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No Puppy Mills - North Carolina Branch

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"Speak your Mind, Even if your Voice Shakes"


There is a lot of info here accumulated via the other branch sites as well as my own research and  info.  There will be a lot of changes and improvements as we go along !  These are documented, eye witness accounts of visits to and raids of puppy mills as well as various editorial viewpoints. 

This site is dedicated to the education of the public to the conditions that breeding animals live under in the "puppy industry." We also wish to educate the public to the genetic and behavioral problems of puppies that are bred in puppy mills.  As volunteers who have become aware of this problem, we want to help  the  public to understand as well. We are united by the animals we love, many of whom are the products of puppy mills.

Most people are not aware that the majority of those cute puppies and kittens sold in pet stores are bred under horrid, inhumane conditions in the puppy mills of the United States. The best way to stop puppy mills is not to purchase a puppy or kitten from a pet store, and educate people about from where and what these animals come. This is what we are trying to do.

No matter how "classy" a pet shop may look, how clean and healthy looking those pups and kittens appear to be, you must understand this is not the case for the vast majority!  A pet shop owner may assure you they use only "local breeders" and would never get puppies from one of those horrible puppy mills you see on TV.  However  that is exactly where most of these "purebred" puppies and kittens do come from!  It is semantics whether they arrive as one of a hundred from a mill in PA or if they come from the backyard breeder down the street!

We all need to understand that NO REPUTABLE BREEDER of any animal would ever sell their babies in a pet shop...ever. It is as plain and simple as that.  They spend all their time, effort and attention in breeding the best dogs they can and each and every puppy goes to hand picked homes.  A breeder knows the flaws of their animals, the genetic problems of their chosen breed and what to breed for and when not to breed.  Paying a premium pet shop price does not assure quality.  Any true breeder will take a puppy back if it doesn't work out or develops a genetic problem.  So the promises of a pet shop are a moot point.  All the pet shop will do is refund or replace the puppy (sometimes) like a defective appliance...because that is all the animal is to the pet shop.

While it is true that some pet shops have local puppies and kittens, they are not from reputable breeders who would want to have their name or their kennel attached to the  animal.  These small ones are from "back yard" breeders.  Those people who just happen to have a female collie named "Lassie" and decide to have a litter with "Lad" down the street.  Lad's owners are the ones who chose to get a male because they then didn't have to pay to have him altered and didn't have to worry about unwanted puppies.  Neither family are breeders.  Chances are they don't even have a book about collies, much less know that there are genetic problems found in that breed...and there are a slew of them!  No, they just toss them in the back yard together and let them do "what comes naturally". Anyone who gets a pup or kitten this way is just playing Russian Roulette!  However...this is infinitely better than buying them from a pet shop!  Because at least the pups might have been cared for.  Which simply is not the case for any purebred you will find in any pet shop.  Neither is this condoning the back yard breeder. They are simply the lesser of two evils!



You never know how things are going to affect you. I have had many puppy mill dogs in my years of rescue. I know what they are and what I need to help them. It has always been a give and take thing. I did volunteer work most of my live. On hospitals and nursing homes. I have found old persons dead whom have died in their sleep so I have always felt prepared. And until recently I have been very copasetic about who I am and what I do and how..

Then came the Monroe NC mill bust. 260 dogs. 0er 100 Chihuahua....MY breed. The rest were other small dogs. Most bitches and pregnant. All with distemper vaccines which would damage the unborn.  This whole thing was completely different  for me.  And I drove a round trip of 10 hours to get there. I saw them and I heard the people there crying for the ones turned in from the area because there is literally NO ROOM AT THE INN for them. These mill dogs are evidence. and they must be kept whole and ready to go back should the hell spawn who had them should win...again. So the locals died until the mill babies were in foster.

They take my breath away. I have  spent  literally thousands of dollars in blood work and tests to be sure they were ok. I have cried knowing there were puppies and knowing that besides the boosters, the bitch was too weak to deal with her needs and there was nothing left for the unborn. And I had to make that call and in 30 plus years in rescue it is the very first time I have deliberately killed the unborn...and I am still dealing with it. 

But here they are and the 2, 2.75 pounders sleep with me on the bed and I can love them there and there only....try and touch them somewhere else and they will break eyes and will get better with time. These are not my first and nit my last.


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They who do not know how to weep with their whole heart
 do not know how to laugh either. --Golda Meir~



Finding a responsible breeder

Some hints for locating a responsible breeder



Responsible breeders answer buyers' questions, keep puppies they cannot place, allow bitches to recover sufficiently from one breeding before doing another, and take back any puppy that does not work out. They breed dogs because they admire their breed and want to contribute to its betterment. They guarantee their pups free of genetic diseases common in their breed and replace the pup if the disease should crop up. They consider the puppies they produce to be their responsibility for the life of that puppy, so they follow-up frequently to see what's going on. They evaluate their puppies as show and breeding quality or pet quality and sell pet puppies with a spay-neuter contract. Pet quality puppies are not deficient - they just may not meet the breed standard for size, color, coat type, bone structure, head type, etc. Many responsible breeders sell pet puppies at a lower price than show puppies.


Locating a responsible breeder

  • Area kennel clubs are excellent sources of information about local breeders. Obedience training clubs in your area also offer promising leads. Veterinarians, groomers, boarding kennel operators, and pet supply outlets may also be good sources.

  • Using newspaper classified ads to locate a breeder is a gamble. Few responsible breeders advertise in local classified ads because they have no trouble placing their dogs, sometimes years in advance. Therefore most breeders who advertise in these sections are amateurs who know little about their breeds. If you must enter the classified sweepstakes at least learn the terminology of classified ads.

  • The first interview with a breeder should be done without seeing the puppies so judgment doesn't get clouded by adorable, furry bundles. Ask to see sire and dam of the litter, if possible, and assess their temperament. If either is overprotective or very fearful, head for the door.

  • Ask about the genetic diseases that affect the breed -- you should have a good idea of what they are from your reading. If the breed is a medium-to-large one, hip dysplasia is likely to be a problem, so don't accept excuses for failure to x-ray and certify the dog free of the condition.

  • Ask about the contract and the guarantee and for names of previous puppy buyers as references. Ask if dogs from this breeder are active in dog sports even if you never intend to participate. Dogs that earn obedience, tracking, hunting, herding, water, or conformation titles; work as sled dogs, therapy dogs, assistance dogs, or search and rescue dogs; or participate in sports such as agility, Frisbee, or schutzhund are definitely trainable. The more complex the sport, the more there's a need for intelligence.

  • Ask to see the pedigrees of sire and dam. If there are lots of champions or titled dogs in the pedigree, the puppies are most likely good physical examples of the breed. Ask for the OFA ratings on the sire and dam, not only the OFA number. Ratings can be fair, good, or excellent. Chances of good hips in the offspring are higher with parents rated good than with those rated fair, and are even better with parents rated excellent.

  • Expect the breeder to ask you some questions as well. After all, a responsible breeder wants to know what kind of a home and family his puppies are getting as well as the color of your money.

Buyer beware

When you decide the time is right for a puppy, spend at least as much time looking as you would in shopping for a new car or a special dress or suit. A puppy is a long-term investment: hopefully he'll be with you for 10-12 years or more. Here are some questions to ask breeders.

  • Will you help us pick the right puppy for our needs?

  • Are your breeding animals registered with the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) Hip Dysplasia Registry?

  • What are their registration numbers?

  • Are your breeding animals certified free of PRA and other eye diseases?

  • Do you guarantee the hips and eyes of the puppies?

  • What are your terms if the puppy does develop genetic problems?

  • Can we visit the parents of the litter?

  • Will you give us the names of other puppy buyers?

  • Do you require that pet puppies be spayed or neutered?

  • Will the puppies have their first shots?

  • At what age do you place puppies? (Puppies should stay with Mom and siblings for at least seven weeks.)

Responsible breeders are forthcoming with this information. Make sure you have the answers before you look at the puppies -- it's hard to walk away from a wriggling bundle of fur that's licking your face or tugging on your ankle!

Breeder beware

A truly responsible and professional breeder cares where his puppies will grow up. He will keep any puppies he cannot place in suitable homes and will question prospective buyers closely to determine if this buyer really needs one of his precious puppies.

Good breeders ask some or all of the following questions:

  • Have you ever had a dog before? If so, what type of dog? How long did you have it? Some breeds are not suitable for first-time dog owners, and some are just what the doctor ordered for neophytes.

  • Are there children in the family? How many? What ages? Some breeds are good with children, some prefer older, considerate children, and some don't get along with children at all.
    (More on children and dogs)

  • Do you live in a house or apartment? If an apartment, does the landlord allow dogs? Some breeds do quite well in confined spaces, while others need room to stretch and wander.

  • Do you have other pets? Some breeds are naturally aggressive to other animals, including dogs and cats, and some get along very well with all God's critters.

  • Do you have a fenced yard? No dog should be left outside unattended, and no dog-aggressive or guardian breed should be confined by only an electronic fence. These fences may keep the dog in but they do not keep trespassing children or other dogs out.

  • What do you do for exercise? High energy breeds such as Dalmatians, retrievers, Border Collies, and Australian Shepherds need a brisk daily walk or jog of a mile or more to satisfy their physical and psychological need for exercise.

  • Do you know the dog laws in your community? No responsible breeder wants to sell a puppy to a buyer who does not plan to obey leash and confinement laws.

  • Do you plan to obedience train this puppy? This is a crucial question for breeders of guardian dogs such as Akitas, Rottweilers, Boxers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, etc. An untrained guardian dog can easily become a domineering pet with severe behavior problems.

  • Are you aware of the costs involved in veterinary care, including spaying and neutering, purchasing a good quality dog food, boarding the dog when you are away, annual license fees, etc.?

  • Are you aware that you are taking on the responsibility of another living creature who will, for the rest of its life, be dependent upon you?

If you can answer these questions in a positive manner, you are a good prospect for one of the breeder's puppies. Remember though, the really good breeders have a sixth sense about people. They will scrutinize your behavior with their dogs, the dogs' behavior with you, and the behavior and attitudes of your children. If the children are rowdy and disobedient, chances are your dog will be too, and the breeder may not want one of her dogs going to your home.

Norma Bennett Woolf


"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures
from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man."
- St. Francis of Assisi



Reader's Digest Story

Scandal of America's Puppy Mills

Appalling conditions are yielding unhealthy and hostile pets
By William Ecenbarger

I parked my car and walked up the dirt road toward a weathered barn. This was Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Dutch country, where the land yields corn, tobacco, and a a new cash crop-puppies. As I approached the barn, I heard a cacophony of high-pitched barking. The owner came out to meet me. "You have any puppies?" I asked. "Poodles, Yorkies, Schipperkes, Maltese, Jack Russells, Shih Tzus, Pekinese, boxers, cockers, Labs. "I asked to see some Bichon Frises. Raising a palm, cautioning me not to follow, the farmer went into a large kennel. But he left the door ajar, and I took a good look inside.  This was my first visit to one of those dog- breeding operations conventionally known as puppy mills. In fact, this facility had once been licensed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. So, when I saw the  conditions in which these puppies were being raised, I was stunned. The animals lived in small wire cages stacked four and five high. Some puppies had open sores or hairless spots from lying on the metal wire. Urine and feces from upper cages dropped into the ones below. Food was tossed in among the waste. Some dogs had no water. They all seemed malnourished. When the farmer returned, I bought a puppy for $200. Later I took him to an animal hospital for an exam. Other than having
an ailment called kennel cough, he was okay, and someone soon adopted him.  He was one of the lucky ones.

A Continuing Tragedy  

Laws governing dog-breeding operations have been on the books since 1971. But legislation has not solved the problem of atrocious conditions. In a special  investigation for Reader's Digest, I interviewed government officials and humane-society and pet-industry representatives. I also studied hundreds of reports compiled by federal inspectors. Most important, I visited 53 puppy mills-some licensed, others not-in seven states. What I saw not only broke the law; it broke my heart. Puppy mills thrive because the demand for pedigreed dogs has created a highly profitable market for small farmers and for the chain pet stores they supply. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States, and the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) estimate that nine out of ten puppies sold at pet shops come from puppy mills. Abuses occur in both licensed and unlicensed facilities. Just how many unlicensed mills operate nationwide is unknown.  Last May I visited a puppy mill near Bunnell, Fla., that had been closed down. When police and humane officials arrived six months earlier, they were greeted at the gate by dozens of dogs, many of them sick or injured. On the porch of the ramshackle farmhouse was a stack of filthy cages, where the decomposing carcass of a terrier dripped fluids onto a live poodle below. Inside, every downstairs room was piled with excrement-filled cages. Rats scampered in and out of them. Authorities seized 358 dogs. A few were in such poor health they had to be euthanized. Many of the females had mammary tumors, and a half-dozen dogs were blind from glaucoma. Nearly all the adult dogs had severe periodontal disease, and many had to have teeth removed. Last November the owners were convicted on 12 counts of animal neglect. They are appealing. As appalling as this mill was, says Amy Wade-Carotenuto, shelter manager for the Flagler County Humane Society, "There are a lot more like this or worse around the country."

Conflict of Interest

Since formal licensing was begun by the USDA in October 1971, facilities that fail to meet minimum standards face penalties ranging from written warnings to revocation of their licenses. But inspection is spotty. In the 18-month period ending June 30, 1997, only 29 of the 4100 licensed commercial dog breeders in the United States-less than one percent-had their licenses suspended or revoked. No one claims that the low level of enforcement reflects a high level of compliance by  breeders. Marshall Smith, a former USDA investigator who resigned in February 1997, says the agency "tends to go lightly on violations of the Animal Welfare Act." The main reason, according to Smith: "One of the USDA's major functions is to promote the economic welfare of the farmer rather than the health and welfare of dogs." In other words, there's a direct conflict of interest. In 1995, 149 members of Congress condemned the industry, citing "overcrowding, inadequate shelter, improper veterinary care, lack of sanitation and incessant breeding."  The legislators asked the USDA to correct inhumane conditions through new regulations. 

Two changes were adopted: plastic-coated wire for cages is now required, and the tethering of animals is forbidden. But, as this report demonstrates, violations are common. Many other recommendations-like increasing cage size, requiring constant access to water, limiting the number of times a female can be bred, and stipulating stronger sanitation requirements-were not adopted. Sue Pressman, an ASPCA consultant, says some of the worst victims of puppy mills are the breeding bitches. "They spend their entire lives in one place, producing one litter after another," she says. (The recommended method is to breed no more than once a year.) "Under these conditions, puppy-mill bitches live four or five years and are disposed of." At one mill in Pennsylvania, I saw a breeding female chained to a tree, trying to nurse a dozen hungry puppies of different sizes. In many mills, the bitches are restrained in wire cages or pens and get no exercise. The stress induced in these bitches by such conditions often results in hostility to their offspring. The pups end up treating littermates the same way. Not surprising, such aggressive behavior does not yield good pets.  In the typical puppy mill, newborn animals receive little or no individual attention. This lack of human contact is why puppy-mill dogs are so often aggressive, distrustful and hard to train. "A lot of them end up abandoned in shelters because their owners can't deal with them," says George Watford, vice president for special investigations at the ASPCA. I asked Melvin Nolt, a commercial breeder in East Earl, Pa., about the criticism that operators don't adequately attend to their puppies. "A lot of it comes from city people, who don't understand animals or farming," he said. "They get overly emotional about dogs, and they don't understand that dogs are different from people." But Donald K. Allen, a Youngstown, Ohio, veterinarian and member of the board of directors of CAPS, disagrees. "Sure, dogs are different from people," he says. "But dogs are different from livestock, too, because they're destined to live in someone's home. It's difficult to house-train a pup from a mill because it's used to voiding wherever it wants. And it's failed to bond with people." The poor sanitation at many mills leads to another dire problem:disease. To cut costs, many commercial breeders do not vaccinate dogs against diseases, including Parvovirus, a highly communicable and often deadly canine disease that especially affects puppies. In addition,  Watford notes, some puppy-mill puppies are less than eight weeks old when sold. "Diseases and congenital defects haven't had time to incubate and show up."

The Myth of Pedigree

Driving the whole puppy-mill industry is consumer demand. And part of that demand stems from the notion that the "best" dogs are purebred. Says Allen, "For the past half-century, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has driven home the propaganda that a purebred dog is better than a mixed breed. In doing so, it has created a popular demand for pedigreed dogs, and puppy mills have sprung up to supply this demand at the retail level." A policy statement of the AKC speaks against puppy mills: "We oppose random, large-scale breeding of dogs solely for commercial purposes. The AKC believes the solution is scrupulous enforcement of the Federal Animal Welfare Act and state and local regulations governing the humane care of animals." Yet the AKC takes in hefty revenues from registering animals according to breed. In 1996 alone the AKC collected registration fees totaling $26 million. "A conflict of interest arises when the group responsible for enforcement benefits financially from the same groups that it's investigating," says Richard Johnston, president of the Connecticut Humane Society. There is a simple solution to the  puppy-mill problem: don't buy your puppy from a pet store. This step is supported by the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States, CAPS, and most state and local humane organizations. "Without pet-store sales, dog breeding would not be a lucrative business, and most mills would be forced out of existence," says the ASPCA's George Watford. Marshall Meyers, executive vice president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, disagrees. "A boycott would be unfair to the thousands of responsible pet-store owners and operators. The reasonable answer to any problem is better enforcement of existing regulations." To their credit, some retailers aren't waiting for  improvements in oversight. They've simply stopped dealing with puppy mills; still others have never started.

Short, Sad Tale

Oscar, a dachshund, began life on September 24, 1996, in a licensed Missouri puppy mill. The farm sits in a hollow, out of sight from the gravel county road some 100 yards away. At that distance, though, anyone passing by can hear the dogs barking and smell the puppy-mill reek. In November, Oscar was sold to a dog broker in southwest Missouri. There, he had a clean kennel and room to run. But soon Oscar was air-shipped to his final destination: a pet shop in central Ohio. In the baggage office of the Columbus, Ohio, airport, Susan Lively, a 28-year-old airline employee, saw the dachshund and fell in love. She told the pet-store  employee that she wanted to buy Oscar. The next morning Lively went into the store, paid $400 and took him home. That night Oscar began spitting up his food. The pet store told Lively that a veterinarian had examined Oscar and found nothing wrong. The following day, Thanksgiving, Oscar began vomiting every five minutes. A veterinarian prescribed antibiotics, which helped briefly. Susan Lively was heartbroken when, five days later, 10-week-old Oscar was dead from Parvo virus-another victim of the mass production of puppies at the lowest possible cost.



Puppies for sale...

How do you know you’re buying a                Dateline NBC Report on Puppy Mills
healthy pet?

So how do you find a pet that is healthy and right for you?

Image: Puppy  

April 26 —  When you buy that tail-wagging, cute puppy from your neighborhood pet store or the large pet store franchise at the mall, do you have any idea where those dogs were raised? Are the dogs purebred and is a certificate from the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) a guarantee of health? In a 10-month investigation, correspondent Chris Hansen set out to find answers to these questions that few consumers bother to ask.

The bottom line is ask questions. And if a breeder is hesitant to answer your questions, experts say they might be hiding something about their dogs.

IT’S A MULTI-million dollar industry driven by puppy love. As puppies, they’re all adorable, but buyer beware. Millions of Americans have fallen in love with puppies in pet store windows. But there’s a different side of the business that keeps many of those pet shops full and has nothing to do with love.  Many pet owners have no idea where their puppy started its life. Dateline’s investigation examined the commercial dog breeding system in the U.S., how many pet stores keep all those different breeds of puppies in stock at any given time, who breeds these thousands of puppies, and if anyone is inspecting the facilities or making sure the dogs are in fact purebred. Dateline’s investigation found a commercial breeding industry with, in some cases, cruel conditions for the breeding dogs which can result in puppies with health and behavior problems. We discovered inhumane conditions in the commercial dog breeding industry and learned that most puppies in pet stores can come from these operations?

So the question is, if you want a purebred pup, where do you find reputable dog breeders and a good selection of breeds to choose from? Most people imagine pet store puppies are bred in homey, hand-reared environments where dogs and puppies have room to play. But these small, private breeders specialize in just one or two breeds and they don’t sell to pet stores. So where do pet stores get their puppies in all those shapes and sizes?

Dateline’s investigation found that more often than not, pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills — the term used for a commercial dog breeder where breeding dogs are confined to cages their entire lives. According to experts, careless breeding is common and the puppies can inherit health or behavioral problems that may make them difficult pets. They found hundreds of breeding dogs in deplorable conditions. Dateline’s investigation discovered Nielsen Farms in Kansas, where we saw 500 breeding dogs, many with health problems — like rampant skin infections called mange, food infested with maggots and disturbing behavior often caused by confinement. We shopped undercover and learned Nielsen Farms sold puppies to pet stores across the country, from the largest pet store chain to the most exclusive of pet shops. Nielsen now says that the conditions which Dateline found don’t exist any longer. Critics say pet stores have no choice but to buy from commercial breeders if they want a large variety of young puppies in their windows at any given time. Puppy mills are found all over the U.S., but are concentrated in high numbers in these states: Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.

So suppose you say you don’t want to go to a pet store? How do you find a reputable dog breeder? Breeders of all reputations advertise in just about every magazine, newspaper and pet magazine — even the Internet. Obviously not all breeders who advertise in newspapers, magazines or magazines or on the Internet are puppy mills. Some are genuinely careful, responsible breeders. But the only way to really know is to get references and preferably go visit the breeder in person and see the dogs. And while you’re interviewing the breeder, pay attention. Is the breeder interviewing you? Good ones will, to find out if you’re responsible and if you’ll provide a good home for their carefully bred puppy.         

There are plenty of sources for purebred dogs and puppies. Check the Internet for breed clubs all over the country that know all about their particular breed. Ask veterinarians for breeder referrals. And we were surprised to learn that about a quarter of all dogs in animal shelters are purebred. About 8-12 million dogs and cats enter shelters every year and 60 to 70 percent are euthanized for want of a home. Most breeds have rescue groups that can find the type of dog you want. The bottom line is ask questions. And if a breeder is hesitant to answer your questions, experts say they might be hiding something about their dogs.  “There are wonderful sources of excellent pet dogs,” says Dr. Karen Overall, a veterinarian, internationally recognized as a leading expert in animal behavior. She runs the behavior clinic at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Animal Hospital that sees some 20,000 animals annually. She has applied for a research grant from the American Kennel Club and is awaiting their response. But you still have to do your homework say the experts, because a puppy should not be an impulse purchase. Remember, a puppy is not a household gift that can be returned, but a 10 to 15 year commitment. So you need to spend time researching the type of dog that meets your needs before you make it the newest member of your family.

First, pick a breed that’s the right size and temperament for your lifestyle. Breed clubs — every breed has one — can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about a particular type of dog. Dr. Overall suggests even going to a dog show, where breeds will be lined up in a row for you to check out for yourself. Once you’ve narrowed down the choices, where should you go to get your puppy? Those breed clubs recommend breeders. The American Kennel Club has a Web site,, which offers information. You can also check with your local veterinarian. Then go visit in person. A good breeder should have just one or two breeds.

 “The first thing you should ask is,” says Dr. Overall, “is it possible for me to see any of the other relatives? The father may not be on the premises but if the pups are young, you should at least be able to see the mother. If they say things like a client did the other day, ‘yes, but she’s out in the kennel and she’s not good with most humans so I’ll have to bring her out on a chain.’ That was a clue.” Stay away. Dr. Overall says don’t stop there. “The second thing they should ask is could you please give me the names of some of the people with whom you’ve placed dogs before and can I call them,” she says. “And if they say no, walk away.” A good breeder should give you that information. “In fact, I’ve been to breeders where I didn’t have to ask,” says Overall.

And you really don’t have to go to a breeder for a purebred. “They can talk to rescue associations, animal rescue leagues, humane shelters,” says Dr. Overall. “And those can be wonderful places to get even young animals.” Experts stress that you need to take time to make the best decision for you and your family. “It’s your choice,” says Dr. Overall. “It’s your decision. You’re going to have this dog in your household for many, many, many years. You’re investing in a family member.”          


Do not think dishonestly.
The Way is in the Training.
Become acquainted with every art.
Know the ways of all professions.
Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.
Perceive those things that cannot be seen.
Pay attention even to little things.
Do nothing that is of no use.
                        - Musashi Miyamoto


Rachel A. Lamb

It was summer when I visited puppy mills in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In the last few years, the area has become a hub for large scale commercial dog breeding operations. And although the Midwest still ranks as containing the highest number of dog breeding operations, the concentration of puppy mills in Lancaster County is unparalleled.

Accompanying me was a Humane Society of the United States investigator who had monitored the Pennsylvania mills for years. He knew the county well, and had seen not only the proliferation of puppy mills in the area, but at the same time, the increased press and public attention in their operations.

Driving through the pastoral landscape, it seemed impossible that animal suffering could exist amidst such beauty. This illusion was quickly shattered with my first view of a puppy mill. For years, I had seen and studied photos of infamous facilities, but nothing prepared me for seeing the real thing with my own eyes.

Caged dogs over piles of feces We approached a farmhouse from the road and turned onto a muddy lane. Rounding the corner, we didn't even have to get out of the truck to see or hear what awaited us. Rows of dilapidated cages were lined up outside a barn. Stopping the truck, my throat constricted with shock. Dogs were crammed three or more to a small cage which were elevated over mounds of feces. Matted fur covered their eyes as they rushed towards the front of their cages, barking at uninvited visitors. Their plight was so dramatically different than the dogs I knew, the dogs who lie lazily in afternoon sun, waiting for their next meal or walk. No, these dogs were here for a purpose and only one purpose: to make money.

We saw many mills that day. Posing as buyers, we were able to handle and examine some of the puppies. Many seemed sickly, disoriented, and underweight. And when we were allowed to see their mothers, or sneaked onto a farm to view the conditions, the hopelessness of their lives weighed on me like a heavy load that rests on my shoulders even to this day.

Dogs hold a special place in our hearts. Domesticated thousands of years ago, they were chosen to be our protectors, companions, and best friends. And although we have betrayed our responsibility towards them in many ways, none is so distressing or disturbing as the puppy mill.

The term "puppy mill," coined in the mid-to-late sixties to describe large scale commercial dog breeding facilities, has only recently arrived in the mainstream vernacular. It is a term that some claim is sensational and manipulative. The word "mill" refers to an operation that churns out dogs in mass, using female dogs as nothing more than breeding machines. The term conjures images of dogs crowded in wire cages, living in their own wastes, shivering from the cold, or baking in the heat. Tragically, this vision is not far from reality. Most people, not just those interested in animal protection, are shocked when confronted with the bleak images of dogs housed and bred in puppy mills. But in the 5,000 puppy mills found across the country, thousands of dogs are bred and raised for profit, valued not for their companionship or loyalty, but for the cold hard cash they bring.

Many consumers possess an image of puppies at a family farm, lovingly raised and cared for. Others may not even think about where a pet store puppy comes from. Drawn to a pet store window by a bin of wriggling puppies, the furthest thing from a customer's mind is the origin of these cute bundles of fur. But by buying a puppy, often for a price of $500 or more, the consumer is unknowingly supporting a cycle of abuse that begins at the puppy mill.

What the consumer can't see is the puppy's mother, imprisoned miles away, pregnant again, her body being used to produce more money-making puppies. Starting at six months, she is bred every heat cycle. She is often weak, malnourished, and dehydrated. Rarely, if ever, is she provided with veterinary care. She cannot maintain her productivity past her fourth or fifth year. After that, she is nothing more than a drain on the mill's operation and must be disposed of. If she's lucky, she'll be humanely euthanized. More often than not, she will be shot or bludgeoned to death. Discarded, her wasted body will lie forgotten in a local landfill or garbage dump.

Terrible conditions for mothers and puppies This is the picture the pet stores will never show. And until recently, the ugly truth of puppy mills has been hidden. But when problems with many of the puppies bought at pet stores across the country began to surface, consumers and animal lovers alike began asking hard questions. Puppies with seizures, parasites, infections, bacteria, and behavioral problems were being seen far too often to be merely coincidental.

Puppy mills and the pet store industry have begun to feel this scrutiny. They insist that it doesn't make good business sense to sell sick puppies or house breeding females in less than humane conditions. But evidence gained after years of documentation and investigation directly conflicts with these assertions. In addition, those small scale breeders who do treat their animals humanely, who raise them in their homes or in small, cleanly kept kennels, do not usually make a profit off their dogs. It is virtually impossible to breed in a humane fashion and make money at the same time. Although a pet store may sell a puppy for $500 or more dollars, most commercial breeders can only get around $35 per dog from a broker who in turns sells to the pet store for around $75. In order to make a profit and cover costs, corners must be cut, and puppies must be churned out at a furious rate. The cut corners are the animals themselves: their housing, their health, their cleanliness. Inherent in the profit-making mills is the sacrifice of humane standards in order to make a profit.

What protection, if any, do these dogs and their puppies have? On the state level, puppy "lemon laws," existing in a handful of states including New Jersey and California, seek to offer consumers protection against buying sick puppies. Although these laws do chip away at the production of sick puppies, they do not address the inherent problem of the whole system: the selling of dogs for profit.

The federal level offers even less hope. The current system not only allows the continuation of a business that makes money off the backs of dogs, but fails in its responsibility to provide even a basic quality of life for dogs in puppy mills. Originally passed in 1966, the federal Animal Welfare Act was amended in 1970 to include in its provisions the oversight of large scale commercial dog breeding facilities. Regulations were written with the intention of ensuring the proper care, feeding, housing, and veterinary care for the thousands of dogs found in puppy mills across the country. Mandated by law to enforce these regulations is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). But with a shortage of inspectors responsible for overseeing these facilities, the agency has developed a reputation for failing to meet its mandate.

Not only have outsiders criticized the agency's ability to enforce the Act in relation to puppy mills, but several internal reviews have also illustrated the gross inadequacies existing at the federal level. Recently, a damning internal review conducted by the USDA's own office of the Inspector General of the agency's South Central Regional Office offered a bleak picture. The South Central Office, responsible for overseeing the majority of this country's puppy mills, was found to be sorely lacking in its ability to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. The report found that the office failed to respond to complaints from the public, failed to report a large number of blatant violations of the law, and that supervisors told inspectors not only where and when to inspect, but instructed their staff not to write up too many violations of problematic facilities. USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, embarrassed by the report's finding, has demanded the development of an internal plan to respond to the crisis within the agency.

The USDA is also feeling the heat over the puppy mill issue from members of Congress. After receiving constituent mail on puppy mills, Congressman Glenn Poshard (D-Il) and Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), sprung to action. Working with The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection organizations, they gathered over 100 signatures from members on both side of Capitol Hill in a letter to Secretary Glickman expressing concern about the problems found in puppy mills across the country. Sent late last summer, the letter has caused anxiety within the USDA.

This Spring, the agency will consider enacting stronger regulations covering puppy mills as well as examining ways in which their enforcement powers can be increased. Although any change in the way puppy mills are regulated is an improvement, and stiffer rules may even shut down or discourage potential operators from opening a facility, the changes will not directly eliminate the mills themselves. Until the demand for mass-produced pet store puppies decreases, there will always be a buck to be made in the production of dogs.

Rachel A. Lamb is Director for Companion Animal Care at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington, DC.


Puppy Mill Facts

What Is a Puppy Mill?

A puppy mill is a breeding facility that mass-produces purebred puppies, which are typically sold at eight weeks of age to brokers and retail operations across the U.S. Puppy mills have long concerned The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The documented problems of puppy mills include: over-breeding dams, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, poor quality of food and shelter, lack of socialization with humans, overcrowded cages, and the killing unwanted animals. To the unwitting consumer, this situation frequently means buying a puppy facing an array of immediate veterinary problems or harboring genetically borne diseases that do not appear until years later.

Sadly, some dogs are forced to live in puppy mills for their entire lives. They are kept there for one reason only: to produce more puppies. Repeatedly bred, most of these "brood bitches" are killed once their reproductive capacity wanes.

HSUS research shows that approximately 4,000 of these mills currently operate in the U.S., many of them despite repeated violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and other United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations. In 1997, the agency used a force of approximately 70 inspectors to enforce its code—an average of 57 facilities per agent per year that need inspection.

Although all 50 states have anti-cruelty laws that should prevent neglect and mistreatment of dogs in puppy mills, such laws are seldom enforced in rural areas, where most puppy mills are located.

The Pet Store Link

The HSUS strongly opposes the sale, through pet shops and similar outlets, of puppies and dogs from mass-breeding establishments. Puppy-mill dogs are the "inventory" of these retail operations. Statistics from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) suggest that approximately 3,500 to 3,700 of the 11,500 to 12,000 U.S. pet stores sell cats and dogs. PIJAC also estimates that pet stores sell 300,000 to 400,000 puppies every year. HSUS estimates the number to be 500,000.

The HSUS's Role

The HSUS has been fighting a relentless battle against puppy mills since the early 1980s, including monitoring the USDA's poor performance in this area and pushing for better AWA enforcement.

In 1984, the General Accounting Office, the investigative branch of the U.S. government, found major deficiencies in the enforcement of the AWA regulations concerning puppy mills. Despite pledges to improve its inspection process, the USDA failed to live up to its promises.

In 1990, frustrated by the apathy of federal and state officials, The HSUS led a nationwide boycott of puppies from the seven worst puppy mill states: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. The boycott captured a great deal of national media attention, including numerous newspaper articles and television news reports on shows such as "20/20," "Good Morning, America," and "The Today Show."

Raids on puppy mills subsequently took place in Kansas, where the state legislature, attempting to protect recalcitrant puppy mill operators by hampering investigators, enacted a law making it a felony to photograph a puppy mill facility.

Lemon Laws

As the horror of puppy mills gains attention, states are responding with "lemon laws" that protect consumers who buy puppies. Thirteen states now have laws or regulations that allow consumers to receive refunds or the reimbursement of veterinary bills when a sick puppy is purchased. While these laws place a limited onus on pet stores and puppy mills to sell healthy puppies, and theoretically improve conditions for their breeding facilities, The HSUS feels that they do not adequately protect the animals who suffer in these establishments.

Latest Developments and HSUS Action

Facing an unreliable regulatory environment and legislatures unwilling to pass statutes that directly combat the problem of mass breeders and their nationwide network of dealers, The HSUS continues to target the consumer for its anti-puppy-mill messages. Consumer demand for purebred puppies, more than any other factor, perpetuates the misery of puppy mills. Unfortunately, a dog's lifespan often outstrips many consumers' demand for this "product," sending millions of dogs to animal shelters every year, where roughly half will be euthanized.

Unfortunately, data show that puppy sales may be growing, bolstering this tragic system. Figures from the largest U.S. breed-registration organization, the American Kennel Club (AKC), show that purebred registrations increased slightly from 1995 to 1996. Meanwhile, the AKC says that it "supports major scientific research to advance the health of purebred dogs," but the only contributions listed in its 1996 annual report were for a total of $730,000 to the AKC Canine Health Foundation, less than two percent of AKC's total income that year. In contrast, it spent $10.5 million to fund dog and performance events (AKC cleared $46.2 million in 1996, including $26.3 from registration fees). Meanwhile, the AKC touts itself as "the nation's leading not-for-profit organization devoted solely to the advancement of purebred dogs." AKC papers do not guarantee the quality or health of a puppy.

In 1994, Time magazine estimated that as many as 25% of purebred dogs were afflicted with serious genetic problems. The HSUS estimates that 25% to 30% of the dogs that enter U.S. animal shelters are purebred.

In 1998, The HSUS conducted focus groups to learn more about the purchasing criteria of consumers who purchased puppies from a pet store, as well as their perceptions and understanding of puppy mills. The focus groups indicated that many people still do not understand the connection between puppy mills and pet shops.

What You Can Do

To close down puppy mills and ensure the safety and humane treatment of dogs trapped in commercial kennels, you can:

  • Encourage state and federal officials to stop the mass production and exportation of sick and traumatized dogs. In addition to passing new laws, legislators can demand that existing laws be enforced.
  • Urge other people not to buy pet-store puppies, particularly those who come from Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.
  • Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers about puppy mills and pet stores. Explain the mills' inhumane treatment of puppies and their contribution to pet overpopulation.
  • Visit a local pet store to determine where it obtains its puppies. Don't be misled by claims that its dogs were not bred in puppy mills. Insist on seeing AKC papers or the interstate health certificate for each puppy. The papers will list the breeder's and/or wholesaler's name and address.
  • Contact your member of the U.S. House of Representatives and your two U.S. senators, asking them to urge the USDA to strictly enforce the Animal Welfare Act. Express your outrage that the USDA has been negligent in the enforcement of the AWA. Members of Congress can be contacted at: The Honorable _______________, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC 20510.

Copyright © 1999 The Humane Society of the United States. All rights reserved.


A Dogs Soul

Every dog must have a soul somewhere deep inside
Where all his hurts and grievances are buried with his pride.
Where he decides the good and bad. The wrong way from the right.
And where his judgment carefully is hidden from our sight.
A dog must have a secret place where every thought abides.
A sort of close acquaintance that he trusts in and confides.
And when accused unjustly for himself he cannot speak.
Rebuked, he finds within his soul the comfort he must seek.
He'll love, though he is unloved. And he'll serve though badly used.
And one kind word will wipe away the times when he's abused.
Although his heart may break in two his love will still be whole;
Because God gave to every dog
An understanding Soul!

Author Unknown



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Updated 12-25-03