Full Title Name:  What is a Puppy Mill?

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Robyn F. Katz Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2009 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center

This short summary gives a description of what constitutes a "puppy mill."


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”) defines 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).

Puppy mills are facilities 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, yet often have USDA licenses. A USDA license ensures that the facility can sell to pet stores. A USDA license does mandate a series of requirements; however, with the lack of support personnel to enforce the requirements, facilities continue to violate the laws with little to no consequences. Moreover, the standards of care are often inadequate to ensure humane treatment. The consequences are felt through the mistreatment and continuous abuse of dogs.

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 responsible 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 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).

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. 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 curtail 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.

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 or adopting puppies from legitimate 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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