A Puppy Mill is....
A place where several breeds of dogs are raised and the breeder always has puppies for sale;
A dirty, trashy place where one or several breeds of dogs are kept in deplorable conditions and puppies are always
A place where a single breed of dog is raised in acceptable conditions and puppies are always available;
A place where lots of dogs are raised, where breeding is done solely for financial gain rather than protection of breed
integrity, and where puppies are sold to brokers or to pet stores;
All of the above.
The answer depends on who you ask. A hobby breeder dedicated to promoting and protecting a particular breed or two might
consider all of the above "breeders" to be puppy mills. Animal shelter and rescue workers who deal daily with abandoned dogs
might agree. Operators of clean commercial kennels, licensed by the US Department of Agriculture, will strongly disagree, for
the very mention of "puppy mill" damages their business and that of the pet stores they deal with.
John Q Dog Owner probably thinks of puppy mills as those places exposed on "20/20" or
"Geraldo". They have seen the
cameras pan back and forth over trash, piles of feces, dogs with runny noses and oozing sores, dogs crammed into shopping
carts and tiny coops, rats sharing dirty food bowls and dry dishes. They've seen the puppy mill owner captured on tape, dirty,
barely articulate, and ignorant of dog care, temperament, genetic health, or proper nutrition. He's belligerent, too, demanding to
be left alone to earn his livelihood.
But is the television crew simply seeking the sensational and applying these appalling conditions to the entire dog producing
industry? Just what is a puppy mill?
After World War II, when farmers were desperately seeking alternative methods of making money when traditional crops
failed, the US Department of Agriculture encouraged the raising of puppies as a crop. Retail pet outlets grew in numbers as the
supply of puppies increased, and puppy production was on its way.
However, the puppy farmers had little knowledge of canine husbandry and often began their ventures with little money and
already-rundown conditions. They housed their dogs in chicken coops and rabbit hutches, provided little socialization, and
often eschewed veterinary care because they couldn't afford to pay. Animal welfare organizations such as the Humane Society
of the US (before it became politicized by the animal rights movement) investigated conditions at these farms and eventually
were successful in focusing national attention on the repulsive conditions at "puppy mills."
Puppy mill conditions were a major impetus in the passage of the national Animal Welfare Act. However, as often happens, the
appellation has been bastardized to mean any breeder who breeds lots of dogs, no matter what the conditions of the kennel or
the health of the puppies. The AWA is administered by the US Department of Agriculture. The act lists several categories of
businesses that handle dogs:
Pet wholesalers are those who import, buy, sell, or trade pets in wholesale channels, and they must be licensed by USDA to
Pet breeders are those who breed for the wholesale trade, whether for selling animals to other breeders or selling to brokers
or directly to pet stores or laboratories, and they must also be licensed by USDA to conduct business; and laboratory animal
dealers, breeder, and bunchers must also be licensed, as must auction operators and promoters of contests in which animals
are given as prizes.
Hobby breeders who sell directly to pet stores are exempt from licensing if they gross less than $500 per year and if they own
no more than three breeding females.
The AWA does not list a definition of either "commercial kennel" or "puppy mill." The American Kennel Club also avoids
defining "puppy mill" but does label a commercial breeder as one who "breeds dogs as a business, for profit" and a hobby
breeder as "one who breeds purebred dogs occasionally to justifiably improve the breed, not for purposes of primary income."
AKC does not license breeders. [More on the AKC] The USDA issues licenses under the Animal Welfare Act after inspecting
kennels to determine whether or not minimum standards for housing and care are being met. They require a minimum amount of
space for each dog, shelter, a feeding and veterinary care program, fresh water every 24 hours, proper drainage of the kennel,
and appropriate sanitary procedures to assure cleanliness.
USDA licensed more than 4600 animal dealers, more than 3000 of them dealing solely in wholsale distribution of dogs and
cats, in 1992. Animal welfare proponents claim that there are many dealers (commercial kennels? puppy mills?) who have
avoided the system, and that USDA does not have enough inspectors to seek them out and enforce the law. These welfarists
have lobbied for stricter laws in the "puppy mill states" in the midwest.
It's easy to say that John Jones or Mary Smith runs a puppy mill or that pet store puppies come from puppy mills, but the label
is tossed about so frequently and with so little regard for accuracy that each prospective dog owner should ascertain for himself
whether or not he wishes to buy a dog from John Jones, Mary Smith, a pet store, or a hobby breeder. Here are our Dog
Owner's Guide definitions to help you decide:
Hobby breeder: A breed fancier who usually has only one breed but may have two; follows a breeding plan in efforts to
preserve and protect the breed; produces from none to five litters per year; breeds only when a litter will enhance the breed
and the breeding program; raises the puppies with plenty of environmental and human contact; has a contract that protects
breeder, dog, and buyer; runs a small, clean kennel; screens breeding stock to eliminate hereditary defects from the breed;
works with a breed club or kennel club to promote and protect the breed; and cares that each and every puppy is placed in the
best home possible.
Commercial breeder: One who usually has several breeds of dogs with profit as the primary motive for existence. The dogs
may be healthy or not and the kennel may be clean or not. The dogs are probably not screened for genetic diseases, and the
breeding stock is probably not selected for resemblance to the breed standard or for good temperament. Most commercial
breeders sell their puppies to pet stores or to brokers who sell to pet stores.
Broker: One who buys puppies from commercial kennels and sells to retail outlets. Brokers ship puppies by the crate-load on
airlines or by truckload throughout the country. Brokers must be licensed by USDA and must abide by the shipping regulations
in the Animal Welfare Act.
Buncher: One who collects dogs of unknown origin for sale to laboratories or other bunchers or brokers. Bunchers are
considered lower on the evolutionary scale than puppy mill operators, for there is much suspicion that they buy stolen pets,
collect pets advertised as "Free to a good home", and adopt unwanted pets from animal shelters for research at veterinary
colleges or industrial research laboratories.
Backyard breeder: A dog owner whose pet either gets bred by accident or who breeds on purpose for a variety of reasons.
This breeder is usually ignorant of the breed standard, genetics, behavior, and good health practices. A backyard breeder can
very easily become a commercial breeder or a puppy mill.
Puppy mill: A breeder who produces puppies hand over fist with no breeding program, little attention to puppy placement, and
poor health and socialization practices. A puppy mill may or may not be dirty but it is usually overcrowded and the dogs may
be neglected or abused because the breeder can't properly handle as many dogs as he has. Puppy mill operators often
denigrate hobby breeders and their dogs in attempts to make a sale.
Unfortunately, some people who are well-ensconced in your local dog scene could be categorized as operating puppy mills.
Prospective buyers should be careful to question anyone they are considering as a source for a puppy.
Rescue worker Linda Smith's eyewitness description of the conditions at one puppy mill are described
in Puppy mill nightmare.
To learn a little bit more
breeding and so forth, visit these pages on our website;
Here are some pictures taken of puppy mills and dogs rescued from puppy mills.
This is a Sheltie with a severe skin problem.
This poor Sheltie is missing almost all its coat.
Notice the dead puppy inside the tire.
The poor dog on the right has a huge gash on its head.
Notice the cages all stacked on top of each other.
By Jim Willis 2001
When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh.
You called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of
murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was
you'd shake your finger at me and ask "How could you?" - but then
you'd relent, and roll me over for a bellyrub.
My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were
terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of
nuzzling you in bed and listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I
believed that life could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and
runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because
"ice cream is bad for dogs," you said), and I took long naps in the
sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.
Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and
more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you
through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions,
and romped with glee at your home comings, and when you fell in love. She, now
your wife, is not a "dog person" -still I welcomed her into our home,
tried to show her affection, and obeyed her.
I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along and
I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled,
and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt
them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate.
Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a "prisoner of love."
As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and
pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my
ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their
touch - because your touch was now so infrequent - and I would have defended
them with my life if need be. I would sneak into their beds and listen to their
worries and secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound of your car in
There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you
produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These
past few years, you just answered "yes" and changed the subject. I had
gone from being "your dog" to "just a dog," and you resented
every expenditure on my behalf.
Now, you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they
will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You've made the right
decision for your "family," but there was a time when I was your only
I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter.
It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the
paperwork and said "I know you will find a good home for her." They
shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a
middle-aged dog, even one with "papers."
You had to pry your son's fingers loose from my collar as he screamed
"No, Daddy! Please don't let them take my dog!" And I worried for him,
and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about
love and responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a good-bye
pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and
leash with you.
You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too. After you left, the
two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and
made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and
asked.... "How could you?"
They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules
allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first,
whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you - that
you had changed your mind - that this was all a bad dream... or I hoped it would
at least be someone who cared..... anyone who might save me.
When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of
happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and
waited. I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I
padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room.
She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry.
My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also
a sense of relief. The "prisoner of love" had run out of days. As is
my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs
heavily on her, and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood.
She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her
cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years
ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting
and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into
her kind eyes and murmured "How could you?"
Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said "I'm so
sorry." She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure
I went to a better place, where I wouldn't be ignored or abused or abandoned, or
have to fend for myself - a place of love and light so very different from this
earthly place. With my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump
of my tail that my "How could you?" was not directed at her. It was
you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you
forever. May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.
The End - Jim Wllis
** A note from the author:
If "How Could You?" brought tears to your eyes as you read it,
as it did to mine as I wrote it, it is because it is the composite story of the
millions of formerly owned pets who die each year in American and Canadian
animal shelters. Anyone is welcome to distribute the essay for a noncommercial
purpose, as long as it is properly attributed with the copyright notice.