Dr. Don Allen Takes Stand Against Pet Shop Industry

Dr Allen

CAPS Board Member Urges Other Vets to Follow His Lead

The "Dateline" story featured CAPS board member Dr. Donald Allen. He has been active in educating his veterinary clients about the pet shop industry for 15 years. Chris Hansen of "Dateline" showed Dr. Allen hidden camera footage of Nielsen Farms, a breeding/brokering facility in Kansas. Dr. Allen agreed with Mr. Hansen that the footage showed dogs with open wounds, mange and eye problems. Dr. Allen noted that these dogs are "[s]till popping out puppies."

Dr. Allen went undercover with Mr. Hansen to three Petlands in Ohio. Although he couldn't examine every puppy, in just one day, Dr. Allen spotted some potentially serious problems that he said are likely linked to how the puppies were bred. He saw one puppy with demodectic mange. According to Dr. Allen, this condition is hereditary, and it was likely that all of the puppies in this litter had it. Dr. Allen also examined a Chihuahua with an open fontanel, a hereditary condition in which the skull hasn't closed around the dog's brain and a bop on the head could be fatal.

Dr. Allen noted that pet shop warranties are pretty much worthless. He told Mr. Hansen that he has seen three-year-old puppies develop epilepsy, hip dysplasia and luxating patellas -- conditions that are not always readily apparent in the first year. State puppy lemon laws usually provide just one-year warranties for hereditary defects.

Dr. Allen's companion animal practice in Youngstown, Ohio cares for dogs, cats, reptiles, birds and exotic animals. Prior to starting his own veterinary clinic in 1992, Dr. Allen was Medical Director of Animal Charity, a nonprofit private humane society and veterinary facility in Youngstown. During his five years at Animal Charity, he discovered that a number of sick puppies requiring treatment had been purchased at a local Docktor Pet Center.

After Dr. Allen went to the Docktor Pet Center and questioned the source of the puppies -- an employee denied the puppies were from mills -- he received a call from the franchise owner. The owner stated that he did not buy dogs from puppy mills and asked Dr. Allen not to visit the store.

Animal Charity then filed a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General's office against the Youngstown Docktor Pet Center for misrepresenting the source of its puppies. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Allen visited six puppy mills and a broker's facility in Missouri to verify the conditions under which some of his clients' dogs had been raised.

At Dr. Allen's instigation, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) stopped running a Docktor advertisement seeking veterinarians as franchisees. Dr. Allen then wrote a letter to JAVMA encouraging veterinarians to "unite against the ongoing atrocity of puppy mills." This letter prompted negative responses from veterinarians in puppy mill states, including one from a staff veterinarian for Honeydew, a Missouri brokerage facility owned by The Hunte Corporation.

After the "Dateline" story aired, Dr. Allen wrote another letter to JAVMA in which he again called on other veterinarians and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to take a stand against the pet shop industry. JAVMA printed the letter in the June 15, 2000 issue. Here is a reprint of his letter:

As the April 26, 2000 "NBC Dateline" program and the February 1999 issue of "Reader's Digest" pointed out, THERE IS NO READY SOURCE OF PUPPIES FOR THE PET STORE INDUSTRY OTHER THAN PUPPY MILLS. For over 15 years I have known this fact, and have counseled my clients to avoid pet stores when shopping for a puppy. Likewise, when I have a client with a new puppy present me with a Petland warranty, I explain to them that their newest family member has a shady origin, very likely a puppy mill.

Not all clients are happy with this news, especially those who feel they have been swindled. For this reason, the vast majority of veterinarians do not discuss the puppy mill-pet store connection. Some vets want their clients to have a "happy-happy" visit, and not leave their clinic with anything but good feelings. For the same reason, some veterinarians won't mention that a client's pet is overweight; don't forget, staff, we want a "happy-happy" visit experience!

As the most authoritative source of pet-related information available to the public, the veterinary profession should be championing the fight to eradicate puppy mills. It does not. Some vets may feel that stopping pet store sales of puppies would hurt their practice income. Those same vets probably don't push spaying and neutering for the same reason. They are wrong.

No state in this nation has a shortage of dogs. Millions of dogs are euthanized every year because there are too many of them. Puppy mills and pet stores are primarily to blame for this tragedy. And so are we. When someone buys a puppy in a pet store: 1. They are perpetuating the cycle of misery and suffering for the mother of that puppy, and all those to follow. 2. They have paid a tremendously inflated price and believe they have a "high-quality puppy with a pedigree and 'papers' from AKC." 3. Many believe they can recoup their purchase cost by breeding their dog and selling the puppies. 4. Because their puppy is such a fine example of the breed, and is registered, they SHOULD breed it.

Our part in this problem is that most vets do not discourage 3 and 4 or educate the client about 1 and 2. Failure to do so promotes the problem by default. But then, I'm sure some of my colleagues don't see this as a problem at all.

The AVMA won't take significant, constructive steps toward eliminating puppy mills because it abhors the thought of harming the practice of ANY member, i.e. those working for brokers or allied with pet stores. Instead it formulates a politically correct, carefully worded "position statement" (AVMA Policy Statements and Guidelines section I, paragraph F) which allows the AVMA to look like it has done something.

It is up to every conscientious, caring vet in this country to do something themselves every day in their practices. If you are an employed vet and the boss only wants "happy-happy," then it's time for you to start your own practice, preferably just up the street. The public will soon forget about Dateline and Reader's Digest. The majority probably didn't see or read it. The pet store industry knows this. They also believe in P.T. Barnum and the fact that there is a new generation ready to buy a puppy every year. All they have to do is keep quiet. This will all blow over, and everything will remain status quo. They've been through this all before and nothing changed.

Donald K. Allen, MS, DVM (ILL '80)

CAPS encourages veterinarians to follow Dr. Allen's lead. Please write a letter to the journal in support of his position.

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