Puppy mills are inhumane commercial puppy-breeding facilities that value profits over the health or well-being of the dogs used as breeding stock. They sell their "product" to pet stores, on-line, in classified ads and at dog auctions.
Commercial puppy-breeding is a multi-billion dollar industry. And it's an ugly one. People we talk to are always surprised to learn that it exists and that it is legal. But the fact is, dogs are considered "livestock" in the eyes of our federal government (Animal Welfare Act), and are regulated by the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The law allows a level of care that most people would not consider humane.
Commercial puppy-breeders take advantage of this to maximize their profit at the expense of the welfare of the dogs, inhumanely confined and bred continuously until their feeble bodies give out. They hide the truth from the public by selling their puppies to unsuspecting consumers through pet stores, websites and classified ads, refusing to reveal where or how the puppy was born and raised.
Right now, hundreds of thousands of adult dogs, used as breeding stock, are suffering on the "production lines" in puppy mills. Best estimates place that number around 800,000! They are treated like products, not living beings, and their health and welfare are disregarded to maintain a low overhead and maximize profit. Mills range in size, some have as few as 10 breeding dogs and others have more than a thousand breeding dogs packed into deplorable spaces.
It's legal to confine adult breeding dogs to small, wire-bottomed cages, only 6 inches longer than the dog on all sides, often stacked on top of other cages, for life. They live in overcrowded, squalid conditions, neglected, starved and left sick and injured without medical care or relief from overwhelming pain. Most females are bred as frequently as possible, with no recovery time in between litters, and when they are no longer able to "produce" they are discarded like garbage. Recent studies confirm that dogs confined in puppy mills for breeding purposes demonstrate impaired health and diminished welfare and carry emotional scars for years.
Puppy mills are regulated by the government (USDA). However, standards are not meant to ensure a good life for dogs. They are only meant to impose bare minimum of care requirements, which most would not consider humane. Fewer than 3,000 of the estimated 10,000 mills are registered and licensed by the USDA. Most go unregulated. Missouri is the leading puppy mill state. While the Midwest has the highest concentration, puppy mills operate in many states.
Puppy mills sell their "product" all over the country through retail pet stores, internet sites and classified ads. The estimated number of puppy mill puppies sold annually (both USDA-licensed and non-USDA-licensed) is 2.4 million. Mills focus on quantity, not quality, consequently mill puppies are often sold with an illness, congenital defects and behavioral issues.
Most people don't want to believe it, but that cute puppy in the pet store came from a puppy mill and the mother is still there, suffering endlessly, forced to breed yet another litter. In fact, recent undercover investigations by HSUS revealed that 99% of the puppies for sale originated from mills. They may be USDA licensed breeders, even provide "pure bred" papers, but they are still deplorable mills.
An estimated 25% of all dogs entering shelters are purebred dogs that originate from puppy mills, which puts a strain on community resources and contributes to the tragic 4 million+ homeless pets euthanized annually.
ASPCA. Puppy Mill FAQ.
Disposal of Dead Dogs in Commercial Breeding Facilities (PDF). Oct 2010.
Humane Society Veterinary Medical Associates (HSVMA). Veterinary Report on Puppy Mills. May 2013.
McMillan FD, Duffy DL, Serpell JA. Mental health of dogs formerly used as ‘breeding stock’ in commercial breeding establishments. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2011;135(1-2):86-94.
The Humane Society of the United States. Puppy Mills Facts and Figures. January 2014.
USDA, Office of Inspector General. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Care Program, Inspection of Problematic Dealers. May 2010.