What is a puppy mill?

When you are in my position, the term “puppy mill” is one that you hear every day. Your friends use the word, your Facebook newsfeed is full of stories about puppy mills… But we often forget that the general public doesn’t always know what a puppy mill is. So we want to take the time to get back to the basics and explain what we believe puppy mills are and some facts about them and why they exist. We will not use any scary pictures to get our point across, we believe the facts are scary enough. Intertwined in this article are other articles that will go more in depth on that particular subject, this is meant to be an overview. Clicking around will provide further information. 

What is a “puppy mill”?

Our definition of the term “puppy mill” is a breeding facility in which the profit is more important than the welfare of the dogs. Think of it as a factory farm for puppies. The parents are bred every heat cycle until their bodies give out. They are forced to live in cramped cages their entire lives, their paws never touching the ground. These parent dogs are not always fed healthy food or clean water and they are very rarely (if ever) seen by a vet for illness or injury. 

A puppy mill can be obvious, or it can be well hidden.

jackson kruse

What are the worst states when it comes to puppy mills?

The Midwest has the highest concentration of puppy mills, although there are other mills across the country. The Midwest is commonly referred to as “The Puppy Mill Belt”. Missouri and Iowa are the highest offenders when it comes to the sheer number of mills, but Ohio and Pennsylvania are horrible when it comes to unlicensed mills and violations. Puppy mills operations are easily hidden among agriculture buildings. The Amish and Menonite communities are also big into dog breeding. Lancaster County is one of the worst counties in the entire nation. However, they make up a small percentage of the total. 

Breeders&Brokers (1)

If puppy mills are so bad, why do they exist? 

One of the most common questions we receive is, “Why are puppy mills legal”? The answer, plain and simple, is that the USDA and state agencies allow them to exist. Not every USDA licensed dog breeder runs a horrible operation. But they are all required to follow the same very lax laws the USDA set forth in the Animal Welfare Act. According to the AWA: 

-Cage size: must be 6 inches larger than the size of the dog, on all sides
-Up to 12 dogs can be housed in one cage
-Dogs never have to be let out of their cages. Breeders only need to have an exercise plan
-There is no limit to the number dogs a breeder can have—many have over 1,000
-There is no age limit for breeding dogs. If a dog is able to produce puppies for ten years, that’s how long they could be in the facility.

– The inspections are “risk based”. Meaning if there are no violations, the breeder might not see an inspector for a few years. 

– The AWA does NOT cover emotional well-being. 

And there are a 115 inspectors to inspect for every single USDA facility… in the entire United States. That includes breeding facilities, factory farms, zoos, circuses, transport vehicles, testing facilities, labs and more…. 115 people to cover over 12,000 facilities.  Do you think that is enough?
For more information on the AWA, click here. 


Example of how the AWA figures up cage size.

Where are puppy mill puppies sold? 

Thousands of puppies are sold from puppy mills each year– and the general public is completely unaware of where they just got their new puppy. The breeder will “meet you half way”, so you don’t have to make the full trip, the breeder will ship the puppy on an airplane to you, or buyer doesn’t even know the purchaser because the transaction was made through a pet store. The BEST way to avoid purchasing a puppy from a puppy mill, is to adopt. But that isn’t always something the public is willing to do. So the next best way to make sure you are not buying from a puppy mill is to check out the parents, see the facility (all of it) and resist temptation from saving a puppy from a place that you deem non-reputable. You are only creating a hole for the breeder to fill with more puppies. 

Pet Store: According to the ASPCA: Breeders who sell puppies to pet stores must hold a USDA dealer license, and many states also require breeders to obtain a license to have a dog-breeding kennel. So the statistic is that 99% of puppies in pet stores are from puppy mills. They come from breeders that have enough dogs to constantly keep the cages full of puppies. And the stores will sell puppies like they would a pair of jeans, to anyone with a credit card. They don’t care where that puppy is going or how it will end up. The fact of the matter is, no reputable breeder would sell through a third party. They would want to know exactly where the puppy is going, and more often than not, they require an application and the puppies are required to come back to them if the family can not care for them any longer. 

Internet: Fancy websites and Craigslist are a very easy way to sell a lot of puppies and keep people off of the property at the same time. The ASPCA and the HSUS both agree that you should never ever buy a puppy from the internet (alone). You MUST see the property where the puppies are born and raised. Anyone can design a fancy website, but you should look for these red flags. 

– If the breeder has several breeds of dogs available. 

– If they ship puppies to you

– If they offer to meet offsite. 

– If they are selling their puppies on CraigsList

– If they won’t allow you to see their property

Newspapers: Classified Ads are way that puppy mills get rid of their puppies. You would have no way of knowing what kind of breeding facility they run, because they ad is only a few sentences long. 

Dog Auctions: Dog Auctions are horrible events in which breeding dogs and puppies are sold to the highest bidder. The dogs are very rarely in good condition. The breeders selling the dogs may be going out of business, they could be getting rid of a certain breed, or they could be getting rid of the dogs that are too old. For an inside look on an auction, click here

Don’t the puppies deserve homes too? What happens to them if they don’t sell? 

This is another one of the most common questions that we are asked. The puppies always sell, because there is always someone that doesn’t know about the pet store/puppy mill connection. What will happen, and what has been happening, is that the public is becoming slowly more aware. This means that the puppies are staying longer in the stores, showing that there isn’t a high demand for them. When the puppies sit longer, the store puts them on sale and keeps dropping the price until they are sold. If they aren’t selling quickly, the store will order less for next month and *hopefully* the breeder will see that the demand is dropping and there isn’t a need for as many dogs on their property. But this all starts with YOU. YOU shouldn’t buy that puppy. 


How can I help?

There are many ways you can help the dogs trapped in puppy mills. They vary from being active, to just being an advocate. 

1. If you SEE something, SAY something. If you were someone that unknowingly stumbled upon a bad breeding facility to purchase a puppy, you need to report it! You can either report it to the USDA, your state agency, your local rescue or shelter, or you can contact us and we can point you in the right direction! 

2. Be an educator. One of the best ways you can help is by educating your friends, family and coworkers. By sharing this article and making a status about where you shouldn’t buy a dog could deter someone you know! Our organization firmly believes that educating the general public will be the end to puppy mills. 

3. Be an advocate. Look in your area for pet stores that sell puppies and educate about your local problem. Hang up flyers (we can help!) or even start a local protest (we can help with that too!) Getting the word out locally, will break the lies of the pet store and will bring more awareness about puppy mills to your community. Check this link to see if there are protests going on in your area! 

4. Contact your legislators. By letting your legislators know what you care about, it tells them how to vote. You can send a quick email to your legislator and just ask them where they stand on common sense animal issues, especially puppy mills. You may be shocked to find out that not everyone is an advocate for the animals. 

5. Don’t give pet stores that sell puppies your money. By boycotting a pet store that sells puppies, you are showing them that you can’t support their business. You can even tell the owner why you are choosing not to shop at their store anymore. 

6. Look for a reputable breeder in your area. If you are set on buying a puppy and you haven’t checked your local rescues or shelters, then ask your local canine club about reputable breeders. Just remember to always check out their facilities! 

7. USE SOCIAL MEDIA….. Spread the Word. Use the hashtag #ShowMeTheMommy on social media to stress the importance of asking to see the parent dogs before purchasing a puppy. 

8. Stay updated. Like our facebook page , twitter and instagram. Stay updated on how you can help in your area. Don’t forget to SHARE!  

So you bought a puppy…

So you bought a puppy from a pet store…

Congratulations on your new family member! Let’s make sure you have everything on the “new puppy checklist”.

  • Puppy Food
  • Water/Food Dish
  • Age appropriate toys
  • Kennel
  • Puppy Training pads
  • Leash/Collar
  • A VERY good Veterinarian.

Did I forget to mention that the puppy you bought came from a puppy mill? And the last thing on that list will be the first number on your speed dial in the future? 99% of all pet shop (and online) puppies come from puppy mills. If you have never heard of a puppy mill, please read more here:  How much is that doggie in the window? .

I know, I know, their puppies are different. Their puppies don’t come from puppy mills, but from wonderful local breeders– “Outstanding Citizens”, in fact. Let me ask you one question… Do you believe your car salesman too? That is the connection here, both are just trying to make a quick buck.

The reality is that no responsible breeder would ever place one of their puppies in a pet shop. If you truly care about the dogs that you are breeding, then you want to know exactly where the puppies are going! You wouldn’t just sell them to the first person with $400.  Any breeder who has placed a puppy in a pet shop has immediately disqualified himself as  “responsible”. Before I get too far in to this, I want to share my definition of a puppy mill. Puppy Mill- A commercialized breeder (or breeding facility in general) that values their profit over the welfare of their dogs.

Why is this, do you ask?

Because, as a commercial establishment, pet shops are legally required to sell a puppy to anyone who can pay. Legally, they are not allowed to “screen” buyers for suitability, because they are a store and not a rescue/shelter! Let me ask you, if you raised puppies, would you want to know exactly where they were going to spend their lives? Wouldn’t you want to know if they were in the right home– their forever home? Exactly… Any RESPONSIBLE breeder wouldn’t be able to sleep at night wondering where their puppies went.

But the  pet store says…

We buy our puppies from ONE responsible breeder.”

Yes, the employees are told to say that.  But virtually every pet store puppy comes from commercial breeders (puppy mills), no matter what the employees say. Do you think the store owner takes each and every employee to the breeders house and gives them a tour? I highly doubt it.  

“Our breeder is USDA-licensed.”

This is a huge red flag. If the breeder is USDA licensed, then it means they are allowed to breed as many dogs as they want AND sell to pet stores. Oh, and if you don’t know– USDA stands for the United States Department of Agriculture. AGRICULTURE! Their business is farming and livestock. What do they know about dogs?A USDA license is not something that should reassure you. On the contrary, it is warning sign that a breeder is cranking out lots of puppies. One more thing to be weary of… Designer Dogs. They ARE NOT AKC recognized breeds. You are likely paying way too much for a mixed breed dog. Read more about Designer Dogs = Expensive Mutts.

“We have a health guarantee on each puppy!”
Ah, yes… The comforting pet store guarantee. This reassuring statement is how pet shops and puppy mills are able to get around testing the breeding dogs for genetic defects. Oh yes, if you are a Instead of preventing these diseases in the first place by requiring the breeders to do genetic health tests on every parent dog used for breeding, the pet shop offers to replace your unhealthy puppy. And why do they do it this way?
  • First, they are almost certain on you becoming attached to the puppy that you have had for weeks. Why would you want to return your new family member. They know that most of us  would keep a sick puppy and pay the  thousand of dollars in vet bills and endure the heartbreaking months (or years)  nursing it back to health.
  • Second, many genetic health problems don’t show up for months or years. Either the guarantee has expired by then, or you (and your children) would never dream of giving the dog that has been in your life for that long. The health problems that I am talking about are inherited. If your puppy has inherited those genes, these health problems WILL show up eventually, long after you’ve brought the puppy home and fallen in love with it. Most health tests can determine (with 100% accuracy) whether a puppy has inherited a serious health problem. The other tests that can predict the risk. Responsible breeders do these tests. Breeders who sell to pet stores don’t. Why is this? Because it is too expensive to test the 350 dogs on your property for genetic defects! Why not just refund the money IF the dog is returned!

My honest opinion is that you need to IGNORE everything pet stores tell you.  Don’t be gullible. Would you buy a car without looking under the engine? No… Then don’t buy a dog without insisting to see the parents (and their health records)! This whole thing is a giant scheme to get your money, and guess what– it works!  See my experience with a local pet shop/ puppy mill connection: Dyvigs Pet Shoppe, Ames, Iowa.

Finally, the main disadvantage of buying a pet store puppy is . . .

You’re supporting the worst kind of industry. Think about it. In what other line of work can 2 animals make you over $5000 a year, while requiring little to no care? Think about it… Farmers (in a sense) have to care for their livestock. They cows and pigs need to be plump for the sale. But the parent dogs do not require this. No matter how much you abuse them, starve them, deny them vet care- their puppies will still come out fluffy and adorable.

Sure, you’ve emptied one cage – but there is another puppy just waiting to take its place. That is why it is a puppy mill, they are able to constantly churn out puppies to keep the pet store stocked up! Even if you are lucky and your puppy turns out okay, a large percentage of the others will not, and YOU helped provide the incentive for them to be born by buying the one who came before them. Not to mention, those parent dogs are still suffering. They will never be able to step outside of their cage. They will never feel love. They will never be pet. They will be bred until they die (or are killed).

Because of purchases like these, you are adding to:

  • The misery of female dogs who spend their lives in a cage, being bred again and again so people will have that “quick and convenient”.
  • The misery of future puppies born with inherited health problems.
  • The misery of your own family who have to cope with all the health and temperament problems.
  • The misery of Rescues and Shelters who have to deal with all the pet store puppies dumped on their doorstep when frustrated families give up on them.

*If you recently purchased a puppy from a pet store or a breeder and it is sick, please contact me! I will put you in touch with the right people. It might not just be your dog… Please speak up and be the voice for your pet!* It is my firm belief that Shelter dogs aren’t broken! and you should always choose to adopt instead of shop!

I want to leave you with this thought… When you adopt, the adoption fee goes straight back to the dogs for vet costs, food, and toys…. Where does the money go when you buy from a pet store?  




Please also visit www.petfinder.com if you are interested in ANY BREED of dog and also our facebook page for updates and more info about puppy mills.