• Michelle Brownstein

What is a Puppy Mill?

This link will take you to an expose' by Life Magazine @1965. The wrote about “concentration camps for dogs”..later to be dubbed puppy mills. The black and white image of this dog never left my mind. I wrote to our then Senator Robert Kennedy to request federal legislation to ban this industry. Forty years have passed and nothing has changed. Puppy mills are major “crop” industries ... initally primarily in the Midwest ... they are rampant in almost every state . What Is a Puppy Mill? A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Unlike responsible breeders, who place the utmost importance on producing the healthiest puppies possible, breeding at puppy mills is performed without consideration of genetic quality. This results in generations of dogs with unchecked hereditary defects.

Puppy mill puppies are typically sold to pet shops—usually through a broker or middleman—and marketed. The lineage records of puppy mill dogs are often falsified.

What Problems Are Common to Puppy Mill Dogs? Illness, disease, fearful behavior and lack of socialization with humans and other animals are common characteristics of dogs from puppy mills. Because puppy mill operators fail to apply proper husbandry practices that would remove sick dogs from their breeding pools, puppies from puppy mills are prone to congenital and hereditary conditions. These can include:

  • Epilepsy

  • Heart disease

  • Kidney disease

  • Musculoskeletal disorders (hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, etc.)

  • Endocrine disorders (diabetes, hyperthyroidism)

  • Blood disorders (anemia, Von Willebrand disease)

  • Deafness

  • Eye problems (cataracts, glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, etc.)

  • Respiratory disorders

On top of that, puppies often arrive in pet stores—and their new homes—with diseases or infirmities. These can include:

  • Giardia

  • Parvovirus

  • Distemper

  • Upper respiratory infections

  • Kennel cough

  • Pneumonia

  • Mange

  • Fleas

  • Ticks

  • Intestinal parasites

  • Heartworm

  • Chronic diarrhea

How Are Animals Treated at Puppy Mills?

Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. Puppy mill dogs do not get to experience treats, toys, exercise or basic grooming. To minimize waste cleanup, dogs are often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs; it is not unusual for cages to be stacked up in columns. Breeder dogs at mills might spend their entire lives outdoors, exposed to the elements—or crammed inside filthy structures where they never get the chance to feel the sun or a gust of fresh air on their faces.

How Often Are Dogs Bred in Puppy Mills? In order to maximize profits, female dogs are bred at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. When, after a few years, they are physically depleted to the point that they no longer can reproduce, breeding females are often killed. The mom and dad of the puppy in the pet store window are unlikely to make it out of the mill alive—and neither will the many puppies born with overt physical problems that make them unsalable to pet stores.

When and Why Did Puppy Mills Begin? Puppy mills began sprouting up after World War II. In response to widespread crop failures in the Midwest, the United States Department of Agriculture began promoting purebred puppies as a fool-proof “cash” crop. It is easy to see why this might have appealed to farmers facing hard times—breeding dogs does not require the intense physical labor that it takes to produce edible crops, nor are dogs as vulnerable to unfavorable weather. Chicken coops and rabbit hutches were repurposed for dogs, and the retail pet industry—pet stores large and small—boomed with the increasing supply of puppies from the new “mills.” Today, Missouri is considered the largest puppy mill state in the country.

Seeking a puppy supply source on the East Coast, puppy brokers—the middlemen who deliver the dogs from mills to pet stores—convinced many of Pennsylvania’s Amish farmers in the 1970s that puppies were the cash crop of the future. Brokers conducted seminars to teach farmers how to operate their own breeding facilities. Thirty years later, Lancaster County, PA, has the highest concentration of puppy mills of any county in the nation and has earned the dubious nickname of “Puppy Mill Capital of the East.”

How Can I Help Fight Puppy Mills? There are many ways you can fight puppy mills, starting with refusing to patronize the stores and websites that sell their dogs.

Do not buy a puppy from a pet store—in fact, do not buy a puppy from any place that does not allow you to see its entire facility and meet the mother dog. This includes websites that sell pets online. Anyone can put up a great-looking website boasting the highest standards of breeding and care, but you really have no way of knowing if such businesses are what they claim. Truly responsible breeders want to meet you before selling you one of their prized pups to be sure that he or she is going to a good home. Read more about online scams here.

You can also take a more active role in fighting puppy mills by working with the ASPCA to pass legislation that ensures that all animals bred to be pets are raised in healthy conditions. Stay up-to-date about current legislation to ban puppy mills by joining the Team ASPCA.

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