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Breed & Health Resources

What to Know About Puppy Mills

By Lea Jarataz

Puppy Mills

When considering an addition to your family, it’s vital to know where to get your next puppy or dog. It can be an overwhelming experience with so many shelters, rescues, and breeders. Unfortunately, puppy mills can become part of the process – and the problem.

What is a puppy mill?

Puppy mills, sometimes called puppy farms, are large-scale breeders of animals, including cats, horses, and even exotic animals. The goal of these operations is to maximize profit, so conditions for the animals are poor, often leading to negative health and socialization. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that roughly 10,000 puppy mills exist in the US.

Female animals in mills are typically bred as frequently as possible, and puppies are separated from her at an early age to be sent to vendors or pet stores and passed off as if they’ve come from respectable breeders. However, animals kept in puppy mills lack even the most basic veterinary care, grooming, and socialization. They’re often fed through their kennel bars and live on wire-floored crates, never being touched, handled, or allowed to leave their confines. These circumstances can lead to many issues in the animals such as:

With as many as 1,000 animals per facility, without heat or air conditioning, their health is in serious peril.

Because small dogs are easier to house and tend to be more popular, puppy mills frequently breed toy or small breed dogs, but some have a large variety of breeds in their facilities. For instance, a few years back, 1,000 Dachshunds came out of a mill in West Virginia. It’s estimated that puppy mills produce two million animals in the US each year.

Do not confuse puppy mills with backyard breeders where there are “oops litters” or small numbers of puppies bred with the intent to sell. They should also not be confused with reputable breeders who give the utmost concern to the health and well-being of not only the individual animals, but the breed overall.

When did puppy mills gain popularity?

They originated shortly after WWII. While there was a baby boom going on, there was also a puppy boom happening. Public knowledge about the terrible conditions in large-scale breeding operations has increased dramatically in the past decade or more, possibly due to PR campaigns from organizations like HSUS and ASPCA.

Where are puppy mills located?

Puppy mills are an international issue, though they’re most common in the US in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas. Fortunately, the number of retailers selling puppy mill dogs has declined drastically, in large part due to public outcry, but puppy mill dogs are still sold regularly at auction, online, or even at roadside stands under the guise of “adoption.”

What is being done about the puppy mill problem?

State governments are slowly addressing the puppy mill issue by implementing laws to address licensing and the need for inspection. Many of these laws include mandates that require a minimum size for the cage or health and safety requirements. However, puppy millers have pushed back, citing that additional costs and fees to operate their business will further reduce their profit margins and will negatively impact the animals. In areas where puppy mills are most prevalent, locals see these laws as harming respectable business people or “hobby breeders.” Changes to the puppy mill industry are progressing, but many operations still function in secret without any oversight.

What can I do about puppy mills?

The most important tool in the fight against puppy mills is you. Don’t buy animals online, from a classified ad, or from a pet store. Adopt from a reputable rescue or a breeder where you can see the parents yourself. If you have your heart set on a particular breed, breed rescues exist and can be found on Petfinder.com. Armed with this knowledge, and by practicing smart spending, we can reduce the puppy mill population.

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