More than two million puppies are bred from puppy mills every year. But what does that mean, exactly? Keep reading to discover the harrowing truth behind America’s leading pet store suppliers.

By Sierra Burgos
August 24, 2020
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Most people know that puppy mills are frowned upon, but do you actually know what they are? A puppy mill is a commercial facility that breeds dogs to sell, often without regard for their health. They maintain a low overhead cost to maximize their profits, but they’re characterized by poor conditions and the inhumane treatment of dogs.

It may be highly inhumane, but it’s still not outlawed. According to the Humane Society, “in many cases, puppy mills are not illegal. In most states, a breeding kennel can legally keep dozens, even hundreds, of dogs in cages for their entire lives, as long as the dogs are given the basics of food, water, and shelter.” 

Although there are millions of homeless dogs in animal shelters, there’s still a huge demand for purebred puppies. Puppy mills take advantage of that demand, breeding hundreds of thousands of unhealthy puppies and shipping them to pet shops across the country. The Puppy Mill Project estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills in the United States breeding over two million puppies. Only a fraction of them are licensed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“We are not against the breeding of dogs,” Amy Nichols, vice president of Companion Animals with the Humane Society, says. “We are supportive of healthy, responsible breeding. There's a need. Where we draw the line is when you talk about facilities that are not providing a quality of life for the animals.” Commercial breeders have no regard for the dogs’ quality of life in a mill, valuing profit over health and safety.

How Puppy Mills Maximize Profits

Small, Dirty Living Spaces

Puppy mills strategically maximize their space to make the most money with the lowest operation cost. This means stuffing dogs into tiny metal cages stacked on top of one another, often living in their own filth.

No Human Interaction

The puppies are missing out on essential opportunities to socialize with humans and get used to being handled. “The dogs don't get human contact. They are kept in cages 23 hours a day and bred nonstop,” Nichols says. They’re also commonly fed by machines, in tiny doses, to save on labor costs.

Nonstop Breeding and Quick Separation

The adult females are bred constantly, even if they are sick or injured. Puppy mills do not focus on desired traits in their puppies like private breeders do. They’ll keep breeding, even if the parents have a bad temperament or diseases. Further, they have no problem tearing the pups away from their mother far sooner than the necessary eight weeks. If there’s a buyer, they will sell at any age.

Dog Auctions

The puppy mill business, or dog farming, makes up a large piece of the economy for Amish communities. In Amish mills, dogs are treated like livestock – caged their entire lives and only used to breed repeatedly until obsolete. Auctions are prevalent in the Amish community, where breeding dogs are lined up and bid on in front of an audience.

Misleading Appearances

Because puppy mills do not keep track of lineage, they cannot guarantee a puppy is 100 percent purebred. Oftentimes, they will lie about the roots of the dog and claim it’s a certain breed when the reality is quite different.

Little to No Veterinary Care

These poor pups receive almost no medical care because it is too costly. Without regular checkups, the dogs can develop infections and spread disease. They also get absolutely no grooming, teeth cleaning, or nail clipping, which can lead to painful complications.

Unsafe Transport

When it comes time to ship the puppies off to the pet shop, the dogs face a long journey by truck. They sit in their own excretions for hours, through sweltering summer heat or freezing temps, scared and alone.

Buyer Beware

As a prospective dog owner, you must be diligent in researching the origins of your puppy. Puppy mills will do whatever it takes to make a buck, including impersonating a responsible breeder or lying about the lineage of the puppy. It’s the responsibility of the public to only support reputable breeders, shelters, and rescues.

“It's a buyer-beware scenario. Where is the pet really coming from? You want to look into it further,” Nichols says. “Ideally, you would go visit where the puppy and parents are living and see the conditions and have a conversation with the breeder.” 

Puppy mills use the following outlets to sell their puppies:

Pet Stores

A majority of the puppies in pet shops come from a puppy mill. Responsible breeders will never sell their puppies to a pet shop because they prefer to meet the new family in person to ensure their dogs go to good homes. Pet stores may use the word “adopt” to mislead consumers, but don’t be fooled—purchasing a puppy is not the same as adoption. If you request the origins or breeder paperwork from a pet store associate and they hesitate, the dog might be a product of a puppy mill.

Fake Breeder Websites

Believe it or not, puppy mill kingpins will go as far as pretending to be breeders to sell their puppies. For this reason, you should always investigate where the puppy is coming from, even if the breeder’s site seems family-centric. 

Online Classifieds

Anyone claiming to sell a fresh, healthy puppy on eBay or Craigslist is probably not a responsible breeder with credentials. 

Pop-Up Stands, Markets, or Festivals

It’d be hard to resist a squishy puppy with a big red bow around their neck, but where did they come from? If you see someone selling puppies on the side of the road or giving them as prizes, they’re likely not from a reputable source.

What Is Being Done to Help?

Sadly, there aren’t strict laws regulating puppy mills. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulates commercial dog breeding, but the minimum standards of care are just enough for the animal to survive. While the AWA requires breeders to be licensed and inspected by the USDA, these rules aren’t always enforced. Pet stores still buy from unlicensed breeders, and inspectors fail to report inhumane conditions. Individual states are able to implement higher levels of care if there are people to advocate for them. That’s where you can help.

When you purchase a puppy from a puppy mill pet store, you may feel you’re saving that puppy. Rather, you’re perpetuating the cycle of cruelty and putting dollars back into those puppy mills. Instead, adopt a pet to support shelters. You can also educate your loved ones on puppy mills and emphasize the importance of supporting rescues over pet shops. Contact your legislators and ask them to make the AWA a top priority with consequences for breeders in the state who don’t follow guidelines. It’s a long road to the eradication of puppy mills, but by spreading awareness, we can slowly eliminate the need for such inhumane organizations.