Puppy mill

A puppy mill, also known as a puppy farm, is a commercial dog breeding facility characterized by quick breeding and poor conditions.[1] Although no standardized legal definition for "puppy mill" exists, a definition was established in Avenson v. Zegart in 1984 as "a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits".[2] The Veterinary Medical Association of the Humane Society of the United States defines the main characteristics of a puppy mill as "emphasis on quantity over quality, indiscriminate breeding, continuous confinement, lack of human contact and environmental enrichment, poor husbandry, and minimal to no veterinary care."[3]

A puppy mill in the rural United States

There are an estimated 10,000 licensed and unlicensed puppy mills in the United States, in total selling more than 2,000,000 puppies annually.[4] In Australia, around 450,000 puppies are sold each year[5] and in United Kingdom up to 400,000 are sold each year.[6]

The term "mill" is also applied to operations involving other animals commercially bred for profit, including cats.[7] For-profit breeding on a smaller scale may be referred to as backyard breeding, although this term has negative connotations and may also refer to unplanned or non-commercial breeding.

The United States Department of Agriculture oversees regulations pertaining to the commercial dog industry. The regulations are similar to those in the livestock industry.[8]

Differences in breeding conditionsEdit

The Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club both state that responsible breeders should raise their animals with the intent to produce healthy dogs and to ensure that all animals are provided responsible homes and socialization. However, there is no way to enforce these wishes or records being kept to prove this is the case.[9][10] The socialization period in a puppy occurs between the ages of 4 weeks and up to 14 weeks of age.[11] This period is crucial for adult development as almost all adult abilities are learned during this stage. With puppy mills essentially skipping the process of socialization, the result is often social problems when the puppy matures to adulthood.[11]

Females in puppy mills are sometimes bred every time they are in heat, regardless of whether they have physically recovered from the last litter. Once a breeding female can no longer be bred, whether from pure exhaustion or from age, the female is usually killed.[12] Puppies are also often weaned from their mothers well before the recommended 8–⁠10 weeks of age.[13]

Common problemsEdit

The ASPCA states that some puppy mills can have up to 1,000 dogs under one roof. Because of the high volume of animals, the mill runner will often resort to housing them in wire cages. This results in the animals having poor locomotion.[14] Keeping dogs in wire kennels can lead to injury and damage to the dogs' paws and legs. It's also fairly common for these kennels to be stacked on top of each other in columns.[12] The conditions in these mills are so unsanitary that the animals are often coated in their own urine and feces, causing mats in their fur. Due to unsanitary conditions, puppies from mills will often have internal parasites, affecting their health.[15] Puppy mills are often unheated and this increases the number of deaths due to cold among the dogs used for breeding.[14] Conversely, the mills can also be too hot in warmer weather leading to hyperthermia.[16]

Other common conditions in mills include malnutrition and untreated injuries.[16]

Due to the frequently poor breeding conditions in puppy mills,[17] puppies bred there often suffer from health and/or social problems. Puppies raised in a cramped environment shared by many other dogs become poorly socialized to other dogs and to humans. Dogs are then transported over long distances in poor conditions, sometimes resulting in animal stress and death. As the surviving mill dogs grow older, they are more prone to developing respiratory ailments and pneumonia, as well as hereditary defects such as hip dysplasia.[18] In addition, mill dogs are more prone to having problems with their temperament due to lack of socialization, enrichment, and positive human contact. Puppies from mills are usually sold as purebred dogs in an attempt to attract the higher prices associated with purebreds. However, due to the indiscriminate breeding practices of puppy mills, the dog may not actually be a purebred puppy.[19] A high population of puppies from mills are inbred due to uncontrolled breeding.[20] The vast majority of puppy mill animals are sold to pet stores by "dealers" or "brokers". Some puppies are sold by dealers masquerading as authentic breeders.

Puppy mills in the US often start with hundreds of female dogs which serve their entire lives in the establishment. The females are bred until they can no longer conceive puppies, and are often euthanized after that.[21] The estimated number of puppies per breeding female per year is 9.4.[22] In most puppy mills, the dogs live in cages that are only 15 centimetres (6 inches) larger than the dog on all sides, which is the minimum legal size allowed.[23] Two millions puppies are bred each year in the mills and almost 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in shelters every year.[24] The conditions in puppy mills are considered inhumane because all of the dogs are in a small, dirty area which is confined with disease and bacteria. Because of the poor living conditions, dogs are often sick and malnourished. Food is often found crawling with bugs and feces is almost everywhere. Health issues that are prevalent in puppy mills consist of giardia, mange, heartworm, respiratory infections, and much more.[25]


According to Chanis Major V. publications, puppy mills originated in the post-World War II era. Midwestern farmers looking for an alternative crop reacted to a growing demand for puppies, resulting in the development of the first commercial puppy business. As the industry grew, both small and large retail outlets began to sell puppies through pet departments. At around the same time, the first pet store chains were born.[26]

Puppy mill dogs are usually housed in a small, wire cages similar to rabbit hutches and chicken coops.[27] In addition, veterinary care for these puppies was often overlooked because of an inability to pay. As a result, organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States began to investigate breeding kennels, leading to the passage of the Animal Welfare Act of August 24, 1966.[26][28]

Prevalence in the United StatesEdit

According to the Humane Society of the United States, out of around 10,000 puppy mills in the United States, only about 3,000 of them are closely monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This means that not every puppy mill owner is following the law. Also, puppy mills do not only affect the dogs that live and come from them. They also affect dogs living in shelters. Because so many people are buying animals from pet stores and breeders, three to four million dogs are euthanized in shelters every year.

A high concentration of both puppy mills and breeders has been reported in the states of Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri.[29]

Pennsylvania, and in particular, Lancaster County, has been labeled the "Puppy Mill Capital of the East" due to its high volume of puppy mills.[30][31][32]

Missouri has been labeled the "Puppy Mill Capital of the U.S." by animal welfare and consumer protection groups.[33][34][35] A study by the Better Business Bureau concluded that the southwest corner of Missouri is the hub of the nation's puppy mill industry, and termed it the "national hot spot of the puppy industry."[35] The state of Missouri has around 1,600 puppy mills as of 2018[36]

Hobby breedersEdit

Miniature breeds at a US puppy mill

The term "puppy mill" has been widely used by animal rights groups in protests against breeders who have substandard breeding conditions. Critics in the breeder community claim that emotional rhetoric, sensationalism and pictures of dirty kennels are used to justify additional legislation or additional restrictive licensing that travels well beyond the initial goal of removing dogs from truly deplorable conditions,[26] or that attempts to legislate puppy mills would put them out of business. They argue the laws requiring additional costs in updating and maintaining their facility and licensing would be detrimental to the dogs in their care. They cite existing lemon laws for puppies as sufficient protection for both dogs and prospective buyers.[29]

Media coverageEdit

On May 1, 2008, MSNBC aired a report about puppy mills, in which talk show host Oprah Winfrey revealed an industry fraught with problems and apparent cruelty. The broadcast showed puppy mills with small cages, with chicken wire floors, stacked in rows from floor to ceiling, and stated that many dogs spend their entire lives within these tiny cages. Many of these dogs are sold on the internet or by pet retailers to buyers who are unaware of the dogs' background. The report claimed that customers who object to this treatment of puppies are more likely to try to "save" the puppies by purchasing them directly from the puppy mill, unknowingly allow the industry to thrive. It also pointed out that many of the puppy mill bred dogs suffer long-term health problems.[37]

Legislative responseEdit

United StatesEdit

In the United States, some elements of the dog breeding industry are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act of August 24, 1966.[38]

In recent years, state legislatures have passed new laws aimed at eliminating the worst abuses at puppy mills. New laws include limits on the number of breeding females, requirements that facilities be licensed and inspected, and requirements that dogs be given proper veterinary care. Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia passed puppy mill laws in 2008, and 10 states passed laws in 2009 to crack down on abusive puppy mills.

In 2010, Missouri voters passed Proposition B, the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act", which establishes minimum standards of humane care and limits breeders to 50 intact dogs.[39]

A compromise, dubbed the Missouri Solution, was signed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.[40]

Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, Missouri Director of Agriculture Jon Hagler and Humane Society of Missouri President Kathy Warnick in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch state that "key provisions of a compromise dog breeding law passed in April will protect animals without putting dog breeders out of business."[40]

It retained some of the provisions of Proposition B, and made available some state funding for inspections. Humane Society of Missouri President Kathy Warnick reacted favorably, seeing a step in the right direction for animal welfare.[40]

The Missouri Senate has a current bill SB 161 that "modifies provisions relating to agriculture." Section 273.327, under the Animal Care Facilities Act states how there will be fees for dog facilities every year. On the same bill section 273.347, it states that breeders can receive penalties for animal care violations up to $1,000 and receive a class C misdemeanor.[41]


Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has responded to the problem of puppy mills in Australia by proposing the Animals Regulation of Sale Bill. It would ban the sale of dogs through pet shops, the internet or newspapers. The aim is to crack down on impulse purchases and shut down unregistered backyard breeders. These breeders should no longer easily profit from the sale of the dogs and the number of unwanted and abandoned animals could drop.[42]

Also recently there were a few bold initiatives to fight against puppy mills. Namely RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) strategy.[43] Oscar's law (The organization's name originates from the story of a dog called Oscar, who was rescued from a puppy factory in central Victoria).[44] and Victorian Labor Party Efforts that restrict the number of dogs per breeding facility and require that pet shop owners to keep records of every dog sold.[45]

United KingdomEdit

In 1996, Britain passed the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act which requires annual veterinary inspections for anyone breeding five or more litters in one year. Breeding females are restricted to one litter per year and four per lifetime.[46]

Breeders who choose to be members of the UK Kennel Club are required to register purebred puppies for sale with that organization and must certify the conditions under which the puppies were raised.[47] Breeders who sell puppies by misrepresenting these standards may be liable to prosecution under the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

Members of the UK public frequently buy puppies and kittens without knowing the conditions under which the animals were reared, the Blue Cross estimates from 40,000 to 80,000 puppies are sold that way per year. To prevent this a new law is planned banning the sale of puppies and kittens below the age of 6 months in England except by licensed breeders and rehoming centres. Paula Boyden, of the Dogs Trust, approves of the ban but advised, "potential loopholes" needed to be addressed. She maintains rehoming organisations need regulation.[48]

Lucy's Law, which came into effect in April 2020, is intended to prevent puppy (and kitten) farming by banning third-party sales such as in pet shops.[49][50]

Legal casesEdit

Chelsea Vancleve v. Chien Et Chat, Inc. stated, "In 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Barkworks, a Southern California pet store chain with six locations." Barkworks tricked many puppy buyers into purchasing sick puppies. They were also making illegal breeder licenses, "fabricating breeding certificates and lying about providing veterinary care" The Animal Defense Fund made a complaint in 2015 that could have turned into a class action. The court prevented the case from going any further as a class action but in 2018, the parties agreed on a settlement. "Barkworks had taken down the misleading in-store signs and closed four of its six retail stores, and the California legislature had passed a law banning the sale of dogs from commercial breeders."[51]

The Humane Society of the United States sued the USDA on March 21, 2018 "for failing to release information in the Animal Welfare Act records we requested under the Freedom of Information. The following day, Congress urged the USDA to restore the records as part of a report accompanying the agency’s 2018 spending bill. But as of April 20, 2018, USDA had still not restored the records."[52]

Volar Society v. Animal Kingdom a recent lawsuit, filed on March 5, 2019. The Animals Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit because Animal Kingdom pet store and rescue group Bark Adoptions, located in California were, "engaging in a puppy laundering scheme to unlawfully circumvent the California law that bans the sale of dogs from commercial breeders" Animal Kingdom were selling 8 week old puppies from Bark Adoptions. Bark Adoptions a rescue group, that was promoting rescuing also was involved in the puppy laundering.[53]

Puppy mill raidsEdit

Clewiston, FloridaEdit

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals (ASPCA), on November 17, 2015 over 100 dogs were rescued from a puppy mill raid in Clewiston, Florida. Found in overcrowded and untidy pens with limited access to food or water, 116 dogs, including Huskies, Chihuahuas, and Poodles, were found having several ailments and untreated medical conditions that called for immediate veterinary care. According to Tim Rickey, the Vice President of ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response team, "[ASPCA's] goal is to remove these dogs from a life of neglect, help them become healthy and eventually find them safe and loving homes." Reports state that the two puppy mill owners, Beatriz Perez, 46, and Alexei Fernandez, 47, have been arrested on charges of animal cruelty while the ASPCA transported the 116 dogs to a safe and secure location. The ASPCA is currently asking for donations to fund the medical treatments that many of the dogs need as well as to help these dogs find a forever home.[54][55]

Gibson County, TennesseeEdit

On November 5, 2014, the Animal Rescue Corps rescued about 100 dogs from what was said to be severely neglectful conditions in Gibson County, Tennessee. Both adult and newborn dogs were found in extremely crowded cages exposed to ammonia with limited access to any water or food. According to the Animal Rescue Corps's spokesman, Michael Cunningham, "the dogs were suffering from untreated, painful eye infections, respiratory conditions, dental issues, severe matting that limited their mobility and vision, and urine-soaked, feces-caked fur." Since the owners could not be reached, no criminal charges have been filed. However, the dogs were taken for thorough veterinary screenings and care followed by their transportation to in-state and out-of-state dog adoption centers.[56]

White Hall, ArkansasEdit

On February 28, 2014, 15 Humane Society of the United States workers rescued 183 animals from a puppy mill in White Hall, Arkansas, including 121 dogs, 20 horses, 19 chickens, 11 exotic birds, and several cats, rabbits, and turtles. 30 miles south of Little Rock, Arkansas, White Hall puppy mill was found with severe stenches of ammonia from the uncleaned urine and feces from the numerous neglected animals. Many animals were found malnourished or dehydrated. Humane Society workers stated that many of the animals required emergency veterinary care while still others suffered from severe eye conditions, dental problems, and severe dietary deficiencies. One humane worker said, "I held dogs that were trembling and shaking and with heavy mats." The puppy mill owners, James and Tara Best, were both charged with animal cruelty.[57]

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ Avenson v. Zegart, 577 F. Supp. 958, 960 (United States District Court, D. Minnesota, Sixth Division January 17, 1984) ("A "puppy mill" is a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.").
  3. ^ "Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association" (PDF). www.hsvma.org. May 2013.
  4. ^ Humane Society of the United States (2012-08-30). "FAQs" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-03-09. Retrieved 2012-10-07.
  5. ^ "How big is the puppy factory problem?". www.animalsaustralia.org. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  6. ^ "Puppy Farming in the UK - Naturewatch". naturewatch.org. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  7. ^ ASPCA (2007). "ASPCA: Fight Animal Cruelty: Puppy Mills". Retrieved 2016-02-18.
  8. ^ "USDA Enforcement of Animal Welfare Act Hits a New Low". ASPCA. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  9. ^ American Kennel Club (2007). "Step Two - Breed to Improve". Retrieved 2007-12-13.
  10. ^ Westminster Kennel Club (2007). "Buy Dogs from a Breeder". Archived from the original on 2008-01-22. Retrieved 2007-12-13.
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  13. ^ ASPCA (2007). "Puppy Mills: Responsible Breeding". Retrieved 2007-12-14.
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  15. ^ Gadahi, J.A. (2008). "Prevalence of Blood parasites in stray and pet Dogs in Hyderabad Area : Comparative sensitivity of different Diagnostic techniques for the detection of microfilaria" (PDF). Veterinary World. 8: 229–232.
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  25. ^ "Puppy Mills". Retrieved 14 May 2017.
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