The problem of dog overbreeding poses just as much of a threat to their welfare as physical abuse and dog fighting, and in some ways, is worse. After all, a reasonable person witnessing two dogs being forced to fight each other, or a dog being struck by someone, or a dog that's been subjected to obvious neglect would easily recognize that those conditions threaten the animal's welfare. But a litter of sweet, innocent little baby puppies? How could they be part of the problem when they're just so cute.
Of course, we as responsible dog owners know better. So does dog lover Kelley McQueen. And she's decided to take her crusade to the next level.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise tells her story:
Kelley McQueen transformed from animal lover to activist when she spotted a sign twirler hawking the sale of Great Dane puppies outside a bank.
Since then, the Banning woman has been chasing down "backyard breeders" who sell puppies or kittens in front of stores, at swap meets, in parks and from the trunks of their cars.
These unlicensed street vendors usually are not registered with the American Kennel Club, and they break laws by selling unweaned, untagged and unvaccinated animals that often have congenital defects and end up in the pound. Sales can be lucrative, often impulse buys, fetching up to $1,200 in cash for a purebred pup, say police.
"After months of seeing purebreds in pens on a grassy area between the sidewalk and Tyler Street, I finally snapped," said McQueen, 61.
Terry Sheldon, a volunteer who works with McQueen's small animal rescue group, said she was aghast to see beautiful golden retriever puppies there one weekend. Then a truck pulled up with a litter of pit bulls.
"I don't get in anyone's face, but I'm a 5-feet, 170-pound pit bull," said Sheldon, 51, who runs a day care in Riverside.
Some breeders flatly denied that they were selling dogs from their car trunks. Two women peddling Chihuahuas took off after Sheldon told them they were trespassing and snapped photos of them using her phone.
"I never assume they know they're doing something illegal," Sheldon said.
After law enforcement issued several $100 citations for "transient vending" and trespassing, the illegal trade along Tyler Street has dropped off dramatically in the past six months, said Lt. Bob Williams, the Riverside Police Department's area commander for the West policing center.
Other communities are catching on. Temecula launched a crackdown last Sunday on puppy pushers in the commercial strip district on Rancho California Road, according to Rich Johnston, deputy director of code enforcement and building safety.
"It's a public health issue more than anything," said Robert P. Miller, director of the Riverside County Department of Animal Services.
Miller said he has no way to track the number of sellers, but he said they tend to be more prevalent in less-affluent communities where people want quick cash.
Often the animals are smuggled in from Mexico, are sick, and haven't been vaccinated, examined, spayed or neutered. They're ultimately destined for the pound once buyers realize care is costly.
Rescue groups estimate that about two-thirds of the 53 million dogs in the U.S. come from backyard breeders and say those are the single greatest cause of pet overpopulation.
Unregulated breeders tend to fly under the radar and elude authorities. Animal experts say they lack knowledge about their breed -- how to socialize the dog and maintain its health. They don't vet prospective pet owners to ensure quality care.
Worse, successful backyard breeders sometimes expand and morph into puppy millers, with profit as the only motive and sick and abandoned dogs as their casualties.
Rita Gutierrez, field services commander with Riverside County Department of Animal Services, said public education is critical to halt these vendors.
"Why would you give a stranger $200 or $300 on a street corner when there are shelters full of very cute dogs?" Gutierrez asked. "If you take away their business, they'll go away."
Reach Laurie Lucas at 951-368-9569 or llucas@PE.com