What to do About Puppy Mills

As part of reading A Rare Breed of Love by Jana Kohl, a book which I featured this week, I researched into puppy mills. A basic dictionary definition would describe puppy mills as “a commercial farming operation in which dogs are raised in large numbers.” Animal welfare organizations such as Prisoners of Greed would emphasize that puppy mills are distinguished by their inhumane conditions and the constant breeding of dogs solely for profit.

Puppy Mills Wikipedia Commons

Puppy Mills
Wikipedia Commons

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)elaborates on the latter two points. Puppy mill dogs face inhumane conditions, being kept in small wire cages for their entire lives. They do not receive adequate veterinary care, food, or water. Kohl notes these dogs often develop a host of crippling diseases and illnesses, along with heartworm, ticks, and broken limbs. Her own puppy mill survivor lacked vocal cords, due to their being cut so that the breeder wouldn’t need to listen to her bark. Nor do puppy mill dogs receive basic grooming. Kohl talks about how in puppy mills, cages are stacked upon one another, the urine and feces dripping onto one another. Is it any wonder the dogs are covered with matted, filthy hair? Nor do puppy mills dogs receive exercise, treats, or toys. Kohl shares how in 2007, there was an effort in Pennsylvania to require dogs be given twenty minutes a day outside of their cage for exercise. Unbelievably, the proposal met with resistance.

Puppy mills dogs are bred for profit. For that reason,  puppy mill owners breed their female dogs at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. One article included in A Rare Breed of Love provided the statistic that there are over 150,000 breeding dogs in puppy mills and that these dogs produce two to four million puppies each year. When breeding dogs are physically no longer able to reproduce, they are often killed. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) emphasizes how the parents of the puppies who are sold are unlikely to make it out of the mill alive. Nor will any of their puppies who are born with overt physical problems that make them unsalable.

As part of my research, I also talked to a representative at a local no-kill shelter, who has been involved in trying to shut down puppy mills. Since 1996, one main mission of Hearts United for Animals has been the rescue and rehabilitation of puppy mill dogs. The organization has rescued over 5,000 dogs from puppy mills.

ALLISON: Why did you get involved with trying to close down puppy mills?

LORI: I got involved about 12 years ago when I adopted my first puppy mill dog from Hearts United for Animals. She was obviously terrified of humans and had been abused. I decided that was unacceptable.

ALLISON: What are some some of your experiences in visiting puppy mills?

LORI: Generally the puppy millers do not let you in, they insist on meeting at a gas station or some remote location. The ones I have been to have been atrocious. The dogs are always in small cages, multiple dogs to a cage, often quite filthy. The puppy millers pick up the dogs and swing them in the air by the scruff of their neck or only a front or back leg. Sometimes they scoop them up with a shovel because the dogs will fight them because they think they are about to be handled roughly. They know that from experience.

ALLISON: What are some of your experiences in rescuing dogs?

LORI: The puppy mill auctions are awful. There are so many puppy millers in one place. Watching dogs thrown six at a time on an auction table in either heat or freezing cold and be sold off to other puppy millers is just the worst. They brag that they are bred or heavy bred and that people can double their money overnight. They talk about how they may have no jaw but “that’s not where she breeds.” Dogs collapse from heat exhaustion on the tables. Moms with new born puppies are handed off to the highest bidder. The dogs all look terrified, as they should be.

ALLISON: What has been one high? One low?

LORI: A high recently was being able to get several dogs out of a puppy mill that was going out of business and having an auction. We took the ones who had prior c-sections to save them from future lives of surgery after surgery. Getting them so they weren’t sold into slavery yet again and could lead happy lives was great.

A low would be recently rescuing dogs from a puppy mill that the state refuses to shut down. The dogs were in hideous condition. We saw two broken jaws, dogs who are heartworm positive, had hookworms, giardia, severe heart problems, couldn’t eat because mouth and teeth infections were so bad, one turning blue from lack of oxygen from pneumonia. Knowing that it has been going on for years and continues to go on there is almost too much to bear.

ALLISON: How can others support the cause of shutting down puppy mills?

LORI: They can donate to organizations like Hearts United for Animals that help rescue puppy mill dogs and fight puppy mills and also let their legislators know it is a concern. Most importantly they should never buy a puppy from a pet store and should spread the word to their friends that buying pups from pet stores keeps this cruel industry in business.

ALLISON: How would you explain puppy mills to young people?

LORI: I would say that dogs are kept sometimes hundreds at a time in small cages and are used only to breed puppies so those puppies can be sold to pet stores who sell them to the public. I would tell them that they don’t get good food or medical care and the people who do it only care about the money they get from the sale of the puppies. I have spoken with 7th and 8th graders and they seem to understand it well.

Pet Shop Puppies, a non-profit organization based in Missouri, calls the pet industry is a multi-billion dollar one that depends on the mass production of puppies for America’s pet stores. It encourages anyone who has purchased a puppy from a pet store to request your free “puppy report.”

It also provides a history of puppy mills. Briefly, in 1966, Congress passed the federal Animal Welfare Act, after public outrage at a growing business of stealing dogs and selling them for research. The original Act only regulated animals being sold to research, but as the media began to focus on the way dogs were treated in wholesale kennels and the way puppies were shipped from coast to coast, the public again asked Congress to address the situation. The 1970 amendments to the Act began the licensing and inspection process of anyone wholesaling puppies. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now responsible for ensuring that the puppies sold to consumers come from a healthy environment where the adult dogs are housed and cared for in a kennel that meets “minimum standards.”

The problem is what constitutes minimum standards. The videos in the below links are disturbing, but you owe it to all animals to educate yourself about puppy mills. And then to lend your support to the fight against puppy mills.


2 thoughts on “What to do About Puppy Mills

  1. I just read Jana’s Book b/c about 10 months ago I rescued a puppy mill dog. He is a Shi tzu mix. He was a stud dog for 10 years. Because of his horrible life he need a lot of tender love. The first person who adopted him put him in her menagerie of pets and left him home while she went to work. She gave him bak b/c he wasn’t house trained. She actually put him in a crate and claimed he flipped out. (GEE, I wonder why?) She didn’t take care of his dry eyes and when she returned him he needed to have his eye removed. The poor thing had to have all his teeth pulled, has a catagory 4/5 heart murmur due to heart worms, 4 bad knees, surgery on one foot from living his entire life in a cage. Like baby, Papillon was like an infant when I got him. He needed to be with me all the time, slept all day, only weighed about 5 pounds. These dogs need special love. I was looking for a book about these mill dogs to help understand what he went through and what he needs. I haven’t found anything about what to do for a mill dog, so I loved him and fed him and bought him coats, we live in Colorado. I think when a rescue organization finds a home for a mill dog, there should be a pamphlet of some sort telling adopters what the dogs needs are. Papillion, his nick name is Fluff, is a marvelous dog. He gets along with my cats, now weighs 10 pound, and no longer needs to be next to me all the time. He goes in and out the pet door and has the freedom to do what he wants. Except, he is a runner. It took me several months to find all the ways he was getting out of the yard. He has a chip and tags so that who ever found him would be able to return him to me. He no longer gets out, thank god!


    1. Thank you for adopting Papillion! I appreciate your sharing his story.

      Although we haven’t ever adopted a puppy mill rescue, we had adopted animals with challenging issues. Like you, I wish rescues would provide more information to help adopters.

      I understand though that the majority of them are volunteers with too much already to juggle, let alone adding education to the package. Maybe this is where we as the adopters can help out? Perhaps we can step forward to provide this useful information.

      You have first-hand experience with puppy mills. Have you ever thought of creating brochures on the topic for your local rescue?

      There are so many ways to help homeless animals. You’ve pointed out one more: educate!


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