Last week, the American Kennel Club released their annual list of the most popular dog breeds in America. It reads like a who’s who of reliable, classic, family oriented dogs: golden retrievers, German shepherds and labrador retrievers all made the cut, along with quirky breeds such as dachshunds and boxers.
Unfortunately, there’s a dark parallel between man’s very best friends and their prevalence in commercial breeding facilities, or “puppy mills.” It is in these facilities that a potential companion is seen as a commodity, and a long, dark history of animal welfare abuse emerges.
So when it comes to America’s favorite dogs, their puppy mill popularity is a simple function of supply and demand. “Consumers like to purchase dogs that are trendy, so it’s not an accident that the top of the list mirrors some of the most common breeds we have seen,” says Melanie Kahn, a senior director for the Humane Society’s “Stop Puppy Mills” campaign.
“We once raided a puppy mill facility that just bred Labrador retrievers,” Kahn says. Labradors ranked as the No. 1 most popular breed in 2012.
But it’s not just old standbys that bring in the money -- any dog that fits in with the latest fad is a high priority for puppy mills as well.
“One of the trendiest things lately is ‘designer dogs,’” Kahn says. “They’re primarily bred with poodles [another top breed of 2012], and it cuts down on the amount that the dog will shed. They are being sold as hypoallergenic, but there is no such thing.” Smaller dogs, like Yorkies are also popular. Yorkies were among the top 10 favorite dog breeds, and they also have a strong presence in puppy mills.
Popular dogs are popular for a reason -- they’re dependable, smart, family friendly, relatively easy to care for or just plain delightful to be around. As a dog owner or a potential dog owner, it can be scary to think your honest preference in canine companionship could be influencing inhumane puppy mill practices.
Kahn says there are several simple solutions: One is to be very, very choosy.
“When you purchase a dog from a pet store or online, you’re not meeting that breeder,” she says. “You don’t know where that dog is coming from… Only buy from a responsible breeder. Go to the breeder, go to the home, see where the puppy is raised.”
Read more: Six tips on adopting or buying a dog
Of course, there is a much easier way: Simply adopt.
“In shelters, we estimate that about 25% are pure-breed dogs. You don’t have to go to a pet store or online. There are so many great websites that let you filter your choices and find a pet that’s perfect for you,” Kahn says. “You do not have to purchase a dog to get the dog you want.”