Full Title Name:  Detailed Discussion of Commercial Breeders and Puppy Mills

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Robyn F. Katz Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2008 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal and Historical Center 1 Country of Origin:  United States

Enforcement of commercial breeding laws rests within the individual states. It is important that states maintain uniformity, however, to preserve legitimate breeding operations. Without proper enforcement of current laws, and stricter laws introduced, puppy mills will continue to thrive on consumer demand.

I. Introduction

Millions of dogs each year are produced in puppy mills, adding to the pet overpopulation that overwhelms the country’s animal shelters.   According to the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”), 2-4 million dogs bred in puppy mills are sold each year to uninformed, eager consumers. See Humane Society of the United States , (last visited Aug. 24, 2008). While legitimate breeders try to place desired dogs with competent homes, the prevalence of irresponsible breeders has risen in recent years with the growing demand for purebred and designer dogs. This trend is further complicated by the fact thatonly twenty-six states have laws implementing regulations on commercial kennels. Those that have licensing requirements for kennels lack in substance and enforcement. The laws of each state differ drastically from one another, giving motivated breeders room to travel between states to find the location that has the least restrictive way to make money from breeding. Normally, these state laws instruct breeders on how to legally maintain a breeding operation, including but not limited to registration fees, limits on the number of dogs (currently only in Virginia), whether or not they will be subject to inspections, and maintenance of facilities. ( Click here for an update that describes what states have amended or adopted breeding laws since 2008). 

The lack of overarching federal law and lack of state law enforcement leads to the problem of puppy mills. This paper will examine the increasing trend of such illegitimate commercial breeding facilities. It will address the single federal law that was enacted in 1966, and continue to examine the adequacy of existing state laws and enforcement mechanisms. The paper then examines how the inadequacy of current laws has permitted the existence of puppy mills, and the ability of the operations to thrive with so few laws. Finally, the paper will conclude with a determination that more states need to incorporate stricter licensing requirements that are easily enforceable and address both retail pet stores and Internet sales. Even with these enforcement mechanisms, however, this ultimately an issue of supply and demand, where the consumer’s roll in this tragedy is paramount to its change in direction.


II. The Animal Welfare Act

The only uniform animal welfare law is the federal Animal Welfare Act (“AWA” or “Act”), which includes regulations for living conditions of certain animals and penalties for violations. The law provides criminal penalties, civil penalties, and revocation of permits for violations of the AWA. See David Favre, Animal Legal & Historical Center, Overview of U.S. Animal Welfare Act (2002) . Congress passed the AWA as a means of regulating animals in science and research, not animal cruelty. See David Favre, Animal Legal & Historical Center, Overview of U.S. Animal Welfare Act (2002). However, on the surface, parts of the law are applicable to certain companion animal breeders. For example, dogs and cats are listed as animals covered by the Act. See 7 U.S.C. §§ 2131 – 59 (2007) . Further, under the AWA, a dealer or exhibitor is required to have a license before operating, and also must undergo inspections that are run by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This Act sounds like it would govern the inappropriate sale of dogs by commercial breeders; however, this law is much more limited than the general public realizes. In fact, a “dealer” is defined as “any person who, in commerce, for compensation or profit, delivers for transportation, or transports, except as a carrier, buys, or sell, or negotiates the purchase or sale of, (1) any dog or other animal whether alive or dead for research, teaching, exhibition, or use as a pet, or (2) any dog for hunting, security, or breeding purposes.” 7 U.S.C. § 2132 . While the definition appears to cover breeders who sell dogs, the definition continues to exempt most retail pet stores, and someone who does not gross more than $500 from the sale of a dog, cat, or any wild animal. See id. Thus, savvy breeders can maneuver around the license requirement if the breeders sell directly to the public or do not gross more than $500 per year.

Despite the AWA’s limitations, commercial breeders often fall within the inspection requirements of the AWA. The AWA regulates inspections through the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Care Program. See Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_welfare/content/printable_version/faq_animal_dealers.pdf (last visited Aug. 24, 2008). Under the federal inspection process, each facility is designated by its risk based on its previous inspection history, such as low, moderate, or high. High risk facilities are inspected more often than low, and moderate usually once per year. The AWA regulations cover housing, sanitation, food, water, and protections against extreme temperatures. 7 U.S.C. § 2143 . However, since the federal law exempts those facilities that sell dogs directly to the public (backyard breeders and those not registered as a commercial breeder), a significant amount of breeding facilities go uninspected.

The extension of the Act to commercial breeders is extremely limited.   In fact, t he Doris Day Animal League in the late 1990s sought to try and narrow the definition of “retail pet store” as to only exclude commercial pet stores. Doris Day Animal League v. Veneman , 315 F.3d 297 (D.C. Cir. 2003). This would have forced those who sell dogs retail from their homes to comply with the AWA.   In the final action on July 19, 1999, APHIS decided not to amend the Act for a number of reasons. First, Congress could have changed the regulatory definition but did not. Thus, the Congressional intent was clear to the Department, which did not believe it to include limiting the Act any further. In addition, home sellers are subject to self-regulation and pressures from the purchasing public and breed/registry organizations. Restricting the exclusionary provision within the Act further would also cause a shift in already limited funds, creating more money for inspections that may not be necessary. APHIS also reasoned that state laws currently govern animal cruelty laws. Finally, APHIS defended its denial of amending the Act as a result of the potential for people to consider regulation within private homes an invasion of privacy by the Federal Government. See David Favre, Animal Legal & Historical Center, Overview of U.S. Animal Welfare Act (2002).

Since the purpose of the federal Act is not for the regulation of commercial breeders, loopholes within the Act allow unregulated breeders to exist. In addition, it would be impossible for the USDA to monitor all of the commercial breeding operations. The primary authority to regulate the welfare of animals is through the states, which need to maintain laws that are enforceable and hold people accountable for violating the current laws.


III. State Laws

Only twenty-six states currently have laws that govern commercial kennels. See HSUS State Puppy Mill Laws Chart (pdf file - 93.28 KB ). States laws vary, but most states that do have laws address sanitation, housing, food and water requirements, the governing agency, and inspections; few address veterinary care and the humane treatment of dogs, ventilation, and exercise.   This section will examine, in detail, the state laws that do address commercial breeders by comparing their provisions. It will further address the lack of uniformity of the state laws and finally provide recommendations to make them more enforceable.

A. Geography Does Not Matter

Generally, states define commercial breeder, commercial kennel, breeding facility, retail pet store, and other terms differently.   Comparing California’s laws with both Colorado’s and Arizona’s, one can see the large discrepancy of terminology within the same region of the United States. The California law defines a breeder loosely as someone or a corporation who has “sold or harbored three or more litters or 20 or more dogs in the past twelve months” California Health and Safety Code §§ 122045-122110 (1999) . Although the Code references the term “breeder,” it does not have any licensing requirement in order to operate a facility. There is also no inspection requirement in order to be a breeder. Colorado, on the other hand, defines a “pet animal facility” similar to the “breeder” term in California’s statute, but looser to include the purpose of the facility as one that handles, sells, grooms, or breeds animals. This statute does include a licensing requirement, up to a $350 fee for such, and a required inspection by the State Agricultural Commission. Colorado st. §§ 35-80-101 – 35-80-117 (2001) . Conversely, Arizona’s general dog laws statute does not mention any terminology in its Definitions section using the term “breeders.” See AZ st. § 11-1001 (2003 ) . The section defined the term “kennel” as an “enclosed, controlled area, inaccessible to other animals, in which a person keeps, harbors or maintains five or more dogs under controlled conditions.” AZ st. § 11-1001(8 ). Kennels are then overseen at the county level by the board of supervisors in the county where the kennel is located. Arizona then has a separate section for pet sales. See AZ st. § 44-1799 . This section defines both “pet dealer” and “pet store” – both of which apply to the for-profit commercial sales of dogs and cats. See id. While the Arizona statute details sanitary requirements of the facilities, inspection requirements, and civil penalties of up to $1,000, the statute does not provide the method for establishing a facility.   See id.

The variations in the state laws mayencourage commercial breeders to migrate in geographic regions, often times to states that have less restrictions. States such as Arizona, California, and Colorado have vastly different laws pertaining to operating a commercial kennel, allowing breeders to easily have the choice of maintaining an operation in a state that has the least restrictive laws and penalties. For example, A rizona only defines “kennel” in its statutes, and leaves out pet stores and breeders. Further, there is no inspection requirement for Arizona, while Colorado does impose a requirement. Like Colorado, a license is required in order to operate a kennel; however, the fee of $75 is much smaller than the Colorado fees. AZ st . § 11-1001 , 1009 .   The discrepancy in laws between adjacent states may encourage illegitimate breeders in Colorado to skirt the laws and move to Arizona where the standards are far more lenient.

Some states have no discussion of breeding regulations in their statutes. These states include: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky (repealed in 2004), Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. See HSUS State Puppy Mill Laws Chart (pdf file - 93.28 KB ). While state agencies may have relevant administrative regulations, there is still a vacuum in these states. The political pressure within the state is a major factor when the state legislatures decide to add and amend bills. Since the positions are elected, the legislators rely on the public support to keep them in office. Thus, if the public does not support commercial breeding laws, or if other issues are more pressing for the state, state legislators will prioritize the relevant issues as determined by the public.

While these states provide little or no overall regulation of commercial breeders, even those states that do have laws depend on how well the laws are enforced through inspections.

B. The Importance of Inspections and Governing Agencies

Inspections of commercial breeding facilities are of great importance to animal welfare because it is the regulatory agency that has the power to shut down facilities that do not follow the laws. Those states that do not mandate inspections are setting up laws that are rarely enforceable.Although law enforcement is already spread thin within the states, and there is a lack of funding and personnel to carefully inspect each commercial kennel, the answer is not to leave out an enforcement strategy. For states that do have some enforcement agency, those regulatory agencies that most often take charge of enforcing commercial breeding facility statutes are the various state departments of agriculture. See CO st. § 35-80-109 ; see also 7 DE st. § 1702 (1999 ). Some states grant power to the local government to inspect facilities as well as state veterinarians.

One  problem with some states is that there is a discretionary aspect of some laws. Administrative agencies in some states may operate with more discretionary authority than others, leaving room for commercial breeders to be technically violating the state laws, yet never be charged with doing so. See 7 DE st. § 1703(c ). In a state such as Virginia, the commercial kennel is required to obtain a business license, but law enforcement officials “may” enter the facility upon complaints or upon their own motion. VA st. § 3.1-796.77:3 (2008 ). The passive approach taken by Virginia allows more commercial breeders to be legally licensed, but violate conditions of the license (sanitary, food, veterinary care) without proper enforcement. Similarly, Delaware structures its law very specifically, mandating specific requirements for storage, space for puppies, temperature, feeding, cleaning, ventilation, lighting, and more. DE st. § 1704 (a ). The statute does not, however, address any mandatory inspection. The closest the statute comes to such provision is where it authorizes dog wardens to inspect facilities during normal business hours. DE st. § 1703 .   In states where there is no licensing requirement whatsoever, it is virtually impossible for law enforcement and agencies to effectively enforce the laws governing commercial breeders. At least with the licensing requirement, the state has a record of the operation with relevant information.

A more proactive state law is Nebraska’s, where the statute requires that all licensees “shall” be inspected at least once every twenty-four months. NE st. § 54-628 (2007 ). This statute is the affirmative enforcement of the conditions that the Nebraska statute already imposes upon commercial breeders. In Nebraska, when a person is an official licensee, he or she is aware that someone will inspect the facility at some point within a two-year period.

The variation in inspection requirements between states underlies the primary issue that allows and encourages illegitimate commercial breeders to operate. An in depth comparison of state laws demonstrates that some laws are more effective than others.

C. 2008: Virginia Taking the Lead

Virginia has taken the lead on battling problems with illegitimate commercial breeders. See Jim Nolan, Animals To Get New Legal Protection: Kaine Signs Bills That Raise Penalty for Animal Fighting and Operating Puppy Mills , Richmond Times Dispatch , June 5, 2008, at B2. However, laws in other states trail behind Virginia’s progressive trend. For example, Georgia and Delaware both have loopholes that enable commercial breeders to circumvent state laws.

Examining the Georgia Animal Protection Act, the definition of pet dealer only applies to those who breed, sell, or adopt more than thirty animals per year.   GA st . § 4-11-2(7) (2000 ). If an operation is classified as a pet dealer, it must apply for a license, which costs between twenty-five and two-hundred dollars per year. GA st. § 4-11-3(c) (1992) . In order to obtain a license, the applicant must simply list the name of the applicant, business address, phone number, location of kennel, type of ownership, and other partners within the business. GA st. § 4-11-3 (d ). Previous violations in other states are not considered, nor is whether the applicant has been convicted of animal cruelty. There is no preliminary inspection to make sure, proactively, that the facility is properly built to ensure the dogs’ safety. While the statute in § 4-11-9 states that an inspection may occur at any time so long as the facility is licensed within the State, there are no specific requirements listed. For example, the inspection consists of making sure the facility is in sanitary conditions.   GA st. § 4-11-10 (2000 ). The statute does not list what sanitary conditions includes, though the state administrative regulations set these forth in greater detail. 

In contrast to Georgia, t he Delaware statute does an adequate job of laying the foundation for denying licenses to those who have violated animal cruelty laws in other states, or who have been found guilty in other jurisdictions. DE st. § 1702(i) . Further, the law does provide the specifics as necessary to make sure that the inspectors have objective requirements to check when they visit facilities. DE st. § 1704 .

The Virginia laws demonstrate better protection than both the Georgia Animal Protection Act and the Delaware statute. In the text of the Virginia statute, definitions are far more comprehensive and demonstrate more specifically what the word “adequate” means, regarding care, exercise, feed, shelter, space, and water. VA st. § 3.1-796.66 (2008) . The adequate space definition provides guidelines for determining whether a kennel is large enough for the dogs. The section states that the animal must be able to stand, sit, lie, and turn around, in addition to specific tethering requirements.

Further, effective on January 1, 2009, the Virginia law will be the only state that mandates that any commercial breeder must apply or and obtain a business license. VA st. § 3.1-796.77:1 . Virginia is the first of its kind to require that a commercial breeder conform to business standards. Designating a breeding facility as a business forces breeders who could become irresponsible breeders through the sheer number of puppies they produce, to comply with the statutory requirements. While the law might not affect small breeding operations, it does ensure that breeders with a large number of dogs live up to enforceable standards. This is important in an animal welfare context because some commercial breeders take shortcuts and do not ensure that the facility is equipped with necessary elements to keep the dogs and puppies safe. In a large scale facility, diseases can spread quickly where puppies are kept too close to one another, temperature in the facility is not well-maintained, and fires can quickly spread due to irresponsible owners.   See Donna Alvis-Banks, 176 Dogs Perish in Fire at Bland County Kennel , The Roanoke Times , March 22, 2007, http://www.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/109743 .

Despite Virginia’s advancement in commercial breeding operations, a commercial breeder can still slip through the cracks and avoid meeting the imposed standards. Commercial breeder is defined as “any person who, during any twelve month period, maintains thirty or more adult female dogs for the primary purpose of the sale of their offspring as companion animals.” VA st. § 3.1-796.66 . While this law does cover commercial breeders, it does not encompass all, since thirty female dogs is such a large number and most likely only be applicable to massive breeding facilities. Moreover, it is apparent the law is directed more towards large-scale operations as the new commercial breeder section provides that commercial breeders shall maintain no more than 50 dogs over the age of one year for breeding purposes. VA st. § 3.1-796.77:2(1 ). There are exceptions, provided they are allowable by local ordinance. The female dogs within such a facility are only allowed to be bred after a veterinarian approves, and the dog must be over 18 months and younger than eight years.   VA st. § 3.1-796.77:2(2).

While the Virginia law illustrates major progress by limiting large-scale puppy mills, it still leaves loopholes for breeders who have less than thirty female dogs. If a breeder has twenty-nine dogs and each dog produces two litters a year, there is a potential for hundreds of puppies born without the facility being inspected since there was no license requirement. By allowing local ordinances to overrule the fifty dog limit, the uniformity within the state is altered and it gives more room for irresponsible commercial breeders to easily move from city to city. The section does mention that there will be additional requirements, but does not list any such one specifically. Again, the law needs to be more narrow and specific in order to close off loopholes. Virginia still has no inspection program for kennel operations either, which dilutes the strength of the puppy mill laws in the state.

However slightly broad and unpolished the Virginia law is, Virginia’s upcoming law is paramount, as other states will be able to use Virginia as a template for enacting new laws. Louisiana is strongly considering new legislation governing puppy mills. Introduced by Rep. Harold Ritchie (D-Bogalusa), H.B. 1193 (pdf file) passed both the House and the Senate, and is awaiting the signature of Governor Bobby Jindal.   See The HSUS Urges Louisiana Gov. Jindal To Sign Anti-Puppy Mill Bill , U.S. Federal News , June 18, 2008. The Louisiana law would place more restrictions on breeders selling to pet stores and over the Internet. See LA H.B. 1193 (pdf file). There is little doubt that Virginia’s new legislation has an impact on the rest of the Nation. The issue now becomes whether the state laws are enforced, and when there are violations, what consequences the commercial breeders face.

D. Uniformity in the United States

When examining state laws, it becomes apparent that a major problem the United States has with its animal welfare laws is the consistency. The AWA does not govern animal cruelty, and it is up to the states to uphold cruelty laws on commercial breeding facilities. However, states continue to be disconnected from one another and conflict at times. The lack of consistency is a problem because puppies are products that are shipped through the stream of commerce. This is especially true with the advancement of technology and the Internet. States need to focus their laws on regulating breeders so consumers know they are buying a puppy from a reputable and legitimate breeder. Under current commercial breeder laws, many breeders can escape the laws by traveling to a state that has more lenient regulations.

Without these laws, dog hoarders and illegal breeders can easily move from state to state and never be prosecuted.   It is the leniency of the laws, the lack of enforcement of the current laws, and the inability of states to coordinate regulations that contributes to the problem of puppy mills. Moreover, the inadequate or absent standards of care in these laws allow dogs to languish in often inhumane conditions.


IV. What Is a Puppy Mill?

The United States’ economy “set the state for the puppy mill.” Adam J. Fumarola, With Best Friends Like Us Who Needs Enemies? The Phenomenon of the Puppy Mill, the Failure of Legal Regimes to Manage It, and the Positive Prospects of Animal Rights , 6 Buff. Envtl. L.J. 253, 262 (1999). When agriculture was plummeting after World War II, farmers needed a new source of income. See id. The United States Department of Agriculture promoted the business of breeding, raising, and selling dogs for profit—just as it did for crops. See id . Soon, farmers were producing a growing supply of dogs, leading to a need for more retail pet stores. See id . Pet stores became the “leading distributor of puppy mill animals.” Id .

Currently, no current state statute utilizes the phrase “puppy mill” in its text. The ASPCA defines responsible breeders as those who have focused their efforts on one or a select few breeds, and through breeding , historical research and ongoing study, mentoring relationships, club membership, showing, raising and training of these breeds have become   experts in the breed’s health, heritable conditions, temperament, and behavior. See ASPCA, http://www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=cruelty_puppymills_statement . The Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) defined puppy mills as dog-breeding operations that put profit above the welfare of dogs. See Kathleen Summers, On the Front Lines: The Fight to Stop Puppy Mills , The Colorado Dog Magazine , Summer 2008, at 110 (pdf file - 337.85 KB).

There are legitimate breeders operating in the world. The best breeders do not operate only to make money and they do not simply sell their puppies to the highest bidder. See Humane Society of the United States, http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_adoption_information/how_to_find_a_good_dog_breeder/ . The best breeders ensure that the puppies they sell go to the proper homes that will provide for the puppies’ well-being. In addition, responsible breeders will encourage consumers to visit the facility and meet the potential families before allowing the families to walk away with the puppies. There are more than 6,000 licensed commercial kennels in the United States, and an untold number of unlicensed. See http://www.awarenessday.org/national/pm_info.html ; http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/efoia/index.shtml .

Although the general population might believe that a facility producing “papers” for the dog could not be classified as a puppy mill, this is far from the truth. Even facilities that claim the dogs are registered could be classified as puppy mills because the term relates to more than a questionable paper trail. In fact, some facilities might claim the dogs are purebred and provide written documentation of veterinary records that turn out to be false. Anyone can essentially register a dog simply by filling out paperwork and paying a fee. See American Kennel Club, http://www.akc.org/reg/registeradog.cfm .   Eager consumers rush to breeders who claim to be AKC certified without realizing that the paperwork is no guarantee of the puppy’s temperament, health, or a that it is a good representation of its breed. Adam J. Fumarola, With Best Friends Like Us Who Needs Enemies? The Phenomenon of the Puppy Mill, the Failure of Legal Regimes to Manage It, and the Positive Prospects of Animal Rights , 6 Buff. Envtl. L.J. 253, 264-65 (1999).

Puppy mills are institutions where dogs are forced to breed their whole lives until they are physically incapable. A female dog is bred every time she goes into heat, so female dogs are pregnant or nursing all the time. See http://www.thepetcenter.com/gen/whelping.html .   At that time, the dogs are either sold to other breeders, left on the side of the road, neglected, or even killed. The dogs spend twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in cages, with often little to no contact with people or the outside world. The facilities that are classified as puppy mills are kept in deplorable and unsanitary conditions, lack proper veterinary care for the dogs, and often have USDA licenses. The reason for a USDA license is that it ensures that the facility can sell to pet stores. If a breeder is USDA licensed, it may be a warning that it could be a puppy mill because the primary purpose of the facility is to make money regardless of the health and safety of the puppies. A USDA license does mandate a series of basic requirements; however, with the lack of support personnel to enforce the requirements, facilities continue to violate the laws with little to no consequences. The consequences are felt through the mistreatment and continuous abuse of the dogs.

In fact, the USDA cites conditions of licensed breeding facilities in their reports:

  • “…outside was noted a dead adult female boxer, covered with a feed sack, who had died the day before”;
  • “several boxers were found with skin problems and yellow matted eyes…no medical records were available on these dogs”;
  • “temperatures in the Miller building were 34 to 39 degrees…no bedding was provided to offset the temperature.”

See http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/efoia/a.shtml .

While a retail pet store is not a puppy mill per se , the store may receive its “merchandise” directly from puppy mills or indirectly through "dog brokers." Puppy mills and pet stores sign contracts, where the puppy mill breeds a certain number of puppies and provides them to the store. The use of a dog broker is often more efficient for a store since the store then needs to contract with only a single broker to procure many different breeds of dogs. Sometimes the use of brokers also serves to insulate larger chain stores from directly dealing with a puppy mill or other less reputable breeding operations. For more on this, See Detailed Discussion of Retail Pet Stores, by Ashley Duncan, Animal Legal & Historical Center (2006) ; see also http://www.law.cornell.edu/ucc/2/article2.htm (illustrating how the UCC applies to pet sales contracts). The store then receives any AKC or other breed registration information from the breeder or broker, although many times these papers mean very little to ensure previous care of the animal.

The puppy mills that supply sick puppies are not always the ones from backyards or in rural areas. In fact, the HSUS investigated a pet store in Hollywood ("Pets of Bel Air") that many celebrities use to buy their dogs. The store assured the Internet browsers and buyers that the puppies came from small hobby breeders and not from puppy mills. See Kathleen Summers, On the Front Lines: The Fight to Stop Puppy Mills , The Colorado Dog Magazine , Summer 2008, at 112 (pdf file - 337.85 KB). The HSUS visited five of the breeders randomly and confirmed that the facilities were puppy mills. Over one hundred dogs were living in continual confinement at each facility, some injured, others visibly stressed. According to the basic laws of supply and demand, when people continue to purchase puppies from breeders, over the Internet, and from pet stores, they are both directly and indirectly supporting the demand for these innocent creatures. Thus, the effect will be the continual supply to meet the increasing demand for dogs, regardless of the conditions at the breeders’ facilities.

As technology progresses, the Internet is a convenient way to purchase a dog from an unknown source. The danger in this is buying a sick puppy from an unlicensed breeder and supporting his or her efforts to skirt the law.   No current state law has any statute governing the sale of dogs through the Internet. See Mac McLean, Customers and Experts Warn About Buying Dogs Via Internet , Bristol Herald Courier , July 4, 2008.


V. Accountability

A false generalization is that puppy mills are only in rural, backwoods neighborhoods or farmlands. This is far from true. In fact, the HSUS investigated Virginia in 2007, where it found hundreds of puppy mills existing in trailers, basements, and suburban backyards, even in states that are not well known for having a puppy mill problem. See Kathleen Summers, On the Front Lines: The Fight to Stop Puppy Mills , The Colorado Dog Magazine , Summer 2008, at 109 (pdf file - 337.85 KB ). Over nine-hundred dog breeders sold commercially in Virginia, and most of them were unlicensed and unmonitored by any oversight agency. Id.

Since puppy mills sell their “products” to consumers in pet stores, through the Internet, and newspaper classifieds, many buyers are unsuspecting and misinformed about their new product. While the current emphasis is focused on the supply end of the puppy mill problem - the breeders - some have suggested that buyers share in some of the responsibility. However, it can be said that the emotional consequences buyers suffer when their pets become ill far exceed the monetaryfines imposed on commercial breeders. There is a need for greater awareness on the part of the buyers who keep the puppy mill operations in business.


VI. Conclusions and Recommendations

While the problem of unethical breeders has become a national problem, the solution must be addressed at the state level. Enforcement standards should be applied in each state that has laws governing commercial breeding operations. Loopholes can be closed by states enforcing the current laws that presently exist, and providing new laws that enable the public to be knowledgeable about legitimate breeders operating within the state. Without overstepping their boundaries, states can provide clear expectation and standards for facilities that operate as commercial kennels, and allow those legitimate breeders to prosper in the production of healthy puppies; at the same time, states can prevent puppy mills from arising by forcing operations to operate as businesses such as Virginia does, and dedicating more funding to the departments that perform inspections. Under such a model law, inspections  should be in the summer and in the winter, assuring that the dogs are well taken care of in the various weather conditions. If a breeder violates the law, there should be a probationary period where the facility is monitored closely by a representative of the state’s governing agency. If the facility continues to violate the standards set by the state statute, the license should be permanently revoked and the violator should not be allowed to conduct any business with animals in the future. The dogs should be confiscated by the local animal shelters and adopted out, so long as it is in the best interest of the dog.

While twenty-six states currently have commercial breeding laws, these laws are meaningless if they are not enforced. States need to work together, especially regionally, in order to ensure that illegitimate breeders do not slip through the cracks of the current laws. For example, although the Virginia business requirement applies to larger operations, smaller operations are able to avoid registering and can conduct breeding without any regulations. Each state should have licensing requirements for breeders whose primary source of income is through the sales of puppies, and include the same definition of a commercial breeder. It is the discrepancies between states that encourage those who do not wish to comply with the law. It is important to provide guidelines for even the smallest breeding operation, as the products are not merely disposable item.

Some state laws treat dogs like agricultural crops—so long as they receive the necessary food, water, and shelter, the operators of the facilities are not prosecuted. In order to maintain commercial kennels that do not foster inhumane conditions, the standards need to be raised and implemented consistently. One question that often arises is “Why can’t puppy mills just be completely shut down?” The HSUS answers this question well when it states, “The disaster-level response required to remove and care for hundreds of confiscated animals is often beyond the resources of local humane societies and other enforcement agencies.” See Kathleen Summers, On the Front Lines: The Fight to Stop Puppy Mills , The Colorado Dog Magazine , Summer 2008, at 112 .

States are able to act proactively to avoid such disasters. It is critical for states to act immediately and effectively on dogs’ welfare. Responsible breeders, depending on the state, are encouraged to follow the laws and regulations set forth and preserve the integrity of the business. The general public, most importantly, can help curb the downward spiral of the disturbing business of puppy mills by decreasing the demand, ensuring they are purchasing puppies from responsible breeders, performing self-inspections of facilities and reporting violations, and avoiding buying puppies over the Internet. The commercial breeding business and the general public both need to be held accountable for this rising problem of puppy mills in the United States.


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