puppies in puppy mill behind cage

Avoiding Puppy Mills in New Zealand and Finding a Reputable Breeder


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It might come as a surprise to dog lovers that puppy mills in New Zealand are a growing problem. Laws in New Zealand allow almost anyone to breed and sell animals with very few restrictions.

As you can imagine, this means that inhumane breeding is difficult to control and condemn. Responsible pet parents should be wary of buying a puppy from a mill. Besides, it’s easy to break the cycle by supporting ethical breeders.

We spoke to Carolyn Press-McKenzie of no-kill shelter HUHA to find out more about puppy mills in New Zealand. Read on to find out how to find a reputable breeder and avoid puppy farms.

Identifying puppy mills in New Zealand

A puppy mill or puppy farm is a large, commercial facility that makes money from breeding dogs while giving little thought to the welfare of the dogs involved. This can have a devastating effect on the dogs’ physical and mental health.

There are other commercial breeding operations that do prioritise pet health over profit – these ethically minded businesses are not the focus of this article.

sad dog in a NZ puppy mill
How can you spot the difference?

We asked Carolyn what advice she had for identifying an unethical puppy mill versus a reputable puppy breeder. “At a very basic level, it comes down to whether you can go to their home,” she says.

Warning signs

Carolyn says that there are some initial warning signs to keep an eye out for. Can you visit the puppy before making a purchase and do you meet the parents and siblings? Is the seller breeding on a large scale? Is their primary focus on making lots of money – or are they only breeding in small, considered numbers?”

These are questions to ask yourself which can raise warning flags.

Look for signs of the standard of care too; where do the dogs sleep, are the water bowls clean, are the dogs in good condition?

Get an idea of the environment and the idea behind why they’re breeding. This information can sometimes be hard information to obtain. But most genuine breeders will be happy to share their history and reasons for breeding with any potential puppy parents.

“If a breeder is happy to send a puppy to anyone who pays, without doing their due diligence, it shows that their integrity and reasons for breeding might not be ok.”

– Carolyn

If a breeder won’t let see the puppy in their natural home environment, that’s a big red flag. When it comes to puppy mills in New Zealand, another red flag is a breeder who’s happy to just put the puppy on a plane or bus. A good breeder will want an idea of who you are and what life you can offer the puppy.

puppy mills - small white puppy behind cage

Meeting the dog’s parents

Meeting the puppy’s parents is an important step in identifying unethical puppy mills too. This can help on multiple fronts.

Firstly, it gives you a good idea of how well socialised the mum is. Often, puppy mills will keep the breeding dogs in small cages. They will have had limited interactions with humans and other dogs.

Secondly, seeing how the mum dog responds to the environment around her is important. Check whether she’s well cared for, as this can help you ascertain whether this is an inhumane puppy mill.

Hopefully, everything will be above board. If not though, here are 12 signs of animal abuse and some advice on how to report animal abuse appropriately.

Watch our PD vet vlog with Dr Cath Watson for tips on finding an ethical dog breeder:

Puppy mills are often breeding grounds for genetic health conditions

Thirdly, because several puppy mills in New Zealand breed a copious number of dogs without any real regard for ethics or breed standards, Carolyn mentions that you’ll often see genetic conditions being passed on. These could be physical problems such as heart conditions, dental issues, autoimmune diseases, eye issues, skin issues and so on.

There also seems to be genetic predispositions to behavioural issues like being incredibly timid or afraid. Of course, some of these behavioural problems are environmental. However, Carolyn mentions HUHA is seeing an increasing number of dogs from puppy mills who seem to have “hardwired” behavioural issues.

Watch this video to see what a puppy farm looks like (viewer discretion is advised):

Puppy mills aren’t always easy to spot

You might be wondering how inhumane puppy farms manage to operate. Surely every potential pet parent wants the best beginning for their puppy? And wants to know they and their doggy parents were treated well. The answer is surely then to avoid puppy mills?

Certainly, many buyers adopt via ethical avenues. But many others either aren’t aware of puppy mills or don’t mind buying a puppy from one. And, even for the most conscientious buyer, it isn’t always easy to identify puppy mills in New Zealand.

In fact, Carolyn tells us “some puppy mills in New Zealand are getting so good at covering up their tracks that they even hire people to provide ‘cover homes’.” Sadly, these puppy mills are often responsible for stolen dogs which they either resell or use for breeding.

As a result you end up visiting a pretend home to meet the puppy. Behind the scenes is a puppy mill which is the real breeding site. You could therefore think the puppy you’re playing with comes from an honest and reputable breeder. But sadly the truth is far more dire.

What else can you do to try and avoid situations like this?

if you crate train a puppy correctly, they will feel relaxed in their crate like this brown and white collie

Where to start with finding a reputable and ethical breeder

Dogs New Zealand is a membership organisation for dog owners, many of whom are professional breeders. It strongly encourages reputable and ethical breeding. Asking them for a recommendation would be a good start to identifying an ethical puppy breeder.

Carolyn says reputable purebred dog breeders will be registered there. However reputable crossbred breeders might not be. This is particularly true if you’re looking at hybrid dog breeds like Cavoodles, Spoodles, and more. Find out how to prove your dog is purebred and how to tell if a dog is purebred for detailed information on papers, registering, and breed standards.

So, is it safe to go to a breeder? Carolyn says that going to a breeder can be risky, but there definitely are good ones out there. If you do decide to go through a breeder, read:

Obviously though, Carolyn believes the best first step is to “go to a reputable animal shelter and see if there’s a dog that desperately needs a home and who you fall in love with!”. That way you can be proud in bringing home an adopted dog that you’ve sourced via an ethical avenue.

Read our article on purebred dog pros and cons to see whether a purebred is right for you. And remember, even if you do want a purebred, you can often find them at shelters too.

Insurance can give your puppy a soft landing

Have you managed to avoid puppy mills and find a great breeder or shelter to adopt your perfect dog from? Now’s the time to protect them against accident, illness and more with a dog insurance plan that suits their health needs and your purse strings.

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