Questions & Answers

Puppy MillWhat is a puppy mill?
A puppy mill is a large scale commercial dog breeding operation where dogs live in cages and are bred repeatedly, producing puppies to be sold in pet stores across the country – and online throughout the world.  There may be as few as 100 breeding dogs or as many as 800 breeding dogs housed at a single facility. It is estimated there are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in the USA, the majority being located in the Midwest.  About one-third of these mills are approved and licensed by the USDA, as dogs are legally classified as ‘agriculture’.  Read more here.

Are puppy mills legal?
The fact is, commercial dog breeding is considered legal business in the United States and has been for many decades. The current legal standards for care, housing and treatment in commercial breeding kennels are outlined in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which was signed into law in 1966. Although there have been amendments passed over the years and individual states may implement further regulations, the provisions remain grossly inadequate in providing basic, humane care for breeding dogs. Despite that we know this to be true, we have no legal authority over any aspect of the industry.

In addition to the federal law, some states have laws that regulate the commercial breeding industry as well. However, in most cases, the standards that breeders are required to meet by law are extremely minimal. Conditions that most people would consider inhumane, or even cruel, are often totally legal.

Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, the following is completely legal:

    • A dog may live in a small cage 24/7 for its entire life and only be taken from the cage to be bred.
    • The cage only needs to be six inches larger than the dog (top and sides) – this does not include the tail.
    • Painful, wire flooring is acceptable – and most common.
    • Cages can be stacked one on top of another and the dogs relieve themselves in their cages.
    • Hundreds, and even thousands of dogs can be kept on the breeder’s premises. There is no limit.
    • There is no limit to how many people should care for the dogs. One or two people can care for as many as 1,000 dogs.
    • Unwanted dogs may be killed by the breeder – they do not have to be turned over to rescue or shelters.
    • Interaction with humans is not required.

How are dogs in puppy mills treated?
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—and it is not unusual for cages to be stacked up in columns. Breeding 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 breathe fresh air.

How did puppy mills begin?
Puppy mills became more prevalent 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. Chicken coops and rabbit hutches were re-purposed for dogs, and the retail pet industry; pet stores large and small boomed with the increasing supply of puppies from the new “mills.”

What breeds of dogs come from puppy mills?
Nearly all popular breeds of dogs are produced in puppy mills. It’s not unusual for mill to have as many as 10-20+ different breeds; including ‘designer breeds’. Small and medium size dogs are easiest to manage and house so they are most commonly bred, but larger breeds such as English Bulldogs, German Shepherds and even Great Danes are often bred in puppy mills as well.

How can I get a puppy mill shut down?
Keep in mind that the commercial breeding of dogs is a legal industry. If, however, you believe the conditions are substandard and the welfare of the dogs is at stake, this is the list of agencies you can contact:

– Call the Humane Society of the United States Tip Line 1-877-Mill-Tip
– State Department of Agriculture
– Local Humane Society or Animal Welfare Officials
– Local Sheriff’s Department
– County Department of Health
– State Department of Environmental Protection (EPA)
– State Department of Natural Resources
– Zoning Commission
– Attorney General’s Office

What happens to the puppies in pet stores if they aren’t sold?
This usually depends on the store. Some stores say that they return the puppies to the breeders, some say that they keep discounting them until they do sell, and some say that they will find a local shelter to take them to. Chain pet stores will often shuffle the puppies from one location to another, where there may be a better market for them. You really have to think of this as a longer-term issue which is really hard when you’re looking at that cute little puppy at the pet store and feel like you might need to ‘save’ it. That’s the explanation a lot of people give and the easiest thing to do is to just not shop in a store that sells puppies. Don’t even walk in the door!

Information regarding pet stores that sell puppies can be found here.

I heard that the AKC supports puppy mills, is that true?
AKC registry is a service provided by the American Kennel Club. While many people believe AKC registration means their puppies came from reputable breeders, being AKC-registered means nothing more than your puppy’s parents both had AKC papers. While there are some AKC standards, they do not restrict puppy mills from producing AKC-registered dogs. The fact is, many AKC-registered dogs are born in puppy mills. To learn more about the AKC’s relationship with puppy mills please click here.

What is the difference between a puppy mill and a responsible breeder?
Puppy mills exist for only one purpose – to make money. In a puppy mill, there may be as many as 30 different breeds and up to 800 or more breeding dogs. Every female is pregnant with every heat, including their first heat at 6 – 10 months old when they themselves are still a puppy. The puppies receive little to no medical attention, are not socialized with people, are almost always taken from their mothers too young, and often start their lives out in the world sick and scared. There is absolutely no regard to the health and well-being of the breeding dogs and when they can no longer produce puppies, the majority of them are killed.

Most often, a reputable breeder has great interest in one or perhaps two breeds. The purpose of their breeding program is to continually strive to bring their bloodlines closest to the breed standard. A reputable breeder spends a great deal of time, effort and money showing their dogs, socializing their dogs, having their breeding dogs tested for genetic defects, and being very careful to place their puppies in permanent, loving homes. A reputable breeder will at any time for any reason, take any of the puppies they’ve bred back into their care for the lifetime of the dog, taking full responsibility for the dogs that they have produced.

A reputable breeder wants to know about you and develop a relationship with you. They enjoy updates and photographs of their puppies as they grow and are always available to help with any questions or concerns about their puppies. One of the most important things to know is that a reputable breeder has nothing to hide. They want you to meet the parents of the puppies and see the environment the puppies are raised in. Visit the breeder, meet the parents of the puppies, inspect the environment the puppies were raised in, ask lots of questions and if it feels like they’re hiding something, they probably are and you’d be best served to move on.

If you really must purchase a puppy, read: How to find a Reputable Breeder

How do I contact my lawmakers?
Putting an end to puppy mills starts with YOU! Starting at the most local level of government, you have the ability to spread this message and raise awareness with those who have the power to create laws. Here’s how to contact them:

First and foremost, contact the members of your State Legislature. Tell them how you feel about puppy mills, provide them links to puppy mill information and photos, and share Harley’s website with them:

Write to your State Governor
Contact your United States Senators and House Representatives
Write to the President
Contact your MayorsCity Council MembersCounty ExecutivesOther Local Officials