Puppy mill

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A puppy mill in the rural United States

A puppy mill, sometimes known as a puppy farm,[1] is a type of commercial dog breeding facility. Although no standardized legal definition for "puppy mill" exists, a definition was established in Avenson v. Zegart in 1984 as "a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits".[2] The ASPCA uses a similar definition: "a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs."[3] According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are an estimated 10,000 licensed and unlicensed puppy mills in the United States, in total selling more than 2,000,000 puppies annually.[4] Commercial kennels may be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture and state and local jurisdictions which may inspect the kennels routinely.[5]

The term "mill" is also applied to operations involving other animals commercially bred for profit, including cats.[6] For-profit breeding on a smaller scale may be referred to as backyard breeding, although this term has negative connotations and may also refer to unplanned or non-commercial breeding.

Differences in breeding conditions[edit]

The Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club state that responsible breeders should raise their animals with the intent to produce healthy dogs and to ensure that all animals are provided responsible homes and socialization. However, there is no way to enforce these wishes or records kept to prove this is the case.[7][8] The socialization period in a puppy occurs between the ages of 4 weeks up to 14 weeks of age.[9] This period is crucial for adult development as almost all adult abilities are learned during this stage. With puppy mills essentially skipping the process of socialization, it can result in social problems when the puppy matures to an adult.[9]

In puppy mills, female dogs are sometimes bred every time they are in heat, which results in gradually-decreasing sizes of litters.[10][11] Once a breeding female can no longer be bred, whether from pure exhaustion or from age, the female is usually killed.[12] Puppies are also often weaned from their mothers well before the eight to ten weeks recommended.[13]

Common problems[edit]

The ASPCA states that some puppy mills can have up to 1,000 dogs under one roof. Because of the high volume of animals, the mill runner will often resort to housing them in wire cages. This results in the animals having poor locomotion.[14] Keeping dogs in wire kennels can lead to injury and damage to the dogs' paws and legs. It's also fairly common for these kennels to be stacked on top of each other in columns.[12] The conditions in these mills are so unsanitary that the animals are often coated in their own urine and feces, causing mats in their fur. Due to unsanitary conditions, puppies from mills will often have internal parasites, affecting their health.[15] Puppy mills are often unheated and this increases the number of deaths due to cold among the dogs used for breeding.[14] Conversely, the mills can also be too hot in warmer weather leading to hyperthermia.[16]

Other common conditions in mills include malnutrition and untreated injuries.[16]

Due to the frequently poor breeding conditions in puppy mills [17], puppies bred there often suffer from health and/or social problems. Puppies raised in a cramped environment shared by many other dogs become poorly socialized to other dogs and to humans. Dogs are then transported over long distances in poor conditions, sometimes resulting in animal stress and death. As the surviving mill dogs grow older, they are more prone to developing respiratory ailments and pneumonia, as well as hereditary defects such as hip dysplasia.[10] In addition, mill dogs are more prone to having problems with their temperament due to lack of socialization, enrichment, and positive human contact. Puppies from mills are usually sold as purebred dogs in an attempt to attract the higher prices associated with purebreds. However, due to the indiscriminate breeding practices of puppy mills, the dog may not actually be a purebred puppy.[18] A high population of puppies from mills are inbred due to uncontrolled breeding.[19] The vast majority of puppy mill animals are sold to pet stores by "dealers" or "brokers". Some puppies are sold by dealers masquerading as authentic breeders.

Puppy mills in the US often start with hundreds of female dogs which serve their entire lives in the establishment. The females are bred until they can no longer conceive puppies, and are often euthanized after that.[20] The conditions in puppy mills are considered inhumane because all of the dogs are in a small, dirty area which is confined with disease and bacteria. Because of the poor living conditions, dogs are often sick and malnourished. Food is often found crawling with bugs and feces is almost everywhere. Health issues that are prevalent in puppy mills consist of giardia, mange, heartworm, respiratory infections, and much more.[21]


According to Chanis Major V. publications, puppy mills originated in the post-World War II era. Midwestern farmers looking for an alternative crop reacted to a growing demand for puppies, resulting in the development of the first commercial puppy business. As the industry grew, both small and large retail outlets began to sell puppies through pet departments. At around the same time, the first pet store chains were born.[22]

Puppy mill dogs are usually housed in a small, wire cages similar to rabbit hutches and chicken coops.[23] In addition, veterinary care for these puppies was often overlooked because of an inability to pay. As a result, organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States began to investigate breeding kennels, leading to the passage of the Animal Welfare Act of August 24, 1966.[22][24]


According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are an estimated 10,000 licensed and unlicensed puppy mills in the United States, in total selling more than 2,000,000 puppies annually.[4]

A high concentration of both puppy mills and breeders has been reported in the states of Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri.[25]

Pennsylvania, and in particular, Lancaster County, has been labeled the "Puppy Mill Capital of the East" due to its high volume of puppy mills.[26][27][28]

Missouri has been labeled the "Puppy Mill Capital of the U.S." by animal welfare and consumer protection groups.[3][29][30] A study by the Better Business Bureau concluded that the southwest corner of Missouri is the hub of the nation's puppy mill industry, and termed it the "national hot spot of the puppy industry."[30]

Hobby breeders[edit]

Miniature breeds at a US puppy mill

The term "puppy mill" has been widely used by animal rights groups in protests against breeders who have substandard breeding conditions. Critics in the breeder community claim that emotional rhetoric, sensationalism and pictures of dirty kennels are used to justify additional legislation or additional restrictive licensing that travels well beyond the initial goal of removing dogs from truly deplorable conditions,[22] or that attempts to legislate puppy mills would put them out of business. They argue the laws requiring additional costs in updating and maintaining their facility and licensing would be detrimental to the dogs in their care. They cite existing lemon laws for puppies as sufficient protection for both dogs and prospective buyers.[25]

Media coverage[edit]

On May 1st, 2008, MSNBC aired a report about puppy mills, in which talk show host Oprah Winfrey revealed an industry fraught with problems and apparent cruelty. The broadcast showed puppy mills with small cages, with chicken wire floors, stacked in rows from floor to ceiling, and stated that many dogs spend their entire lives within these tiny cages. Many of these dogs are sold on the internet or by pet retailers to buyers who are unaware of the dogs' background. The report claimed that customers who object to this treatment of puppies unknowingly allow the industry to thrive.[clarification needed] It also pointed out that many of the puppy mill bred dogs suffer long-term health problems.[31]

Legislative response[edit]

United States[edit]

In the United States, some elements of the dog breeding industry are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act of August 24, 1966.[32]

In recent years, state legislatures have passed new laws aimed at eliminating the worst abuses at puppy mills. New laws include limits on the number of breeding females, requirements that facilities be licensed and inspected, and requirements that dogs be given proper veterinary care. Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia passed puppy mill laws in 2008, and 10 states passed laws in 2009 to crack down on abusive puppy mills. In 2010, Missouri voters passed Proposition B, the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act", which establishes minimum standards of humane care and limits breeders to 50 intact dogs.[33]

However, voters experienced push-back from the industry in the state of Missouri. Dog breeders and other farmers, worried about costly animal welfare measures spreading to their farms, pressured the state to repeal the law. In April 2011 Proposition B was repealed.[34]

A compromise, dubbed the Missouri Solution, was signed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.[35]

It retained some of the provisions of Proposition B, and made available some state funding for inspections. Humane Society of Missouri President Kathy Warnick reacted favorably, seeing a step in the right direction for animal welfare.[35]

Detractors, which include the President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, point to the "shameful" overturn of the voter's will to weaken Proposition B.[36]

“Lawmakers should never have substituted their judgment for the people of Missouri and gutted core provisions of Prop B,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. "The so-called compromise was not about protecting animals, it was about placating agri-business."[35]

Below is a set of lists describing some of the key differences between Proposition B and the so-called Missouri Solution.[34]

Proposition B (approved by Missouri voters in November, 2010) Wire flooring for cages eliminated by November 2011; Maximum allowable breeding females per business = 50; Cage height = taller than any dog standing erect; Maximum number of times a female may be bred within 18 months time = 2; Larger enclosures by November 2011.

the “Missouri Solution” (compromise law signed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, April 2011, after repealing Proposition B) No wire flooring for new enclosures in 2016, existing wire flooring permitted to remain indefinitely; No limit on number of breeding females; No restriction on cage height; No restrictions on how often females are impregnated; Larger enclosures in 2016.


Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has responded to the problem of puppy mills in Australia by proposing the Animals Regulation of Sale Bill.[37] It would ban the sale of dogs through pet shops, the internet or newspapers. The aim is to crack down on impulse purchases and shut down unregistered backyard breeders. These breeders should no longer easily profit from the sale of the dogs and the number of unwanted and abandoned animals could drop.[38]

Also recently there were a few bold initiatives to fight against puppy mills. Namely RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) strategy, Oscar's law (The organization’s name originates from the story of a dog called Oscar, who was rescued from a puppy factory in central Victoria), and Victorian Labor Party Efforts that restrict the number of dogs per breeding facility and require that pet shop owners to keep records of every dog sold.[39]

United Kingdom[edit]

In 1996, Britain passed the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act which requires annual veterinary inspections for anyone breeding five or more litters in one year. Breeding females are restricted to one litter per year and four per lifetime.[40]

Breeders who choose to be members of the UK Kennel Club are required to register purebred puppies for sale with that organization and must certify the conditions under which the puppies were raised.[41] Breeders who sell puppies by misrepresenting these standards may be liable to prosecution under the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

Members of the UK public frequently buy puppies and kittens without knowing the conditions under which the animals were reared, the Blue Cross estimates from 40,000 to 80,000 puppies are sold that way per year. To prevent this a new law is planned banning the sale of puppies and kittens below the age of 6 months in England except by licensed breeders and rehoming centres. Paula Boyden, of the Dogs Trust, approves of the ban but advised, "potential loopholes" needed to be addressed. She maintains rehoming organisations need regulation.[42]

Legal cases[edit]

In July 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and three Pennsylvania residents filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, alleging illegal expenditure of state tax dollars on unlawful regulatory activity. According to ALDF, the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended the Dog Law in 2008 to strengthen standards of care for dogs housed in commercial breeding facilities known as “puppy mills.” Just two years later, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture weakened those minimum standards by creating regulatory exemptions for nursing mothers and their puppies. The lawsuit asks the court to order the Department of Agriculture to follow the law and end the suffering of mother dogs and their puppies.[43]

Puppy mill raids[edit]

Clewiston, Florida[edit]

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals (ASPCA), on November 17, 2015 over 100 dogs were rescued from a puppy mill raid in Clewiston, Florida. Found in overcrowded and untidy pens with limited access to food or water, 116 dogs, including Huskies, Chihuahuas, and Poodles, were found having several ailments and untreated medical conditions that called for immediate veterinary care. According to Tim Rickey, the Vice President of ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response team, "[ASPCA's] goal is to remove these dogs from a life of neglect, help them become healthy and eventually find them safe and loving homes." Reports state that the two puppy mill owners, Beatriz Perez, 46, and Alexei Fernandez, 47, have been arrested on charges of animal cruelty while the ASPCA transported the 116 dogs to a safe and secure location. The ASPCA is currently asking for donations to fund the medical treatments that many of the dogs need as well as to help these dogs find a forever home.[44][45]

Gibson County, Tennessee[edit]

On November 5, 2014, the Animal Rescue Corps rescued about 100 dogs from what was said to be severely neglectful conditions. Both adult and newborn dogs were found in extremely crowded cages exposed to ammonia with limited access to any water or food. According to the Animal Rescue Corps's spokesman, Michael Cunningham, "the dogs were suffering from untreated, painful eye infections, respiratory conditions, dental issues, severe matting that limited their mobility and vision, and urine-soaked, feces-caked fur." Since the owners could not be reached, no criminal charges have been filed. However, the dogs were taken for thorough veterinary screenings and care followed by their transportation to in-state and out-of-state dog adoption centers.[46]

White Hall, Arkansas[edit]

On February 28, 2014, 15 Humane Society of the United States workers rescued 183 animals from a puppy mill, including 121 dogs, 20 horses, 19 chickens, 11 exotic birds, and several cats, rabbits, and turtles. 30 miles south of Little Rock, Arkansas, White Hall puppy mill was found with severe stenches of ammonia from the uncleaned urine and feces from the numerous neglected animals. Many animals were found without any access to food or water. Humane Society workers stated that many of the animals required emergency veterinary care while still others suffered from severe eye conditions, dental problems, and severe dietary deficiencies. One humane worker said, "I held dogs that were trembling and shaking and with heavy mats." The puppy mill owners, James and Tara Best, were both charged with animal cruelty.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Farr Introduces Bill to Regulate Puppy Farms". Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  2. ^ Avenson v. Zegart, 577 F. Supp. 958, 960 (United States District Court, D. Minnesota, Sixth Division January 17, 1984) ("A "puppy mill" is a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.").
  3. ^ a b "Laws That Protect Dogs in Puppy Mills". ASPCA. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Humane Society of the United States (2012-08-30). "FAQs" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-07.
  5. ^ "Questions and Answers on Animal Care's Regulation of Commercial Animal Dealers" (PDF). Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  6. ^ ASPCA (2007). "ASPCA: Fight Animal Cruelty: Puppy Mills". Retrieved 2016-02-18.
  7. ^ American Kennel Club (2007). "Step Two - Breed to Improve". Retrieved 2007-12-13.
  8. ^ Westminster Kennel Club (2007). "Buy Dogs from a Breeder". Archived from the original on 2008-01-22. Retrieved 2007-12-13.
  9. ^ a b Draper, Donald (1976). "Improper Puppy Socialization and Subsequent Behavior". Iowa State University Veterinarian. 38 (2): Article 1.
  10. ^ a b Swartz, Tracy (2007-11-19). "Buy or adopt? Where you get your pet is a big decision—and a big controversy". Chicago Tribune RedEye Edition.
  11. ^ City of Boston (2007). "Are you ready to adopt a pet?". Archived from the original on 2007-11-04. Retrieved 2007-12-13.
  12. ^ a b "Puppy Mills". ASPCA. Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  13. ^ ASPCA (2007). "Puppy Mills: Responsible Breeding". Retrieved 2007-12-14.
  14. ^ a b Anonymous (2010). "United States: A dog's life; "Puppy mills"". The Economist. 397 (8708): 36–39. Retrieved November 24, 2016.
  15. ^ Gadahi, J.A. (2008). "Prevalence of Blood parasites in stray and pet Dogs in Hyderabad Area : Comparative sensitivity of different Diagnostic techniques for the detection of microfilaria" (PDF). Veterinary World. 8: 229–232.
  16. ^ a b Merck, Melinda D.; Miller, Doris M.; Reisman, Robert W. (2012-01-01). DVM, Melinda D. Merck, ed. Veterinary Forensics: Animal Cruelty Investigations. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,. pp. 207–232. doi:10.1002/9781118704738.ch11/summary. ISBN 9781118704738.
  17. ^ CharityPaws. "The Real Cost of Buying a Puppy". Retrieved 2017-10-13.
  18. ^ The Kennel Club (UK) (2006-05-16). "Where NOT to buy a puppy or a dog". Retrieved 2007-12-14.
  19. ^ Mixon, Craig. "Puppy Mills". New Animal Control. Retrieved November 24, 2016.
  20. ^ "A Closer Look at Puppy Mills". ASPCA. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  21. ^ "Puppy Mills". Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  22. ^ a b c Canis Major Publications (2007). "Just what is a puppy mill?". Retrieved 2007-12-14.
  23. ^ "A Closer Look at Puppy Mills". American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
  24. ^ United State Department of Agriculture (2003-08-21). "Animal Welfare Act". Archived from the original on 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
  25. ^ a b Hamilton, Anita (2005-12-04). "Curbing the Puppy Trade: Dog lovers are divided over new efforts to ensure that all breeders treat their pooches humanely". Time. Retrieved 2012-10-07.
  26. ^ "New Pa. Law Putting Puppy Mills out of Business". AP. 2010-06-11. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  27. ^ "Critics: Pa. failing to enforce puppy mill law". Associated Press. April 24, 2012. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  28. ^ "Is Pennsylvania regaining reputation for puppy mills?". 2012-10-04. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  29. ^ "HSUS Undercover Investigation Exposes the Suffering Behind New York Pet Stores". Humane Society of the United States. November 9, 2012. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  30. ^ a b Teuscher, Robert H. (March 2010). "The Puppy Mill Industry In Missouri" (PDF). Better Business Bureau. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  31. ^ "Puppy Factories / Animal Liberation Victoria". Alv.org.au. Archived from the original on 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2012-08-13.
  32. ^ Animal Welfare Information Center - United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service - National Agricultural Library (2003-08-21). "Animal Welfare Act and Regulations". Archived from the original on 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  33. ^ The Humane Society of the United States (2010-03-09). "Iowa Gov. Culver Signs Bill to Combat Puppy Mills". Retrieved 2009-03-18.
  34. ^ a b Pamela M. Prah, stateline.org (2011-05-25). "Missouri's puppy mill politics: dog breeders outmaneuver animal-rights movement". The Seattle Times.
  35. ^ a b c Joel Currier St. Louis Post Dispatch (2011-06-14). "State Officials Outline New Dog Breeding Law".
  36. ^ KPLR.11.com (2011-06-15). "Humane Society President Calls Prop B Overturn, "Shameful"".
  37. ^ About the Bill | Lead The Way | Support the Animals (Regulation of Sale) Bill | Animal Welfare | Against Puppy Farms Archived March 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  38. ^ Clover Moore | Lead The Way | Support the Animals (Regulation of Sale) Bill | Animal Welfare | Against Puppy Farms Archived March 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  39. ^ "Puppy Mills in Australia". Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  40. ^ "Puppy Mill Victory in UK". Spring 2000. Retrieved 2009-07-12.
  41. ^ "Litter registration form" (PDF). Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  42. ^ Puppy and kitten sales at pet shops set to be banned BBC
  43. ^ "Animal Abandonment is a Crime". Animal Legal Defense Fund. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  44. ^ "Donate to the ASPCA and Help Animals". ASPCA. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  45. ^ "Clewiston Puppy Mill: Bad Breeders Busted, Over 100 Dogs Seized From Facility". The Inquisitr News. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  46. ^ "UPDATED: Alleged puppy mill raided in Gibson County". The Jackson Sun. 5 November 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  47. ^ "183 animals seized from suspected Ark. puppy mill". USA TODAY. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2016.