Puppy Mills: Breeding Grounds of Death and Despair

How Did It All Start

The breeding of dogs began as a cash crop for strapped Midwest farmers. Following widespread crop failures in the late 1940s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began promoting a new crop for farmers to raise—puppies. Unlike farming to produce food, raising puppies was less labor intensive and not vulnerable to the vagaries of Mother Nature. Farmers already had out buildings on their properties so converting chicken coops and rabbit hutches to puppy cages entailed little time and expense on their part.

With the increase in the number of puppies being produced, a new player came on the scene—the puppy store. Sears Roebuck used to sell puppies in their pet departments and from there the stand-alone puppy store flourished. Next entered the puppy broker. This person would deliver the puppies from the mills to the pet stores. Some puppies would travel miles, often in pickup trucks, tractor trailers, and other conveyances, many unsuitable to the transport of young animals, from where they were bred to where they were sold. Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has been considered the Puppy Mill Capital of the East. Other states that have concentrated numbers of puppy mills are Missouri and Nebraska, although almost all states have puppy mills within their borders.

Conditions in Puppy Mills
Puppy mills can house anywhere from 50 dogs to over 1,000. The breeding dogs live in cramped, dark, filthy conditions. They receive no veterinary care and often little food and water. There is no attempt to breed healthy, genetically sound puppies, so the breeding dogs often mate with their siblings, parents, or offspring resulting in puppies who suffer from either or both congenital and hereditary conditions. The puppies often suffer as well from a variety of diseases due to the unsanitary conditions and the lack of proper nutrition. Deformed or seriously ill puppies are killed instantly.
To keep expenses to a minimum, those running the breeding facilities often do not heat or cool the “barns” the dogs live in so the animals suffer through the boiling heat of summer and the bone-chilling winds of winter. They are often starved—less food means more profit for the puppy mill owner. Staff costs are kept low at these facilities. Often only two or three people care for 500 or more dogs. Therefore, the animals receive no socialization from humans. In fact, many puppies show fear behavior because of the lack of socialization.
Breeding dogs live in wire cages for so long their paws become attached to the wire. These cages are often stacked one on top of another, allowing urine and feces from the upper cages to drop down onto the puppies in the lower cages. There is little attempt to clean up the cages or the dogs. The longer the dogs live in these cages, the more likely they will develop psychological behaviors known as stereotypies, such as obsessive licking and chewing to the point of tearing their skin. Other behaviors include spinning repetitively and howling constantly. Many dogs live their entire lives in these cages never seeing the sun or touching the ground. Needless to say, they get no exercise. The dogs are bred over and over again until they are no longer capable of reproducing and then they are often euthanized—sometimes with a bullet through the head—or sent off to research laboratories.
Make no mistake, puppy mills exist for one reason and one reason only—greed. They are a “cash” crop and nothing more for the owners, brokers, and pet stores who sell them. If you buy a puppy from a pet store, an Internet site selling multiple breeds, or a private home advertising a variety of breeds, you are most likely buying a puppy raised in a puppy mill. As a concerned animal caregiver, you would not knowingly support animal cruelty; but this is exactly what such purchases do.
How to Spot a Miller
Before you decide to add a puppy to your home, make sure to do your homework. If any of the following applies, then you are very likely getting a victim of the puppy mill industry:
  • You are not permitted to visit the puppy’s parents, or at least the mother.
  • You are not permitted to visit the breeding site.
  • You are required to complete a sales contract (rather than an adoption contract).
  • The puppy is obtained unseen through the Internet and shipped directly to you.
Also, you should be wary of sellers that pose as rescue/adoption advocates: these unscrupulous people will sell puppy mill animals for high “adoption/rescue/re-homing fees” and will require little of the adopter (such as an adoption contract, a home visit, or even a preliminary interview). Because they are posing as a rescue, they do not have a mother or breeding site to show you; and the most likely place they will attempt to sell their “rescued” puppies is on the Internet. If you are looking for a puppy through the Internet, first and foremost, verify the authenticity of the person/organization represented in the Internet ad.

You Still Want a Puppy

You do not want to support a puppy mill, but you still want a puppy. Here are some suggestions:

  • Search out reputable breeders of the type of dog you want—check with your veterinarian, the local animal shelter where often as many as 25 percent of the dogs are purebred, and other reputable animal rescue groups.
  • Contact breed-specific rescue groups for the breed you want. They are far more knowledgeable than any puppy mill breeder on the nature of the breed you are interested in adopting.
  • Many pet stores, instead of selling puppies, now host adoption fairs by local animal rescue groups. Attend those. By adopting rather than buying, puppy mills will cease to exist.

To absolutely ensure you are not buying a puppy mill pup: Never buy from a pet store. Never buy off the Internet. Sellers off the Internet are not held to the Animal Welfare Act’s (AWA) regulations and are not inspected by USDA. Never buy out of a truck in a parking lot.

But for some of us, it may be tempting to believe we are doing a good deed by rescuing a puppy from a puppy mill by buying him or her from pet stores, millers, the Internet, or other questionable situations; however, the puppy we purchase today will simply be replaced by another tomorrow.
Take Action to Stop Puppy Mills
What can you do to stop puppy mills? First, follow the suggestions above when you want to adopt your next puppy. Other humane actions include:
  • Support local animal shelters and reputable rescue groups with your time, talent, and money.
  • Report animal cruelty wherever you find it.
  • Write your legislators to urge increased inspections of kennels under the standards set in the AWA. Express dissatisfaction at the lack of USDA enforcement of the AWA.
  • Write the USDA urging them to enforce the AWA by hiring more inspectors. Only 70 USDA inspectors are responsible for inspecting nearly 4,500 kennels a year.
  • Support legislation to curb the number of dogs one can breed.
© 2010. National Humane Education Society. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission by the National Humane Education Society