What is a Puppy Mill?

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By Nicole Reuben, Petfinder contributor

According to the ASPCA, a puppy mill is a “large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs.”

Puppies born in a puppy mill are often sold at as young as 8 weeks old, to brokers and/or retailers who then sell the puppies to the consumer. Some puppy mills sell directly to the public through web sites, newspaper classifieds or at flea markets. (ASPCA).

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the United States, only 2,024 of which are USDA licensed.

These 10,000 operations are responsible for the sale of 2.15 million puppies in the United States. (HSUS, Puppy Mills Research)

Problems With Puppy Mills

Poor care and treatment
Above all, the biggest problem with puppy mills is animal cruelty and the poor quality of care and inhumane treatment of the operation’s breeding dogs and their offspring.

Mother dogs are bred with very little recovery time between litters and, once the breeding dogs are no longer able to produce puppies, they are often killed, according to the ASPCA.

Puppy mill breeding dogs and their puppies receive minimal, if any, veterinary care, even when they’re injured or sick. Most of the dogs for breeding are housed in small, dirty, overcrowded cages often without adequate nutrition, water or fresh air. Some are left outside in cages without any protection from heat, wind, rain or cold weather.

In a 2010 investigation by the ASPCA of a Mississippi puppy mill, investigators found dogs in deplorable conditions. According to the ASPCA, “More than 95 dogs, including small breeds such as Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, Yorkshire Terriers, Corgis and Chihuahuas, as well as one cat, were seized from the property. The severely underweight animals were housed in feces—encrusted pens and suffering from neglect—skin disease, rotted teeth, malnutrition, fur matted with feces, and various other infections were rampant.”

After a 2009 Oregon puppy mill raid by the HSUS, Scott Beckstead, The HSUS’ Oregon senior state director said of the dogs they found: “The dogs rescued today were forced to live in inhumane conditions, many were emaciated, had untreated wounds and suffered from severe mange.”

This is, unfortunately, similar to many descriptions of puppy mill dogs’ conditions.

According to the ASPCA, many dogs in puppy mills completely lack human socialization and some have never stepped foot outside a small area where they are housed.

Consumer beware
Aside from the horrific conditions in which these dogs live, there are issues for a consumer purchasing a puppy mill puppy.

Often, puppy mill puppies have myriad health issues, including genetic diseases that may not be apparent until years later like epilepsy, kidney disease, blood and endocrine disorders, eye problems and respiratory disorders. (ASPCA, Puppy Mill FAQ)

In addition, many puppy mill puppies are sickly when they arrive at the pet store or in their new home. The most common illnesses reported by consumers who purchased suspected puppy mill puppies include: intestinal parasites, respiratory issues, parvovirus, canine distemper, ear issues, skin disorders and urinary and bladder issues. (HSUS Puppy Buyer Complaints, 2012)

Still other puppies exhibit behavior issues like shyness, aggression, fear or anxiety, due to improper socialization and being removed from their mothers at such a young age.

According to the ASPCA, the lineage records of puppy mill puppies are frequently falsified so unsuspecting consumers are duped into believing their dog is a certain breed when, in fact, they may not be.

Where Puppy Mill Puppies End Up

Due to a demand for purebred and mixed breed or “designer” dogs like Labradoodles or Cockapoos, as well as a lack of consumer education about puppy mills, the industry continues to prosper. Puppy mills sell their puppies to unsuspecting consumers in a variety of ways.

Pet stores – While more and more pet stores are halting puppy sales, there are thousands that still offer puppy mill puppies in their stores. Consumers who find it hard to resist a sweet, cuddly puppy face keep the industry alive. Even when pet stores selling puppies claim they do not work with puppy mills, the store most likely works with a broker or “middle man” who does.

“Breeder” web sites – In today’s web-centric world, a natural place for a consumer to look for a specific breed of puppy is online. Breeder web sites abound and, among the reputable breeders’ web sites, thee are many misleading fronts for puppy mills. The ASPCA offers these tips for recognizing a puppy mill’s web site.

Online classifieds – Many puppy mills advertise via online classifieds like Craig’s List eBay or other local and national classified sites.

Flea Markets, Roadside Stands or Festivals – Like in pet stores, consumers find it hard to resist the sweet cuddly puppies sold at flea markets or roadside stands. Unfortunately, many of these puppies are products of puppy mills.

Is Anything Being Done About Puppy Mills?

One large issue with puppy mills is that they aren’t necessarily illegal.

According to the ASPCA, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is a federal law that regulates certain animal activities, including dog breeding. The AWA defines a minimum standard of care for commercial breeding facilities. These minimums, sadly, require just enough for an animal to survive.

The AWA also requires that certain commercial breeders be licensed and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, because inspections aren’t always enforced, even the minimum standards set forth by the AWA are often not met, leaving many dogs suffering.

Individual states are able to legislate higher standards of care for commercially bred animals and there has been an increase in the number of states considering and enacting bills to regulate the industry.

In addition, many pet stores are taking a stand against puppy mills. The Humane Society of the United States reports that nearly 2,000 pet stores across the U.S. have signed the “Puppy Friendly Pet Store” pledge, promising they will not sell puppies in their locations.

Can You Help?

Yes you can! Make adoption your first option! There are plenty of puppies for you to love waiting in shelters and in rescues. You can also educate others about the horrors of puppy mills. Virtually all pet stores that sell puppies get them from puppy mills, regardless of what the store says. If a store does not buy directly from a puppy mill, there is a high probability that the broker who they do buy from does deal with puppy mills.

And remember, as the ASPCA urges, “The fact is, responsible breeders would never sell a puppy through a pet store because they want to screen potential buyers to ensure that the puppies are going to good homes.”

While efforts are underway to regulate and eradicate the puppy mill industry, there is a long way to go. For more information about more things you can do to help, visit the Humane Society of the United States Web site and download “An Advocate’s Guide to Stopping Puppy Mills”.

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