Laws Regarding Puppy Mills

Would it surprise you to know that there is no legal definition of a puppy mill? You might think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but lawyers need a specific definition. The ASPCA defines a puppy mill as a “large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs,” and as we’ve highlighted on the blog lately, there are many red flags that should alert you if you are interviewing a breeder before buying a puppy from him or her.

puppy mills
Would it surprise you to know that there is no legal definition of a puppy mill?

If you’re buying directly from a breeder, you should look out for those who have more than two or three breeds on the property, or if the puppies and adult dogs are kept in dirty, over-crowded cages you might suspect you are at a puppy mill. However, most puppy mill puppies aren’t sold directly to families. They’re sold to pet stores, who in turn sell them to unsuspecting people who want to have a purebred dog.

You may have seen pictures of puppy mills , and you might wonder why this type of operation is allowed to continue. After all, many of the puppies who come from these mills have numerous genetic diseases and other problems as a result of the conditions of their birth. The answer is that there are huge loopholes in the laws governing puppy mills, and as many as 17 states have no laws at all.

Federal Legislation

In 1966, the Animal Welfare Act was passed to regulate commercial dog breeding. This law described the barest minimum standards of care acceptable for dogs which are being bred to be sold wholesale, to be enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The major loophole in this law is that mills that sell directly to consumers are not bound by it. Because this law was passed way before anyone had heard of the Internet, it didn’t include any provisions for puppy mills that sell on the Web. In addition, many Internet puppies are bred overseas and are not subject to US law.

In 2008, the Farm Bill included an amendment that said puppies couldn’t be imported for the purpose of resale until they have reached the age of at least six months. Although this was a major victory, it still didn’t address the problem of puppies sold directly to consumers after being born in either domestic or foreign puppy mills.

In September, 2008, the Puppy Uniform Protection Statute (PUPS) was introduced in the US House of Representatives, and a similar bill was introduced in the Senate. It would have restricted the sale of puppies from puppy mills, and would have required breeders to provide out-of-cage exercise for each dog every day. Due to the bills being introduced so late in the year, neither of them was passed.

State Laws

puppy mills
Breeders are considered to be retailers, and as such do not fall under the federal jurisdiction.

One of the major problems in regulating breeders is that the Federal government considers breeders who sell directly to the public to be retailers, meaning that they do not fall under the purview of the federal government and should be regulated by each state. However, many states categorize these very same operations as breeders, meaning that they must be regulated by the Feds. As a result, no one inspects or regulates many of the nation’s puppy mills.

Even when puppy mills are raided due to reports of inhumane treatment, most existing laws are on the books as civil law, meaning that the most that can be done is to sue the owner. No criminal penalties can be applied because the laws governing puppy mills are not criminal laws. In order to get jail time, prosecutors must prove that criminal animal cruelty statutes have been broken, many of which do not address breeding conditions. It’s a real catch 22.

In 2008, Virginia became the first state to pass meaningful legislation to help curb puppy mills. The law limited the number of adult dogs that any commercial breeder could have at one time to 50. Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington State soon followed suit.

As of this writing, 33 states have laws that seek to regulate the commercial breeding of dogs. Many of them dictate only the minimum age a puppy must attain before being sold. Some simply try to define what constitutes a “commercial breeder” or a “dog breeder,” which is just the first small step toward regulating these entities. Some of them are lemon laws, aimed at protecting consumers who bring home a dog who later turns out to have a disease commonly associated with being born in a puppy mill, such as a respiratory infection or genetic defect. Click this link to access an interactive map of state dog breeding laws.

puppy mills
Below is a summary of the bills currently on the legislative agenda in fifteen states.

Below is a summary of the bills currently on the legislative agenda in fifteen states.


House Bill 95 defines a breeding dog, and prohibits anyone from having more than 25 of them at any one time.


House Bill 198 and Senate Bill 53 state that no breeder can keep more than 20 intact dogs over one year of age. House Bill 5771 defines two categories: commercial breeders and dog breeders, establishing standards and licensing requirements for both. Senate Bill 3841 defines three categories, calling them large-scale breeders, dog breeders, and hobby breeders. Licensing requirements and standards are spelled out for commercial breeders and dog breeders.


Three bills are currently being considered in Iowa: House Bill 2280, and Senate Bills 2365 and 2233, all proposing standards of care for commercial breeders.


Senate Bill 774 attacks the problem by prohibiting anyone who has more than 25 intact adult dogs from getting a kennel license. Those who do get a license would be required to adhere to strict exercise requirements and to have their kennels constructed to meet minimum standards.


In Minnesota, House Files 253 and 573, as well as Senate Files 7, 201, and 500 seek to provide definitions for commercial breeders and hobby breeders.


Missouri’s House Bill 1921 would apply to all breeders, regardless of how many dogs they own. It introduces standards of care and prohibits anyone from having more than 50 intact dogs over the age of four months at any time.

New Hampshire

The Live Free or Die state has House Bill 1624 on its docket. It would set standards of care for anyone who has more than ten intact dogs over the age of four months. It would also regulate anyone who is involved in the negotiation, buying, selling, or transferring of dogs to an owner within the state. Finally, it limits the number of intact dogs over four months of age anyone can have for breeding purposes to 50.

New Jersey

Assembly Bill 474 defines a breeder and requires that the state SPCA and the Humane Society be involved in creating rules for veterinary care.

New York

No fewer than seven bills related to dog breeders are being considered in The Empire State. Assembly Bills 5507 and 6797 appear to be very vague, while Assembly Bill 7983 and Senate Bills 518, 4690, and 4961 would regulate the number of dogs which can be owned or sold by any one breeding operation.

North Carolina

House and Senate Bills 460 define commercial breeders and introduce new standards of care and penalties for these breeders.


In Ohio, House Bill 124 and Senate Bill 95 define “regulated dog breeding kennels”.


In Oklahoma, House Bill 1332 creates a quality assurance license for breeders, based on the number of dogs they sell, give away, or transfer in any calendar year.

South Dakota

The good folks in Pierre are considering House Bill 1146, which establishes a definition of a commercial breeder and prohibits ownership of more than 50 intact dogs over the age of one year. It also allows the investigation of commercial breeders by humane society officials.


House Bill 1936 in Washington State establishes rules for anyone who owns ten or more intact dogs and prohibits any one person from owning more than 25 intact dogs over the age of four months.


Senate Bills 110 and 208 define commercial breeders and dog breeders. Only SB 208 sets licensing requirements and standards of care.

Many states also have other dog-related legislation such as spay/neuter and tethering laws under consideration.

Get involved

I know, you already went to the polls to vote, but you can still be involved in the legislative process. Use this link to find your state legislators’ addresses and drop them a line to ask them to support dog-friendly legislation. Encourage them to support at least one of the proposed laws in your state, or to introduce a bill that would provide meaningful reform to the puppy mill industry.

In many of the states with more than one proposed statute, it is a very real possibility that none of the laws will be passed because legislators will continue to bicker over which one is best. Encourage the legislators who represent your location to get over party politics and do the right thing.


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