Puppy Mills: Why and How to Avoid Them

What is a Puppy Mill?

Puppies raised in a mill live in poor conditions with little to no vet care.

Probably the most basic definition is that a puppy mill is any large-scale breeder who uses irresponsible breeding practices with the goal of making the most money possible in the shortest period of time. Smaller-scale breeders who are irresponsible are usually referred to as backyard breeders, although the problems are the same regardless of the size of the operation.

Irresponsible breeders are not concerned with the health of the puppies they sell. They don't usually keep good records of which puppies came from which parents, and they don't selectively breed out undesirable traits. The puppies are often weaned too early, creating nutritional and immune system deficits.

Conditions at a puppy mill are usually far less than ideal. Overcrowded cages are not cleaned regularly, and veterinary care is scarce to non-existent.

Females in puppy mills are bred every time they come into heat, and when they cannot serve as incubators, they are killed to make way for dogs that can. As a dog is repetitively bred, she produces smaller and smaller litters until she is taken "out of service" due to the reduction in her productivity and profitability.

If the last paragraph sounds to you like something that would be said of a machine, congratulations. You have taken the first step in helping to eliminate puppy mills.

What happens to puppies that come from puppy mills?

Many pupppies from mills end up in pet stores, so never buy a dog from a pet shop.

Any puppies that survive their horrible beginnings are generally sold to pet stores to be passed on to customers who don't know any better. They may be transported long distances to the pet store, which results in the death of even more puppies. As they grow older, puppy mill dogs are likely to display the results of bad genetics.

Because their parents are not screened for things like hip dysplasia or eye problems, these puppies are more likely than most to develop these genetic conditions. In addition, the overcrowded conditions at puppy mills can lead to respiratory problems and pneumonia.

Dogs born in puppy mills are often not properly socialized, as they are generally left in their cages until shipped off to the point of sale. This results in dogs that are more likely to be aggressive, which can lead to painful, disfiguring bites to their adoptive families. In addition, these puppies may have a tough time getting along with other dogs in the family.

How did puppy mills get started?

After World War II, many farmers returned home from the front looking for a cash crop and found that as people moved to the suburbs, they wanted puppies to complete their American dreams. At the same time, suburbanites began going to malls which often contained chain pet stores where they could buy puppies by the dozens.

Because the farmers often had chicken coops or rabbit hutches on their properties already, they began to fill them with dogs to satisfy the demand of the pet stores. However, the farmers often didn't make enough money to secure high quality or frequent veterinary care for their dogs.

Until the Humane Society of the United States lobbied for the passage of the Animal Welfare Act in 1966, these kennels were largely unregulated, cruelly producing animals with severe health and behavioral problems. High volume breeding with little or no veterinary care and no regulatory oversight is the epitome of a recipe for disaster.

Thousands of puppy mills still exist in the United States, with high concentrations in the rural areas of Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. With the advent of Internet sales, demand for puppies has risen again, with buyers often unaware they are purchasing dogs born in a puppy mill.

How can I identify a responsible breeder?

At a bare minimum, you should make sure you visit the breeder to see conditions for yourself. Never, never, never purchase a dog over the Internet or at a pet store without seeing where he came from. Don't believe any pictures you see that purport to show you where the dogs were born (see our blog entry on doctored pictures here).

Ask the breeder to show you where the puppies spend most of their time. Is the area clean and well-maintained?

Take a look at the puppy's parents and ask to see their certification from the OFA, which shows that they have been checked for hip dysplasia and found to be free of genetic orthopedic problems. Also, many breeders will have their dogs checked for genetic eye problems and will have a certificate from CERF, although this is a bit less common than an OFA certification.

Ask the breeder to show you his records. He should keep track of which dogs have been bred with which other dogs, and what the results were. This helps him to selectively breed for desired traits such as gentle personalities or even certain colors. He should also be able to show you each puppy's worming records and each adult dog's shot records.

Ask how many breeds the breeder deals in. Ideally, a breeder will specialize in one or two breeds and will be able to tell you the breed standard of each. He cannot breed to the standard if he doesn't know what it is. As you are talking to the breeder, you will get a good sense of why he is in the business. A high quality breeder has an interest in creating the "perfect" specimen of his preferred breed. He will likely be able to tell you the awards his dogs have won at shows.

Responsible breeders will not usually tell you to "come on over and take your pick of the litter." Rather, they will take your name and let you know when they have a puppy available for you. This is good; it indicates they are not wearing out their breed stock.

While you are interviewing the breeder, he should also be interviewing you. He should want to take some responsibility for sending his puppies to good homes. He should insist that you sign a contract to spay or neuter your dog if you are not buying a show quality dog. He should ask who you intend to use as your veterinarian and what kind of training you plan to provide. He should inquire as to whether the dog will be allowed to live in your house, and if you rent, he should require proof from your landlord that he allows pets.

Aren't there laws that regulate puppy mills?

There is minimal supervision of puppy mills by the United States Department of Agriculture, whose investigators look for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Commercial breeders are supposed to be licensed and meet minimal standards of care. Certain states have similar laws. However, if a breeder operates without a license or fails to meet minimum standards, it is often not until he is reported that he gets inspected or cited. Penalties are substantially less than what would be required to encourage improvements.

The best way to stop puppy mills is to refuse to buy from them. If we take away their profits, they have no reason to continue.

The Humane Society of the United States has a website on puppy mills and devotes an entire page to the USDA Hall of Shame. Here are a few of the things the USDA has found at puppy mills that are still licensed.

"The owner had told USDA that he performs surgical procedures…on animals. Owner has no analgesic or anesthetic agents and no sterilization apparatus present at the facility and is not licensed to practice veterinary medicine…"
"The temperatures…were 34 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit…No bedding was present to offset this temperature drop. There are two functional gas wall heaters present at this time but only the pilots were burning."
"There was a lab female with 7 puppies that was very thin. Her ribs were visible. There was no fresh food in the pen…and the dog was digging in the gravel trying to get to old food that had spilled and was wet."
"Currently, the owner's wife says that the kennel has not been cleaned in probably over a month."
"There are two enclosures, each containing four adults, which has bloody stool on the ground surface."
"The Record of Acquisition of Dogs & Cats on Hand lists approximately 169 breeding adults. The total number of adults accounted for during inspection is 447 adults and 116 puppies."
"Some animals are observed to not have sufficient space to lie in a comfortable position all at once."

If this makes you want to cry, keep reading.

How can I help stop puppy mills?

  • The most important thing you can do to stop puppy mills is to take away their business! Simply refuse to buy a puppy if you don't know about his ancestry and haven't seen his parents or birthplace. You may be "rescuing" the one or two dogs you take, but you are encouraging the overall growth of the business by contributing to the mill's profits.
  • If you want a purebred, consider adopting from a shelter or breed rescue group, rather than from a commercial breeder.
  • Educate others by helping the Humane Society of the United States with its ad campaign. Visit StopPuppyMills.org to find out how to help.
  • Lobby state and federal legislators to pass laws that actually protect puppies with stiff penalties for those who fail to comply.
  • If you live near a puppy mill, write a letter to your local newspaper or TV station, asking them to expose what is going on at these mills.
  • Post flyers on your website or in your town, near pet stores and vet offices, advising people on how to find good dog breeders.
  • Help the Humane Society of the United States in its campaign to stop puppy mills. Donate here.


Leave a comment on this article here!


Great article--very informative without being preachy.
Lisa/[email protected]
This article is so sad
I feel very bad for all those dogs at the puppy mills
Very imformative and sad
Will anyone answer to the comments?
I love dogs and I will never ever buy a dog form a puppy mill!
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i feel so sad and sorry for those pore animals and i hate animal abusers
fina / [email protected]
i'm ten years in age and i'm looking for a new dog if any body will send me a dog i'll be so gratefull and happy
Crys :(
ALWAYS either rescue or buy a puppy from a LEGITIMATE breeder that you know for fact is legitimate. Sheila connemaraterrier.com
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thank you very much for the information I did not know about these horrible conditions. Expecially here in the U.S.A
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how true is that! I bought a puppy from a pet store in Whitter ,Ca in the 70's got all his shots and everything! I had to put him down because he had distemper! and no he was not around any other dogs! I never did go back to the pet store, I was to heart broken! I have never bought a puppy from a pet store again! I even took him to another doctor, same outcome it was distemper! his name was Buster he was a German Short Haired Pointer, he use to point at everything even Butterflies I still miss him! pet stores should be out!!! it's all about the money!
Wow. These people are ignorant... if the humane society can get a person arrested for the cruelty of animals for having 20-80 cats living in a home that was not a clean environment for the animals, then how do these people still have the right to breed dogs inhumanely. If there is bloody stools, obviously the dogs are sick and need immediate attention. Breeding dogs should be a privilege to bring life of "mans best friend" to earth. This is a joke. If I met somebody who had a puppy mill, I would probably try to beat somebody's ass. I love the dogs I have, and if something were to happen to them for somebodies ignorance, there would be hell to pay. Thank you for this information.
* tearr.!:(
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who is the author of this article???
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i dont care about puppy mills. they produce very bad dogs and no one buys them. i only care about the disgusting cruelty and abuse that puppies suffer from ckc regulated breeders. stop docking and cropping!
Ever [email protected]
This just makes me wanna cry:( When I watch animal cops those people be abusing those poor animals !
That just mess up!That just sad!:(
[email protected]
ther is a puppy mill near where i live... D:
poor dogs and to think a pet store would buy from mills
Madison Young/[email protected]
Since I want to be a dog breeder and a vet when I grow up I wanted to know how not to make a puppy mill.I had heard about them and how horrible they were, but I never knew what they were exactlly. THIS HELPED SO MUCH
Really good article. I agree with the comment below.
but how do we help the puppies if we dont buy them? what happens to them?
[email protected]
How can we keep buyers away from backyard breeders who knowingly sell pups with genetic issues? Isn't there some kind of blacklist of sellers for buyers to beware of?
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I feel that too many shelters force people like me to purchase from petstores/puppy mills.....when I wanted to adopt a shelter pup I was told that if my dog reacted a certain way to the new puppy they would NOT let me adopt. Our older dog (4) growled and showed teeth and his hair stood on his back...but we have had our new puppy for 3 weeks now and they are now the best of friends....unfortunately 2 of the pupppies we were interested in are still in the shelters....I understand the reason they are so picky, but I hope they understand my point as well. With some supervision and love, our family is complete and I trust my dogs together 100 percent~
[email protected] Jeff Winchester
i hate puppy mills i want to encourge not to ecourge puppy mills i am resuching puppy mills for a perseve essy.
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The Oregon Humane Society seized more than 30 abused dogs from breeder Diana Cheadle of FoxBurrow Kennels, Canby, Oregon. http://tinyurl.com/4s4xjr6
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The Oregon Humane Society rescued more than 30 abused dogs from puppy mill breeder Diana Cheadle of FoxBurrow Kennels, 27777 South Elisha Road, Canby, Oregon. http://tinyurl.com/4s4xjr6
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