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Animal Mills. We all dislike them, some from their first hand experience, and some in the vague abstract. I'm not a passionate crusader. My personal stance is more on supporting free choice, but making sure it's an /educated/ choice. In other words, if someone wants to buy a pet store animal, more power to them, but I feel they should know exactly what it is they are supporting to aid them in their decision making process. As it will become apparent, I'm clearly have never been a marketing major, but I'd like to say I try to pay attention.

I'm about to pontificate at length, look out. :p

I've been sitting here mulling this morning about the issues of mill breeding, and how to break the chain of mill breeding. With the pov of how businesses work in mind complete with cold and psudo-marketing lingo included for effect, here's some of my thoughts. It really does boil down to education doesn't it? Mill breeders are no different from any other product vendor. They thrive when the consumer possesses some combination of ignorance, indifference, and/or emotional irrationality.

In fact, I'd say that since they can't rely on name brand recognition or the reputation of a quality product to help them sell their merchandise, they are utterly dependent on their consumers relying on one or more of those three "i's" to guide their product choice. This is even true-- though more understandable-- in markets where pet stores hold the monopoly on pet product.

Let's look at the three "i's".

1) Ignorance-The less a consumer knows about their product from the production line to the store shelf, the easier it is to operate without quality control check and balances. Where does your rat come from? Really? How are they treated from birth to pet store? How are the production animals treated generationally?

This is one of the few areas where I give an institution like PETA any kind of respect. Though PETA has been shown to be often guilty of corrupt journalism practices-say, killing animals and staging a scene to magnify the 'offense level' of a place they are investigating- they are capable of getting in places and exposing things that need exposing. It has been through their efforts alone that some places have been exposed and either stopped, or held accountable for the quality of their animal processing.

It was once common place for cats and dogs to be sold widely through pet stores after having been provided by mills operating with impunity. While it's still a problem, we can't say that puppy and kitty mills haven't been exposed for what they are to the average consumer, and you see much fewer instances of this than you would have 15-20 years ago.

2: Indifference-Who cares where my [insert product here] comes from, I want what a want and I want it now. I'll be the first to say that while I'm guilty of all three 'i's', this one I'm particularly guilty of. In fact, I don't feel horribly guilty about it, so I'm perpetually part of the process. It was because if my desire for a 'higher quality product' with health and temperament that I researched hobby breeders for my first rat. Not because I was interested in relieving the plight of pet store animals, but because I didn't want to have to deal with the planned obsolescence/hazardous product of mill breeders.

Planned obsolescence. Huh. Okay, this is a random detour on the topic, but I never thought too hard before this morning how much that benefits mills and it really gets me thinking now that I've thought of it. Planned obsolescence--the practice of deliberately designing a product to break after X amount of time, thus forcing a consumer to continually purchase a new version of that product, thereby creating a market for that product. Light bulbs are a perfect example. Early light bulbs worked very well. In fact, some of the original light bulbs created over 100 years ago are still burning somewhere to this day. But, with a little tinkering on the filament during production and suddenly bulbs started burning out after a few thousand hours of use. Oops, gotta go get another one.

Apply that to animals. It's not too far a stretch to think that creating a product to 'break' earlier and earlier, and conditioning the consumer to accept that as normal means that they make more money. It doesn't hurt the reptile industry. As long as rats can achieve the size needed as a food product, then their needs are met. It benefits the business in the pet industry too, because they have a shorter and shorter life span between pets, which means more pets purchased over a consumer's life time.

Now with dogs and cats, this works less effectively, because owners are going to spend money on vet care more often than not and will be ticked if they have to spend too much on their pet over a 8-12+ year lifetime. They will more quickly yell foul. Add to that the six month average wait between litters to slow down the production process, and it's less cost effective to create the obsolescence.

But with rats? They are already considered 'disposable' even without the planned obsolescence of a light bulb to add to the mix. Then there is their mere two month litter turn around. Now add to the fact that the source of most rats are labs where they have already been bred for thousands of generations to have health issues that could be studied....?

It's not even that hard for a mill to perpetuate. All they have to do is let the sickly rats loose with each other without a plan beyond "I like this color", and the rats create their own obsolescence. Things that make me go hmm.

Okay back to the main topic. How can the consumer stop this practice? By not being indifferent. By expecting quality and researching what it takes to get it personally, and then of course by not buying inferior product. The more education the better.

3: (Emotional) Irrationality- This is often the big one; the one that gets even the most passionate anti mill crusader. "But he needed me". "But she chose me." "Because I couldn't turn my back on suffering." "Because I would have had to travel 100 miles and wait 12 months to get a baby otherwise." Whatever the reasoning, the consumer chucks all logic aside and decides things with their heart alone. All of the irrational reasons are irrational because they defy the logical benefit of long term planning. Mills love irrationality. All vendors do. They don't care why you obtain their product, just that you do and they get their cut. It's all about percentages. For every X amount of product that moved, then we will breed X number of times. We must be aware and accept the fact that for every 1 rat (unit) we purchase for any of our personal 'emotional irrational' reasons, we will will very well directly cause one breeding, which will result in 6-12 more units being produced. I've said this part elsewhere, and I speak to myself when I say it. Go with your heart, but know and own the fact that you have actively made a decision. You have decided that the needs of the one are more important and valuable than the needs of the twenty.

How to break the cycle of the three 'i's'? If you must buy your rat, then support only quality reputable hobby breeders, which directly supports the effort to breed the health and longevity back into our babies. Or, don't support breeding or the pet trade at all. Adopt all of your pets only for free, or from reputable rescues.


You have been a little more educated. Make your choice freely. :)
 

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Yes, I agree with what you've said here. I think the crux of it for most people really does come down to two factors: they feel bad for the animals who are sold primarily as feeders, and (for some) they might not be able to find any breeders in their area, and are thus relegated to pet stores.

Of course, society generally makes a much bigger deal of this with puppies than with rats, mice, and other tiny critters, for a variety of reasons. It's unfortunate, really, because the conditions at these mills are just as bad for rats as they are for dogs.

Another factor, though, is that their main base of customers comes from people who are buying the animals as food for other pets. Unless those people stop feeding their animals (which would be cruel!), there will always be an easy market for mass-bred rodents. The people buying rodents as pets are definitely not the main market for these breeders, and they KNOW that--which is why they don't care about the health and overall condition of the animals.

So, it's a tough call. My first pair of rats (which I had in high school) were from Pet World, and they were feeder rats. They lived to be 18 months old, and died of chronic respiratory problems. Stanley and Russell came from an animal education center, where they breed their own animals and sell some of them (others are kept for educating children and adults through various programs run out of their building). They have had health problems, but they have already outlived my previous rats by 7.5 months.

I think that all animals deserve a happy, healthy life, despite their breeders' intentions. That being said, I would much prefer to buy an animal that has a good family line that will help the longevity of my pet. It's also nice knowing that the jerks who run mills won't be getting my money.
 
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