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© New York Post
Sunday, September 22, 1996





By Laura Italiano
Post Correspondent

Inside the picturesque barns and wooden fences of Amish country, pedigree puppies are bred by the tens of thousands, many living in a hellish world of filthy, crowded cages. They are "puppy mill" puppies, and they bring in $4 million a year for the 100 Amish and Mennonite farmers who supply boutique dog-shop markets, including at least two New York dealers, the ASPCA says. "It's not just some cottage industry by people who sell bread-and-butter pickles by the roadside," said Roger Caras, ASPCA executive director. The farmers sell 20,000 puppies a year to wholesalers for an average $223 a pup, government records show. And it's making some of these quaint farmers quite rich. U.S. Department of Agriculture documents show that one farmer in the town of Blue Ball sold 1,293 puppies last year for an estimated $290,000 though federal inspectors have cited his farm for numerous violations since 1992 including overcrowded cages and inadequate sanitation, pest control, feeding and watering of animals. "Then these sickly, genetic nightmares are delivered to the upscale pet shops," Caras said. "They given them a bath and blow dry them and fluff them up and pray they don't die before they're sold," for $1,000 or more each.

Separate investigations by the ASPCA and The Post found the deplorable conditions of puppy mills hidden away in picture postcard Pennsylvania Dutch country, the fastest growing puppy breeding region in the eastern United States. Inside one dark, fetid metal shed inspected by The Post last week, about 40 puppies—German shepherds, dobermans and shitzus among them—were locked in threes and fours in cages a single dog would find cramped. Many were unresponsive to a visitor's presence and voice. Most had coats matted with feces. There was no apparent escape from the shed's darkness and stench.

When questioned about the shed, Amish farmer David Zimmerman denied it was a kennel, even pretending that the ruckus of dog barks coming from inside was "just Potsy, the family dog, chasing that gray kitten again." He might have been cautious for good reason: Zimmerman's license to sell puppies in bulk has been suspended by the USDA. "It's harassment," Zimmerman said of the USDA, which has also fined him $51,250 for numerous animal-welfare violations. Zimmerman, whose farm is in Ephrata, is appealing the fine. "I believe this is the wealthy dog breeders trying to make money" by putting the Amish out of business, Zimmerman said. 

He and his wife then chased a Post reporter and photographer off the property when they'd seen the puppies inside the shed. "You're not supposed to go in there!" said Zimmerman, clad in suspenders and wide-brimmed hat. "Get off the land!" shouted his wife, who wore a bonnet and long dress, as she pointed angrily down the driveway.

Animal-cruelty investigator Sue Pressman reported seeing even worse conditions. Earlier this year, she visited the Blue Ball farm of Melvin Nolt, who sold 805 puppies in 1995. Given that the USDA estimates average sale prices at $223 a pup, Nolt's 1995 puppy income could have hit $180,000. Despite repeated USDA citations for conditions violating the federal Animal Welfare Act, Pressman found a puppy farm in full operation on Nolt's premises earlier this year. "They had the cages stacked so that the puppies on the bottom were defecated and urinated on, collectively, by all the puppies above them," said Pressman, who has 37 years consultancy experience investigating zoos nationwide.

The USDA is the most powerful agency for preventing puppy-mill abuses. It sets sanitation, nutrition, housing and other standards for licensed dog wholesalers under the Animal Welfare Act. But the agency is "spread thin," said agency spokesman Patrick Collins. "We only have 73 folks [nationwide] who inspect all licensed animal-breeding facilities, zoos, marine-mammal facilities and circuses," he said. And when the USDA manages to take on puppy-mill breeders like Zimmerman and Nolt, the agency's bark is often worse than its bite. Even with Zimmerman's looming $51,250 federal fine—which he said he won't pay—he continues to mass-produce puppies.

Making matters worse, the ASPCA says that at least a dozen other farmers also are continuing to mass-produce puppies, even though USDA records show their licenses to sell have either lapsed or been turned in. One of these farmers is Daniel Esh, who in May told Pressman—not knowing she was an ASPCA inspector—that he had 51 newly weaned bichon frise puppies "ready to go." This despite his having turned in his puppy-farm license 16 months earlier. "We know Esh is still breeding. But now with no license he doesn't have to report his numbers to anyone or go through any federal inspections," Pressman said.

Two Amish men at the Esh farm in Intercourse shoved a Post photographer and reporter who tried to get into the farm's kennel. Puppies could be seen peering through a barn's second-story windows, and they were barking in what sounded like large numbers. "Nobody goes up there!" one of the two shouted. Then he pointed to a German shepherd guard dog and warned, "You're lucky he doesn't tear that knapsack off your back!"

Caras called it "a federal offense" to sell what are "essentially contraband puppies" but added that the puppy breeders "come under no one's apparent jurisdiction." "They found a trick. You simply drop your license, and then you can sell your puppies and keep them in whatever condition you want, and the USDA doesn't inspect you any more," he said. ASPCA investigators have just completed a nine-month investigation of Lancaster's puppy mills, with Pressman able to gain entry to 42. "None of them met even the most minimum standards, and some of them were appalling." she said.

Harder to quantify, though, is what happens to the puppies once the farmers sell them. Caras said two New York area stores—Yuppy Puppy in Port Jefferson, L.I. and Pedigree Mutt in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn—told the ASPCA they are supplied by a wholesaler who buys Lancaster puppies in bulk and brings them east in a converted school bus. Consumers have filed 23 complaints against Yuppy Puppy with the Better Business Bureau during the past three years—far more than any other pet store in the metropolitan region, according to Jennifer Dikes, a bureau staffer. The bureau has given the Long Island pet shop its lowest rating because of unresolved customer problems with dogs that had genetic disorders or were sick or lame when they were purchased.

The bureau listed no complaints against Pedigree Mutt. Spokesmen at both stores denied dealing in puppy mill puppies. Caras stressed: "Neither of those two stores is breaking any law, but it is our belief that, after preliminary investigation, those two and many, many other stores in New York City are getting their animals from Lancaster, where the conditions are appalling. "They get nutritional problems and diarrhea, respiratory infections because they're all crowded together," Pressman said. "And because of the hither-and-yon 'I don't give a damn' attitude about in-breeding, there's a lot of genetic flaws: hip dysplasia, crooked bones, bad eyesight and rage disease [violent episodes]."

Even when the puppies survive without major health defects, the puppy-mill system is a cruel one, treating dogs like farm-factory livestock—or worse. They're not being treated like companion animals, Pressman said. "They're being treated like poorly treated chickens. And that's a hell of a foundation for a $1,000 family pet."

Pet Papers can be worthless. The American Kennel Club gives pedigree papers to puppy-mill puppies, the ASPCA says. "They should be personally checking more of these litters—and the paperwork—to see what kind of pets are bearing their mark of quality," says puppy-mill expert Sue Pressman. "Their mark, 'AKC registered,' is what keeps these pups selling at a thousand dollars a puppy," says Pressman, who spent from November to July investigating Lancaster County, Pa., mills as a consultant for the ASPCA. AKC spokesman Wayne Cavanaugh says his organization conducts "about 4,000 inspections a year—more inspections [of puppy breeders] than the ASPCA and USDA combined." "But the USDA is the only one who can close down a puppy mill. We are really frustrated there," he added. The USDA, in turn, says it is too short-staffed to adequately police the mills in Lancaster and in the Midwest.

Consumers shouldn't take AKC papers as gospel, says Pressman. "Their pedigree means nothing," she said. "All that paper does is inflate the value of a rotten dog."

The Roanoke Times [Virginia] - Sunday, June 17, 2001

Millie's story:  Shut down America's puppy mills


A FEW WEEKS ago, we adopted a small 5-year-old female dog, a Bichon  Frise, from a rescue organization through the Internet. The little dog had  just been rescued from a Missouri puppy mill, a place like many in the country where hundreds of dogs (in some mills, more than a thousand) are kept in small cages for nothing but breeding purposes, and their puppies are shipped all over the country to pet stores.

Millie, as we named her, came to us on Delta Airline from the Tulsa, Okla., headquarters of Small Paws Rescue, where she had been shaved because of her filthy, matted hair, examined by a veterinarian and diagnosed with a bad heart murmur. In fact, it was a miracle that she had lived this long. It was love at first sight when I knelt down at her cage and opened the door, and she came toward me, tail wagging, and gently licked my face. Her little face and big Bichon eyes got blurry because of the tears in my own eyes. 

The first night, I had put her travel carrier near my bed. She went inside it, turned around a few times and then, eyes on me, went to sleep. The second night, I put my flannel pajama top on the floor in front of her "cage," in case she wanted to lie on it, smelling my scent. As I lay in bed, ready to read a little as I always do, I watched in amazement at how she had come halfway out of her cage, carefully grasped my pajama top and pulled it into her cage. Then she went around in circles a few times, settled down on it and went to sleep. The third night, she did not go into the cage but instead put her front paws on my bed. After I lifted her, she took her place on the bed with our other dogs, Binky and Mitzi. That's where she slept happily from then on. She weighed only 11 pounds, not taking up much space at all. 
From the time we brought her home, every day became a little miracle with her. Everything was new to her, walking on carpet or on tiled floor, or outside on the ground. It took two days for her to have the courage to go up steps and another two to learn to go back down. She let me carry her until she finally was able to do it, and then there was no stopping her: She ran up and down  many times during the day, just for fun. Exploring our large, fenced back yard was another miracle for her: My husband and I sat on the porch watching her run and jump, sniffing and looking everywhere, tail wagging all the while. It was heartwarming.

She had made friends with our other two Bichons quickly. She and Mitzi, our other female, became the best of playmates, chasing each other (doing the Bichon blitz, as it is called among Bichon owners), playing tug of war with a toy or just resting side by side. Over five weeks, Millie conquered our home and yard and hearts completely. Her sweet, gentle nature, the appreciation she showed for every little treat, her enthusiasm when I announced feeding time were so endearing. We never needed to confine her when we left the house for a while: She did not touch a thing, nor did she do her business anywhere but outside. Truly remarkable for a dog who knew nothing for five years but a wire cage.

Then came the day our veterinarian and a cardiac specialist at the Virginia Tech College of Veterinary Medicine decided after tests that treatment for her bad heart defect would prolong her life, which otherwise would be very short. They explained about a procedure where a coil would be threaded through an artery to her heart to stop up the hole in her heart that had been caused by a birth defect. My heart was heavy as we drove to Blacksburg to drop her off for the procedure the next morning. She lay still in my lap, her head resting on my arm. But I could feel her anxiety, looking at me every so often to find reassurance. I will never forget her expression - clearly saying, "Please don't leave me here" - as I handed her over to be taken away.

My husband and I hated for her to have to spend the night in a cage again, but we sought comfort in the idea that we were doing the right thing, trying to give her a chance of a longer life in the happiness she had found with us.  The heartbreaking news came late the next morning: Millie had not made it; she had died on the operating table, due to a freak accident during the procedure. It was a terrible shock, an unjust tragedy that we could not believe had happened. This little dog, with the great big tattoo of a No. 20  inside her right ear, the dog who now had a name she knew so well, was allowed to live only five weeks and three days in happiness with us. She had just learned that there is love, and responded to it with such gentle affection and appreciation. We were devastated to lose this little angel of a dog who had made such an impact on our lives. She had become part of our family, had adapted so completely to our routine.

After two days of many tears, we brought her little body home and buried her in the back yard she had loved so much. Her white Bichon hair had started to grow out in little soft curls; we had talked about how we could picture her with a full coat of beautiful hair in the near future. Millie will be in our hearts forever.

The horrors of puppy mills are endless. Thanks to rescue organizations like Small Paws Rescue, some of the dogs are lucky enough to be placed in loving homes. For whatever reasons, the mill owners are discarding them. There are many testimonies of happiness these rescue dogs have brought to countless families all over the country. Other organizations are exerting all their efforts into putting an end to the unspeakable abuse and neglect present at these breeding operations. The very fact that a dog like Millie, with a severe heart murmur from birth, was bred nonstop for five years, resulting in sick puppies, is a despicable crime.

The Doris Day Animal League is in litigation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for not enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which is supposed to include regular inspections of the animals' living as well physical conditions. Millie was living proof, along with thousands of other sick dogs, that nobody ever bothered to check.

Another organization, In Defense of Animals, is campaigning to urge people not to buy a pet from a pet shop in order to put an end to the nonstop breeding of animals and their suffering in puppy mills. Also, the campaign makes people aware that adopting from shelters would reduce the number of animals put to death, which, according to their research, exceeds 15 million a year.

If these organizations succeed, with much help from all of us who abhor cruelty and unspeakable abuse of man's best friend, maybe Millie's death will not have been totally in vain.

NAN FARISS lives in Roanoke.



Just what is a puppy mill?

A Puppy Mill is:

  • A place where several breeds of dogs are raised and the breeder always has puppies for sale;
  • A dirty, trashy place where one or several breeds of dogs are kept in deplorable conditions and puppies are always available;
  • A place where a single breed of dog is raised in acceptable conditions and puppies are always available;
  • A place where lots of dogs are raised, where breeding is done solely for financial gain rather than protection of breed integrity, and where puppies are sold to brokers or to pet stores;
  • All of the above.

The answer depends on who you ask. A hobby breeder dedicated to promoting and protecting a particular breed or two might consider all of the above "breeders" to be puppy mills. Animal shelter and rescue workers who deal daily with abandoned dogs might agree. Operators of clean commercial kennels, licensed by the US Department of Agriculture, will strongly disagree, for the very mention of "puppy mill" damages their business and that of the pet stores they deal with.

John Q Dog Owner probably thinks of puppy mills as those places exposed on "20/20" or "Geraldo". They have seen the cameras pan back and forth over trash, piles of feces, dogs with runny noses and oozing sores, dogs crammed into shopping carts and tiny coops, rats sharing dirty food bowls and dry dishes. They've seen the puppy mill owner captured on tape, dirty, barely articulate, and ignorant of dog care, temperament, genetic health, or proper nutrition. He's belligerent, too, demanding to be left alone to earn his livelihood.

But is the television crew simply seeking the sensational and applying these appalling conditions to the entire dog producing industry? Just what is a puppy mill?

After World War II, when farmers were desperately seeking alternative methods of making money when traditional crops failed, the US Department of Agriculture encouraged the raising of puppies as a crop. Retail pet outlets grew in numbers as the supply of puppies increased, and puppy production was on its way.

However, the puppy farmers had little knowledge of canine husbandry and often began their ventures with little money and already-rundown conditions. They housed their dogs in chicken coops and rabbit hutches, provided little socialization, and often eschewed veterinary care because they couldn't afford to pay. Animal welfare organizations such as the Humane Society of the US (before it became politicized by the animal rights movement) investigated conditions at these farms and eventually were successful in focusing national attention on the repulsive conditions at "puppy mills."

Puppy mill conditions were a major impetus in the passage of the national Animal Welfare Act. However, as often happens, the appellation has been bastardized to mean any breeder who breeds lots of dogs, no matter what the conditions of the kennel or the health of the puppies. The AWA is administered by the US Department of Agriculture. The act lists several categories of businesses that handle dogs:

Pet wholesalers are those who import, buy, sell, or trade pets in wholesale channels, and they must be licensed by USDA to conduct business;

Pet breeders are those who breed for the wholesale trade, whether for selling animals to other breeders or selling to brokers or directly to pet stores or laboratories, and they must also be licensed by USDA to conduct business; and laboratory animal dealers, breeder, and bunchers must also be licensed, as must auction operators and promoters of contests in which animals are given as prizes.

Hobby breeders who sell directly to pet stores are exempt from licensing if they gross less than $500 per year and if they own no more than three breeding females.

The AWA does not list a definition of either "commercial kennel" or "puppy mill." The American Kennel Club also avoids defining "puppy mill" but does label a commercial breeder as one who "breeds dogs as a business, for profit" and a hobby breeder as "one who breeds purebred dogs occasionally to justifiably improve the breed, not for purposes of primary income."

AKC does not license breeders.  The USDA issues licenses under the Animal Welfare Act after inspecting kennels to determine whether or not minimum standards for housing and care are being met. They require a minimum amount of space for each dog, shelter, a feeding and veterinary care program, fresh water every 24 hours, proper drainage of the kennel, and appropriate sanitary procedures to assure cleanliness.

USDA licensed more than 4600 animal dealers, more than 3000 of them dealing solely in wholesale distribution of dogs and cats, in 1992. Animal welfare proponents claim that there are many dealers (commercial kennels? puppy mills?) who have avoided the system, and that USDA does not have enough inspectors to seek them out and enforce the law. These "welfarists" have lobbied for stricter laws in the "puppy mill states" in the mid-west.

It's easy to say that John Jones or Mary Smith runs a puppy mill or that pet store puppies come from puppy mills, but the label is tossed about so frequently and with so little regard for accuracy that each prospective dog owner should ascertain for himself whether or not he wishes to buy a dog from John Jones, Mary Smith, a pet store, or a hobby breeder. Here are our Dog Owner's Guide definitions to help you decide:

Hobby breeder: A breed fancier who usually has only one breed but may have two; follows a breeding plan in efforts to preserve and protect the breed; produces from none to five litters per year; breeds only when a litter will enhance the breed and the breeding program; raises the puppies with plenty of environmental and human contact; has a contract that protects breeder, dog, and buyer; runs a small, clean kennel; screens breeding stock to eliminate hereditary defects from the breed; works with a breed club or kennel club to promote and protect the breed; and cares that each and every puppy is placed in the best home possible.

Commercial breeder: One who usually has several breeds of dogs with profit as the primary motive for existence. The dogs may be healthy or not and the kennel may be clean or not. The dogs are probably not screened for genetic diseases, and the breeding stock is probably not selected for resemblance to the breed standard or for good temperament. Most commercial breeders sell their puppies to pet stores or to brokers who sell to pet stores.

Broker: One who buys puppies from commercial kennels and sells to retail outlets. Brokers ship puppies by the crate-load on airlines or by truckload throughout the country. Brokers must be licensed by USDA and must abide by the shipping regulations in the Animal Welfare Act.

Buncher: One who collects dogs of unknown origin for sale to laboratories or other bunchers or brokers. Bunchers are considered lower on the evolutionary scale than puppy mill operators, for there is much suspicion that they buy stolen pets, collect pets advertised as "Free to a good home", and adopt unwanted pets from animal shelters for research at veterinary colleges or industrial research laboratories.

Backyard breeder: A dog owner whose pet either gets bred by accident or who breeds on purpose for a variety of reasons. This breeder is usually ignorant of the breed standard, genetics, behavior, and good health practices. A backyard breeder can very easily become a commercial breeder or a puppy mill.

Puppy mill: A breeder who produces puppies hand over fist with no breeding program, little attention to puppy placement, and poor health and socialization practices. A puppy mill may or may not be dirty but it is usually overcrowded and the dogs may be neglected or abused because the breeder can't properly handle as many dogs as he has. Puppy mill operators often denigrate hobby breeders and their dogs in attempts to make a sale.

Unfortunately, some people who are well-ensconced in your local dog scene could be categorized as operating puppy mills. Prospective buyers should be careful to question anyone they are considering as a source for a puppy.

If you think you've found a puppy mill and wish to report it there are several actions you can take.

Rescue worker Linda Smith's eyewitness description of the conditions at one puppy mill are described in Puppymill nightmare.

Norma Bennett Woolf

[Dog Owner's Guide: What is a Puppy Mill? (] is a part of the Dog Owner's Guide internet website and is copyright 2001 by Canis Major Publications. You may print or download this material for non-commercial personal or school educational use. All other rights reserved. If you, your organization or business would like to reprint our articles in a newsletter or distribute them free of charge as an educational handout please see our reprint policy.




I don't remember much from the place I was born. It was cramped and dark, and we  were never played with by the humans. I remember Mom and her soft fur, but she was often sick, and very thin. She had hardly any milk for me and my brothers and sisters. I remember many of them dying, and I missed them so. I do remember the day I was taken from Mom. I was so sad and scared, my milk teeth had only just come in, and I really should have been with Mom still, but she was so sick, and the Humans kept saying that they wanted money and were sick of the "mess" that me and my sister made. So we were crated up and taken to a strange place. Just the two of us. We huddled together and were scared, still no human hands came to pet or love us. So many sights and sounds, and smells!

 We are in a store where there are many different animals! Some that squawk! Some that meow! Some that Peep! My sister and I are jammed into a small cage, I hear other puppies here. I see humans look at me, I like the 'little humans', the kids. they look so sweet, and fun, like they would play with me! All day we stay in the small cage, sometimes mean people will hit the glass and frighten us, every once in a while we are taken out to be held or shown to humans. Some are gentle, some hurt us, we always hear "Aw they are So cute! I want one!" but we never get to go with any.

My sister died last night, when the store was dark. I lay my head on her soft fur and felt the life leave her small thin body. I had heard them say she was sick, and that I should be sold at a "discount price" so that I would quickly leave the store. I think my soft whine was the only one that mourned for her as her body was taken out of the cage in the morning and dumped.

Today, a family came and bought me! Oh happy day! They are a nice family, they really, really wanted me! They had bought a dish and food and the little girl held me so tenderly in her arms. I love her so much! The mom and dad say what a sweet and good puppy I am! I am named Angel. I love to lick my new humans! The family takes such good care of me, they are loving and tender and sweet. They gently teach me right and wrong, give me good food, and lots of love! I want only to please these wonderful people! I love the little girl and I enjoy running and playing with her.

Today I went to the veterinarian. it was a strange place and I was frightened. I got some shots, but my best friend the little girl held me softly and said it would be OK. So I relaxed. The Vet must have said sad words to my beloved family, because they looked awfully sad. I heard Severe hip dysplasia, and something about my heart... I heard the vet say something about, back yard breeders and my parents not being tested. I know not what any of that means, just that it hurts me to see my family so sad. But they still love me, and I still love them very much!

I am 6 months old now. Where most other puppies are robust and rowdy, it hurts me terribly just to move. The pain never lets up. It hurts to run and play with my beloved little girl, and I find it hard to breath. I keep trying my best to be the strong pup I know I am supposed to be, but it is so hard. It breaks my heart to see the little girl so sad, and to hear the Mom and Dad talk about "it might now be the time". Several times I have went to that veterinarians place, and the news is never good. Always talk about Congenital Problems. I just want to feel the warm sunshine and run, and play and nuzzle with my family. 

Last night was the worst, Pain has been my constant companion now, it hurts even to get up and get a drink. I try to get up but can only whine in pain. I am taken in the car one last time. Everyone is so sad, and I don't know why. Have I been bad? I try to be good and loving, what have I done wrong? Oh if only this pain would be gone! If only I could soothe the tears of the little girl. I reach out my muzzle to lick her hand, but can only whine in pain. The veterinarians table is so cold. I am so frightened. The humans all hug and love me, they cry into my soft fur. I can feel their love and sadness. I manage to lick softly their hands. Even the vet doesn't seem so scary today. He is gentle and I sense some kind of relief for my pain. The little girl holds me softly and I thank her, for giving me all her love. I feel a soft pinch in my foreleg. The pain is beginning to lift, I am beginning to feel a peace descend upon me. I can now softly lick her hand. My vision is becoming dreamlike now, and I see my Mother and my brothers and sisters, in a far off green place. They tell me there is no pain there, only peace and happiness. I tell the family, good-bye in the only way I know how, a soft wag of my tail and a nuzzle of my nose. I had hoped to spend many, many moons with them, but it was not meant to be. "You see," said the veterinarian, "Pet shop puppies do not come from ethical breeders."

The pain ends now, and I know it will be many years until I see my beloved family again. If only things could have been different.


It is my hope that this story will open the eyes of all who read this to the horror that can come from breeding for profit. Show breeders breed to improve their lines and produce show dogs, in that process some very wonderful pet puppies are also available to the right homes. Pet store breeders or what we refer to as "Backyard breeders" are breeding solely for profit, or trying to produce puppies "just like our Betsie". Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Breeding properly takes a great deal of time, energy and research! Building a genetic profile before deciding on a litter is crucial to producing healthy pups! Pet stores also charge as much, if not more, than buying from a reputable breeder. If you are thinking about buying a dog of any breed, please do some homework, find a reputable breeder and ask questions! And remember, just because this hasn't happened to you in the past, doesn't mean it can't! Buy responsible! This story may be published or reprinted in the hopes that it will stop unethical breeders and those who breed only for money and not for the betterment of the breed.

Copyright 1999 J. Ellis



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