What Are Puppy Mills?
A puppy mill, also known as a “puppy farm”, “private breeder” or “commercial breeder,” is a large-scale commercial establishment where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Unlike responsible breeders, who place the utmost importance on producing the healthiest puppies possible, breeding at puppy mills is performed without consideration of genetic quality. This results in generations of with unchecked hereditary defects. The number of dogs in a puppy mill can vary significantly. Some puppy mills are relatively small, with only 10 breeding dogs. Other breeders run massive operations with more than 1,000 breeding dogs! Because not all puppy mills are licensed and inspected, it’s impossible to know the true average. These puppies are shipped around the country to brokers, pets stores, flea markets and sometimes even auctions, much like livestock, then delivered to unsuspecting consumers who think they are getting a high quality puppy just because it is “purebred.”
Conditions of a Puppy Mill:
Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. Puppy mill dogs do not get to experience treats, toys, exercise or basic grooming. To minimize waste cleanup, dogs are often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs—and it is not unusual for cages to be stacked up in columns. Breeding dogs at mills might spend their entire lives outdoors, exposed to the elements, or crammed inside filthy structures where they never get the chance to feel the sun or breathe fresh air.
A puppy mill raises litter after litter in an old barn, shed or chicken coop (or worse), in rarely cleaned, feces-covered cages stacked upon each other. Several dogs are often crowded into each small cage. They suffer scorching heat in the summer and bitter cold in the winter. The female dogs in the puppy mill are breeding stock. They are forced to have their first litters when they go into their first heat and have a litter every subsequent heat cycle, in two litters per year until they are too weak and sick to produce any more puppies, usually around the age of five or six years.
Veterinary care is usually out of the question for these dogs, because that expense would cut into the profits. Typically, the dogs in puppy mills are often underfed and malnourished. Investigators have found food infested with maggots and contaminated water. As a result, many of the dogs will suffer from starvation and dehydration. Because of these horrific conditions, many are found dying, or already dead and decomposing in their cages. The “lucky” dogs that somehow survive often never see the light of day, never feel grass under their feet, are never petted or have any socialization with humans. They are never comforted or medicated when they are in pain. When they can no longer reproduce, they are killed – usually shot or inhumanely bludgeoned to death.
Parents and Puppies of a Puppy Mill:
The parents of a puppy that comes from a puppy mill are unlikely to have been screened for genetic defects. It is seldom profitable to breed dogs humanely and responsibly. The profit comes when dogs live their lives in cages, rather than with human companionship. The profit comes when commercial operations provide only the minimum requirements to keep a dog alive and able to breed. Filth, loneliness, fear and pain constitute the typical life these dogs know.
Puppies are removed from their mother when they are just barely weaned, and taken by the truckloads to pet stores. Some pups cannot survive the trip in the trucks and die along the way. Any survivors are then put on display in pet stores and offered for sale to anyone who has the money to purchase them, regardless of whether that person would be a suitable owner.
What Happens If I Don’t Buy the Dogs in Pet Stores? Don’t They Need Homes, Too?
The public will stop buying pet store puppies gradually over time, not all at once—someone will eventually purchase those dogs at the store. Puppies in pet stores are usually sold quickly. If they don’t sell quickly, the owners continue to slash the price until the puppies are sold.
The less they sell for, the less profit the store makes. That means the store will order fewer puppies the next month. And puppy mills will ultimately produce fewer dogs.
How to Tell the Difference Between Reputable Breeders and Puppy Mills:
Reputable breeders of purebred dogs try very hard to breed dogs that are genetically sound. This means OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certification for breeds prone to hip dysplasia (a crippling form of arthritis in many large breed dogs), and CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) for breeds prone to heritable blindness. Reputable breeders also strive to improve the breed by choosing only those animals that meet the acceptable breed standards.
As important as genetics are, the environment is critical to the social development of the young puppy. Studies have shown that puppies learn most of their social skills before they are 10 to 12 weeks old. Puppies born and raised in a large-scale operation are not given the interaction and training that is so vital for them to grow up to be sociable, confident and well-adjusted adults. Good breeders will expose their puppies to a variety of situations and people. These puppies are less likely to be nervous or timid around strangers or unfamiliar surroundings.
Puppies raised in commercial operations and sold in pet stores and flea markets are more likely to be harboring infectious diseases, which may be expensive to treat. This could include kennel cough, pneumonia, coccidian (an intestinal parasite), parvovirus, heart problems, auto immune disorders, cancer and other ailments. Many such puppies are euthanized to avoid the expense and care.
*Remember: breeders of good quality dogs won’t have to resort to third parties to sell their dogs. In fact, many have prospective owners lined up before their dog is even bred.
How Can You Make Sure Your Puppy Doesn’t Come From a Puppy Mill?
If you are committed to getting a purebred dog, take the following step:
- Research: Do some research on the breeds you are considering. The American Kennel Club has summaries and descriptions of all of the AKC recognized breeds. Then look for a breed specific rescue or a breeder. Your best bet will be to attend some dog shows where your breed will be exhibited.
- Ask Questions: Click here for a list of questions.
- Remember: You are adding a new member to your family for the next 10 to 15 years. NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BARGAIN HUNT! Prepare to spend at least $800 to $1,000 or more for a well-bred puppy.
- Consider a Breed Specific Rescue Group: Most breeds have “rescue” groups and are always looking for good homes for fostering and adopting. The adoption fee for a rescue is often at least a little less than from a breeder. Click here to see a list of rescue organizations in Northwest Arkansas (many of whom are breed specific).
- Consider a Truly Unique Breed: Many mixed breed dogs are in need of homes and are readily available at local shelters and rescue organizations. Click here to see HSO‘s adoptable pets or here to see a list of shelters in your area.