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What are 'puppy mills'? What you can do to help shut them down

What is a puppy mill? A “puppy mill” is a large-scale commercial dog-breeding operation, where profit is given priority over the dogs’ well-being.

Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions,
Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, ASPCA
The result of puppy mill living . . .
The result of puppy mill living . . . ASPCA

Puppy mills became prevalent after World War II, in response to widespread crop failures in the Midwest. The US Department of Agriculture began promoting purebred puppies as a fool-proof "cash crop.” Chicken coops and rabbit hutches were repurposed for dogs, and the retail pet industry boomed with the increasing supply of puppies from the new mills.

The number of dogs in a puppy mill can vary significantly with some relatively small with only 10 breeding dogs, while other breeders run massive operations with more than 1,000 breeding dogs. It's impossible to know the true average because not all puppy mills are licensed and inspected.

Legitimate breeders put a lot of effort into giving puppies a good start in life by providing proper nutrition, veterinary attention, and thorough socialization. They place the utmost importance on producing the healthiest puppies possible. Unfortunately, puppy mill dogs aren’t so lucky.

Puppy mill owners disregard genetic quality, which often results in generations of dogs with hereditary defects, including dental abnormalities, eye problems and limb deformities. Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water, or socialization. The dogs don’t get to experience treats, toys, exercise, or basic grooming. To minimize waste cleanup, they’re often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs—and it’s not unusual for cages to be stacked in tall columns.

The dogs used for breeding often spend their “entire lives” outdoors, exposed to the elements, or indoors, crammed inside filthy structures. 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? To maximize profit, female dogs are bred at every opportunity, with little or no recovery time between litters. After a few years, when they are physically depleted to the point that they no longer can reproduce, breeding females are often killed. The parents of that 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.

There is no legal definition of "puppy mill." Many pet store owners will tell you they get all their puppies from licensed USDA breeders or local breeders. The fact is, responsible breeders would never sell a puppy through a pet store because they want to screen potential buyers to ensure that the puppies are going to good homes.

What can you do to help stop puppy mills?

  • You can also "Take the Pledge" – that you’ll never shop in a store that sells puppies— even if you're just buying food or toys.
  • You can join the Advocacy Brigade. You'll receive alerts that make it easy to fight for laws that protect dogs in puppy mills.
  • You can adopt a puppy mill survivor. Puppy mill survivors need patient, loving adopters who can help them learn to trust people.

The most important thing you can do to help shut down puppy mills is refuse to shop at a store that sells puppies. And, you can share this article with others.