What Is A Puppy Mill & How To Avoid Them

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One of the most rewarding things you can do is to introduce a new puppy into your family. These days especially, it is no surprise that the puppy market is booming.

Unfortunately, when there is so much money at stake, there will always be people out there determined to take advantage of the situation. In the dog industry, greed and cruelty have resulted in the emergence of puppy mills.

To put it simply, puppy mills are commercial puppy breeding operations that prioritize producing large numbers of desirable puppies over the health and well-being of the dogs involved, both parents and puppies.

What is a Puppy Mill - Golden Retriever puppies behind a fence.

In this article, I will take a closer look at what exactly puppy mills are, how they work, and why they are so awful. I will also share some tips on what you can do to identify, avoid, and ultimately help put puppy mills out of business.

What Are Puppy Mills?

To reiterate, “puppy mill” is a term used for large-scale and irresponsible dog breeding operations. They are mainly characterized by putting profit ahead of the welfare of the dogs involved in their work.

In these puppy mills, female dogs are often forced to breed multiple times a year with insufficient time to recover between pregnancies in order to maximize the number of puppies available for sale. 

This in itself puts the health and well-being of the mother at risk. In addition to this, parent dogs, both mothers, and fathers, are often kept in very confined conditions and are given none of the love and attention that dogs need to thrive.

Veterinary attention during pregnancy can also be very limited to further cut costs.

When dogs outlive their usefulness as breeders, they are often carelessly killed or abandoned.

The puppies, when they are born, are often caught in similarly poor conditions. Lots of puppies, from multiple mothers, can be kept together in cages that can quickly become extremely filthy and unhygienic.

OUR EXPERIENCE: Many years ago we used to rescue litters from shelters and care for them until they were old enough to go to their forever homes. As a breeder keeper, I can attest to the difficulty of keeping one litter of puppies clean let alone multiple puppies from multiple litters. It’s a full-time job caring for one litter as we were constantly cleaning the puppies living area.

They are given very limited love and attention and usually don’t receive standard veterinary care.

In many cases, puppies can be separated from their mothers when they are very young and can be sold when they are younger than eight weeks old, which is the absolute earliest that they should be removed from their mothers.

When breeders focus on producing a large number of puppies, rather than quality, healthy puppies, important breeding concerns are often overlooked. 

Reputable breeders will screen their parents for hereditary diseases to try and limit their prevalence in the breed.

They will also ensure that puppies receive good nutrition, appropriate veterinary care, and essential vaccinations to ensure that they thrive in life. Puppy mill dogs generally receive none of this attention.

How Big Is The Puppy Mill Problem?

The Humane Society estimates there are around 10,000 puppy mills in the United States. Collectively, they keep around 500,000 dogs in poor captive conditions for breeding and sell more than two million dogs a year.

That seems like a lot of puppies, and unfortunately, many people buy from a puppy mill without even knowing it.

In fact, most of the puppies you find in pet stores, particularly large chain pet shops, come from puppy mills.

While stores usually don’t go as far as to buy directly from mills that they know are disreputable, they will still often get their puppies from middlemen who get their dogs from the mills.

Puppy mills will also sell directly to the public, usually via online advertising.

Of course, the ad will appear like an independent breeder, and they have techniques to make themselves appear like humble, small-scale “backyard breeders” when it comes to closing the sale.

Mills will also take their dogs to events such as flea markets where many people won’t be able to resist taking home a playful puppy.

We even noticed a pet store at our local mall selling “rescue” puppies that actually came from puppy mills.

…many other shops in Southern California continue to sell puppies sourced from an organization in Missouri that authorities say is linked to a national “puppy-laundering ring,” aiming to pass for-profit puppy-mill animals off as nonprofit rescue pups.

From the OC Register:

But how bad are these puppy mills really? In 2010, the ASPCA investigated a puppy mill in Mississippi to save more than 95 dogs. The dogs were found to be kept in extremely unsanitary conditions that results in malnutrition, skin diseases, and other infections.

A similar Humane Society investigation in Oregon in 2009 found dogs kept in inhumane conditions that were consequently emaciated and plagued by untreated wounds and mange.

But why are these puppy mills so hard to deal with? Well, for starters, people continue to buy puppies from these mills.

Many people believe they are helping these dogs by taking them out of the appalling conditions that they were born and raised in, but in reality, buying these puppies feeds demand and encourages mills to keep doing what they are doing.

Moreover, the federal Animal Welfare Act sets the bar pretty low when it comes to caring for puppies in commercial breeding businesses.

As long as the puppies survive, the federal law has no implication for the breeder. While states can pass tougher laws, these are far from common.

Why Are Puppy Mills So Bad?

Puppy mills are inhumane in the way that they treat dogs, but this is far from the only reason why they have a hugely negative impact on the dog industry.

They are also responsible for introducing unhealthy dogs (often either inbred or with hereditary health issues) into the general community.

While good breeders screen for and control for health issues, puppy mill breeders avoid these best practices to save even more money.

This means you can take home a seemingly healthy puppy who can start to show serious hereditary health issues within a few years.

They can also carry common dog diseases that dogs should be vaccinated against. As well as quickly leading to more severe health issues, they can pass these illnesses to other dogs.

Many puppy mill dogs are also raised with minimal human socialization or negative human interactions that can instill fear of humans.

This can lead to major behavioral issues that can later become problems at home, or see dogs in shelters as new owners are unable to handle these dogs.

Identifying And Avoiding Puppy Mills

When puppy mills are so prevalent, how can you identify them and ensure you don’t buy their puppies?

Well, first and foremost, try to adopt from shelters whenever possible, as they are full of dogs that need homes. You can read more about adopting dogs from shelters here.

Second, don’t buy puppies from pet stores. Almost all puppies in pet stores come from puppy mills, which is why in recent years so many pet stores are no longer keeping puppies on-site and selling them.

Now, when it comes to online ads and websites, how can you detect a puppy mill? Here are six key factors to keep in mind if you’re looking to adopt a new dog.

1. Ask To Visit

Ask to visit in person so you can meet the mother and see where the puppies are bred and cared for. Many puppy mills will tell you this is not possible.

Sadly, just being invited to see where the puppies live is not always enough, as some puppy mills will set up temporary backyard homes for puppies and their parents. Pay attention to the details!

2. Interact With Both The Puppies And Parents

Interact with both the puppies and the parents to see how they respond to you. If the puppies or parents seem afraid or unaccustomed to human interaction, this is a red flag.

3. The Puppies You Meet Should Appear Clean And Healthy

If the puppies seem dirty, the breeder might tell you that this is because they can’t have a bath until they are eight weeks old. However, good breeders still have methods to keep their puppies clean.

4. Most Reputable Breeders Work With One Specific Breed They Are Experts In

If the breeder you are talking to seems to be selling more than one breed, this is a sign they are involved in a larger network of breeding.

They should also have a good knowledge of the breed that they are working with and be able to have in-depth conversations with you about the breed.

5. Seek Out Paperwork!

Your breeder should be able to provide you with evidence of the dog’s lineage, proof they have received veterinary care, and proof they are registered with outside breeding organizations.

While puppy mills will sometimes provide falsified documents, if they say that they are unable to provide these documents, this is a red flag.

6. Ask For References

Breeders that care about their dogs will stay in touch with new owners for a while after the sale to ensure that the dog is healthy and happy.

This means they should be able to provide references. Ask for references, and follow them up. If possible, speak to people who have had their dog for a few years, as they will have had time to recognize any problems.

You can read our complete guide to adopting a puppy here.

Aside from avoiding buying from puppy mills, what else can you do to help fight puppy mills?

If you think you have come into contact with a puppy mill, there are a variety of places to which you can report them depending on where you live.

The Humane Society is generally a good place to make your first report. You can report a puppy mill to the Humane Society here.

Another thing you can do is support organizations that are set up to protect animals and bring down organizations like puppy mills, such as the Humane Society and the ASPCA.

FAQs About Puppy Mills

Are puppy mills still around?

Yes, puppy mills are still a prevalent problem around the world! There are estimated to be around 10,000 puppy mills in the United States alone. As the demand for puppies grows, puppy mills sadly remain profitable.

Are puppy mills illegal in the United States?

Commercial dog breeding facilities are legal in the United States, and state laws governing the level of care that puppies must receive in these breeding facilities are loose and lax.

This leaves space for puppy mills to work and maximize their profits through maltreatment and poor care of their dogs.

How are puppy mills cruel?

Puppy mills treat animals like products made to be sold rather than as living beings with feelings and needs.

The dogs are kept in appalling conditions and starved of the love and attention that they need. Mother dogs are often forced to breed repeatedly, putting their health at risk. The dogs are generally kept in small cages and in unhygienic conditions.

What do puppy mills do with unsold puppies?

Puppy mills will mark down the prices on puppies to ensure that they sell, but if they prove impossible to sell, they are often abandoned and can be found on the streets or in shelters.

Is it OK to buy dogs from the Amish?

The Amish are one of the communities known to run puppy mills, but, just as everywhere, there will always be some good breeders and some bad ones.

It is important to do the same research when buying from the Amish just as you would with any other breeder.

Can you sell inbred dogs?

Many breeders will breed closely related dogs, but reputable breeders will try to avoid this in order to minimize the chances of hereditary defects being passed down to puppies. Puppy mills breeders are less careful about this than more reputable breeders.

The Verdict

Puppy mills are a major problem in the dog selling industry.

They subject dogs to appalling conditions in order to churn out puppies to sell for maximum profit. Not only are dogs and puppies maltreated, but poor breeding habits can also introduce diseases and other issues into the general dog population.

Here’s what you should do to help bring down puppy mills:

  • Stay informed and ensure you don’t buy from them
  • Report puppy mills you encounter
  • Support organizations like the Humane Society and the ASPCA that work to protect animal welfare by closing puppy mills

At the end of the day, it’s a matter of supply and demand, so consumers can best act by cutting off demand.

Have you had experiences with puppy mills?

Tell us a little about your puppy and where he/she came from.

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What Is A Puppy Mill? And How To Avoid Them -Golden Retriever puppies behind a fence.

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