Four cute puppies hang their paws over the words, "End Puppy Mills," on three billboards in Loveland and Fort Collins, calling attention to the heart of Colorado Citizens for Canine Welfare's mission.
The Denver-based nonprofit put up the billboards Oct. 11 for eight weeks before the holidays to encourage people to not buy dogs from pet stores, the Internet and other sources of dogs bred in puppy mills.
However, local pet store operators say the criticism is misguided, as they buy from reputable breeders and not mass breeding operations.
"Many people don't know about puppy mills. They don't know how cruel and unnecessary they are," said Cheryl Gross, president of 3CW. "If you can't see the puppy's parents living in a warm, loving home, then it's likely they came from a puppy mill."
Puppy mills are defined as large-scale commercial operations that breed puppies in unsanitary, overcrowded and unsafe conditions. The mills keep the breeding dogs in small wire cages in the heat and cold, do not provide adequate food and water, use them for continuous breeding and then abandon or kill them when they are no longer wanted, their opponents say.
As a result, the mills produce animals often ill with diseases contracted in the mill or with congenital defects due to irresponsible breeding, as stated in a 3CW newsletter published in September.
There are 162 licensed mills in Colorado and more than 3,000 in the U.S., the newsletter states.
"The standards are so pathetic, it doesn't mean anything," said Mary Wilkinson, Northern Colorado chairwoman of 3CW. "If we reach one person at a time, one child at a time, dog by dog, it's successful, because we're educating people not to perpetuate the puppy mill business."