Should Puppy Mills Be Illegal?

by James E. Miller
Nov. 18, 2012

In October, the city of Los Angeles became the first major city in the United States to ban pet shops from selling dogs* obtained from commercial breeders. The law's purpose is to curb the rise of puppy mills which are breeding facilities known for housing dogs in dirty, cramped conditions. The law's other purpose is to cut down on the amount of euthanasia procedures performed in shelters and rescues. Animal rights activists are praising the measure while private store owners assert that it is an affront on their freedom.

So which is it? Should the state be able to shut down puppy mills by force? Are dogs, then, entitled to the same rights as men and women? History and common sense tell us that governments have a unique tendency in making a mockery out of the natural rights of man. This pitiful record makes it worth exploring if the anti-puppy mill law is a justifiable or not.

Upon observation, it's apparent that dogs have their own nature. They behave in a manner that is unique to themselves. They can be playful and friendly as well as irritable and vicious. Like humans, they appear to act in such a way to achieve desired ends. This does not mean they are humans however. And because they are not human, they aren't governed by the same natural law.

The law which governs how human beings should treat each other is exclusive to man alone. Unless dogs suddenly become capable of conscious choice and reason and are able to comprehend the ethical underpinnings of their actions, then rights as they apply to humans do not apply to them.

Certainly there are some dogs respectful of human beings. On the other hand, there are some with total disregard for man's property. Dogs don't treat men the same way men typically treat each other. They have no recognition of natural law; just an inner desire to satisfy their own wants.

As Murray Rothbard points out,
It is more than a jest to point out that animals, after all, don't respect the "rights" of other animals; it is the condition of the world, and of all natural species, that they live by eating other species. Inter-species survival is a matter of tooth and claw. It would surely be absurd to say that the wolf is "evil" because he exists by devouring and "aggressing against" lambs, chickens, etc. The wolf is not an evil being who "aggresses against" other species; he is simply following the natural law of his own survival.
If given the chance, many dogs will kill smaller prey either for food or just plain fun. From a human perspective, a dog's mauling of a helpless rodent may be in bad taste but is hardly considered "evil." And it would be quite absurd to put a canine on trial for something it doesn't regard as "wrong." In some cases dogs do attack humans. Whether provoked or unprovoked, it would also seem odd to call that aggression a crime. There is no clear proof that dogs are capable of understanding morals and why certain actions are "unethical."

Unless dogs implicitly recognize the rights of man, then there is little meaning in doing the same for them. Dogs can learn to behave in such a way that pleases their owners but it doesn't follow that they consciously regard violence or stealing as morally reprehensible insomuch that they may be punished with the withholding of a meal.  It is also worth pointing out that the use of the term "owner" as it pertains to a dog and a man implies a complete separate nature between human and canine. And though parents will refer to their children as "my son" and "my daughter," these future adults are still seen as free-minded beings capable of determining between right or wrong. Ironically, children are usually more adept at identifying injustices than full-grown men.

The fact that natural law applied to human beings is not applicable to dogs does not mean norms and customs shouldn't govern how man should treat animals. In modern society, it is seen as unbecoming to pick one's nostrils in public, urinate in the view of others, and walk around just plain naked. Though none of these actions hurt anyone, social stigma has a way of mediating their occurrence. In the same way, it may not be unlawful to harm a dog, but it is typically seen as an action worthy of disdain. Those who hurt animals can be socially ostracized much like adulterers.

In the case of puppy mills, it has to be considered if these commercial establishments are really such terrible places. It is a widely observed phenomenon that animals bred for the purposes of selling are in abundant supply. Those animals which aren't but are still sought for economic purposes tend to decline in overall numbers as time passes. As a recent 60 Minutes report illustrated, a gaming ranch in Texas is now home to a number of exotic and endangered animals precisely because these creatures are, in effect, "on sale." Since there is a profit motive behind ensuring enough wild game is available to hunt, the various species are bred with care to make sure none die out.

Ownership provides an incentive for stewardship. Unless resources are taken care of, they fall in value. As Aristotle once wrote,
Each man pays most attention to what is his own, but less attention to what is common, or else, as much as contributes to his own interest.
Puppy mills provide the same function as private gaming reserves or farms. They are used to keep a steady supply of dogs available for those who may want them. And while these mills may not house dogs in what can be considered less-than-pristine conditions, nobody is forced to patronize such businesses. It is of interest to note that the same people who decry the existence of puppy mills don't usually call for the shutting down of the commercial breeding of cows, pigs, and chicken. All three are bred to be slaughtered and turned into consumable food yet there is nothing saying dog can't be used for the same purpose besides an established cultural norm.

In the end, it may be commendable to treat dogs well and not house them in unsavory conditions but the state is in no position to enforce such behavior. The natural law which stipulates that men are owners of their persons and property does not apply to dogs; or any other animal for that matter. It may sound unkind but truths are not meant to meet emotional standards. This doesn't mean dogs shouldn't be treated well however.  As the Bible proverb goes, "Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel." Civil society is capable of enforcing rules of conduct without the use of violence. The state’s reckless use of force should be limited and abolished whenever possible.

*The law is also meant to cut down on the number of kitten mills and the commercial breeding of rabbits. For the purposes of this article, dogs are dealt with exclusively, but the same reasoning applies to cats and rabbits.
James E. Miller holds a BS in public administration with a minor in business from Shippensburg University, PA. He is the Editor in Chief at the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada and a current contributor to his hometown newspaper, the Middletown Press and Journal. He currently works in Washington D.C. as a copywriter.

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