the American Kennel Club and possibly subject to inspection by state agencies (such as the Department of Agriculture), most backyard breeders operate undetected. Where cities do not restrict the numbers of animals owned by residents, BYBs are not in violation of the law. Even cities requiring kennel registrations for hobby breeders can miss a BYB who is confining their animals indoors. Other than reporting the income derived from a cash transaction typically without contract or receipt of purchase, backyard breeders have no enforceable reporting requirements.

A number of cities have introduced Mandatory Spay/Neuter (MSN) legislation in an effort to prevent backyard breeders from worsening the pet   overpopulation crisis. Despite provisions in the proposed legislation to exempt responsible breeders and animals with medical conditions preventing spay/neuter, MSN has been met with fierce opposition. This opposition comes not only from potential hobby breeders who may someday seek to breed their purebred animals, but also from responsible animal guardians who did not wish to force an unnecessary surgery upon their companion.

How to stop a BYB.

Report what you see and demand change. While training, licensing and inspection is required of other money-making enterprises (hairdressers, contractors, food service, etc.), most cities have no laws aimed at persons selling the offspring of their pets. Not only is this unfair, but it is dangerous when considering the hazardous and unregulated conditions that may exist in a BYB environment. Petitioning local government to require licensing, regulation and/or (at the very least) reporting of all animal sales is a solid first step.

For more information:
Anna Morrison-Ricordati
AMR Law Group, LLC
111. W. Washington St., Ste. 1760
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 376-7660
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



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