SPCA Tampa Bay says yes to puppy mills in new partnership

German shepherd type dog on a leash with a person behind him
By Julie Castle

Animal shelters, both public and private, serve an important need in helping dogs and cats (and other species, like many at the Sanctuary) who lose their homes to find safety and comfort within new homes. Saving animals who need our help is the very core of what we do.

Unfortunately, there are some within animal welfare who have lost sight of this important goal.

Recently, news came out about what’s being called the For All Dogs Pilot Partnership between the SPCA Tampa Bay, a nonprofit animal welfare agency in Florida; Sunshine Puppies, a retail pet store chain; and Pinnacle Pet, a large puppy broker based out of Missouri. From what I can gather, the partnership transfers adult breeding dogs and what they call “Perfectly Imperfect Puppies” from Pinnacle Pet’s network of breeding facilities to SPCA Tampa Bay for adoption, provides puppies arriving to be sold at Sunshine Puppies pet stores from said breeding facilities with veterinary care from SPCA Tampa Bay, adds SPCA Tampa Bay Veterinary Center to Sunshine Puppies pet stores’ recommended veterinary partner list, and places SPCA Tampa Bay kiosks within Sunshine Puppies pet stores.

Let’s take a closer look under the hood.

Puppy brokers connect commercial breeding facilities — also known as puppy mills — with pet stores, which then sell the mills’ puppies (often to people who don’t know the reality from where these puppies came). Puppy mills are inherently cruel places. Scientific studies have shown conclusively mills are highly injurious to both the adult breeding dogs and the puppies distributed from them, resulting in severe, extensive, and long-term harm to their behavioral and psychological well-being. Their practices are the antithesis of a mission dedicated to preventing cruelty to animals. And yet, this partnership has been formed, the apparent result of which would be an animal shelter that should be protecting animals is not only endorsing, promoting, and perpetuating the cruel practices at puppy mills but doing it at the expense of truly needy animals in their own care.

Last year, the SPCA Tampa Bay had the second highest rate of shelter killing for dogs in the state of Florida. The shelter had an overall save rate of 59% — lower still for dogs, at 54% — and killed more than 1,523 animals in its care alone.

Why would a shelter that is already killing so many of the animals who enter its care choose to partner with a puppy mill broker? How does that serve any purpose in saving the lives of the animals in its care who are desperate to walk out alive? How does it resonate with the animal care staff who give their all to these animals day in and day out, only to watch 41% of the dogs and cats they love not make it out just because they didn’t have enough time to find the right home?

The act is a huge betrayal of not only the public trust in the important work that both private and municipal shelters play in our society, but of the animals for whom we are entrusted to care. It’s an absolute disgrace.

Over the past nearly 40 years, the no-kill movement has been working to reduce the number of dogs and cats killed in shelters across the country. During that time, we have seen dedicated shelter and rescue leadership, staff, and volunteers reduce that number from an estimated 17 million to 378,000 in 2022. This is incredible progress, but we're still seeing over 1,000 animals needlessly lose their lives every day. And based on preliminary data, conversations with partners, and headlines from around the country, 2023 may prove to be an even more challenging year.

But this program undermines the hard work of everyone in the animal welfare industry. It essentially turns an animal shelter into just another recipient on a puppy broker’s list, extends the puppy mill pipeline right into agencies that are actively fighting against it, and further blurs the line between “adopting” and “buying.”

Additionally, this program appears to transfer dogs from outside of Florida into Florida, a state where shelters are struggling to save the lives of animals already in their communities — SPCA Tampa Bay included, as mentioned earlier — and that currently kills the fourth most animals in shelters in the entire country. The program’s transfers are done in the name of “increasing choices” in order to, as stated in the For All Dogs FAQ section, “see more new customers.”

This point was furthered by Martha Boden, CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay, in a sit-down interview with The New Barker. In discussing the partnership’s idea of increased choice, she said:

“Nothing against the block-headed dogs, we love them just as much as anyone else. But bringing in dogs and puppies like Pomeranians, ShihTzus – you know – the dogs that the public really wants to adopt, will help bring more people to our shelter, and really that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

Insinuating that the public doesn’t want the dogs who are already in shelters is possibly the worst thing that a shelter director could ever say. It perpetuates the myth that there’s “something wrong” with pets in shelters. This demonstrably untrue statement — something that everyone who has ever adopted a pet from a shelter knows to be absurd — is one of the greatest barriers to achieving no-kill. And while having purebred puppies for adoption could bring more people into a shelter, these dogs are still sourced from commercial breeding facilities and therefore the program still promotes the puppy mill industry. Furthermore, what happens if people come into the shelter looking for a purebred puppy, only to find adult dogs formerly used for breeding? Is the shelter then encouraging them to go to the pet store? To me, this idea of apparently increasing choices sounds a lot more like choosing to ignore the dogs already in need.

At the end of the day, a partnership like SPCA Tampa Bay’s For All Dogs pilot program provides a direct avenue for puppy mill puppies to be sold under the guise of adoption, perpetuates the horrific living conditions that puppy mill breeding dogs are subjected to, perpetuates that myth that pets in shelters are “less than,” dilutes resources available for local pets in need, and undermines the work being done by thousands around this country to end the killing of dogs and cats in shelters. It is unconscionable.

A no-kill country — a country where no dog or cat is killed in a shelter simply because they don’t have a home — is in sight. We’ve come so far, but there is still more work to do. I do not believe that utilizing scarce resources on a partnership promoting puppy mills and providing veterinary services to for-profit puppy stores will, in any way, help to end the killing of pets in shelters. Invest in growing foster programs, in increasing accessible and affordable spay/neuter services, and in promoting the dogs already sitting in shelters at risk of losing their lives.

I stand firmly against the SPCA Tampa Bay’s For All Dogs Pilot Partnership. I implore them to do the right thing and end it before it really begins.


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Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society