Wednesday, February 01, 2006

601 Dalmatians 

Mrs. S alerted me a week ago to this story of the puppy mill in Morrison County, and since then has been trying to get me to write something about it. I said if she wrote a letter to the editors of the local paper, I would link it.

So there.

A couple of thoughts: We have a dog that had been with a breeder (though I can't tell you how many dogs that breeder had, and I assume the perjorative "puppy mill" has to do with size -- the breeder in question has proposed a farm with 600 dogs.) Buttercup -- you've seen her here before -- is very skittish of men and still distrustful of me after eighteen months, even though she is a cuddly dog and smarter than our previous Boston. There is some evidence that dogs used for breeding in puppy mills are anti-social. Luckily Buttercup is better than most, but those stories do make me wonder what her life was like before now.

Second, the arguments over the Morrison County story and whether government should do something about this breeder are approaching some economics, asking about the externalities associated with 600 dogs (waste and noise would be the two largest I can think of; the breeder is mitigating this by breeding small dogs and "debarking" them.) Mrs. S argues those should be sufficient to shut down the facility, leaving aside the inhumane treatment of dogs in these mills. I don't think that argument is sufficient. But while I would like to think the market takes care of these issues -- zoning laws would put these in places where noise and waste impose lower external costs, mills would be right-sized by market signals of price -- I wonder if the ability to "dump inventory" to research labs or simple abandonment violates some basic economic assumptions. I'll let more microeconomically-inclined colleagues explain whether that's right or wrong.