Definition of a Puppy Mill

by Linda Dockstader (

Who can resist looking at the cute puppies sold in pet stores? After all, they are so adorable! When you realize that they're kept in tiny cages 24 hours a day with no one to play with them, it tugs at your heart. It can make you want to take them ALL home, right? That feeling is no accident--it's a sales technique. Just imagine the number of pet stores there must be in the United States. How many puppies do you suppose are in all the pet stores in our nation at any one time? Where do all these puppies come from? A reputable private breeder is probably NOT the origin of pet store puppies. A private breeder takes care to breed only the best dogs, spares no expense in veterinary care, and produces healthy, happy, quality puppies. When you buy a puppy from a good breeder, you can expect it to be well on its' way to socialization and used to being handled and loved. Many times, the breeder will make little or no profit from the litter. When the profit motive is paramount, the need for mass-produced dogs at rock-bottom prices arises. A "business" that mass-produces dogs for a profit with minimal regard for the quality and welfare of the animals is referred to as a "puppy mill". Not all pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills, but many of them can't afford to pay the price demanded by a reputable private breeder for healthy dogs raised in a humane manner, and still leave room for that retail 'mark-up' that will gain them a profit. Puppy mills are illegal in many states, and are often raided and shut down by the authorities. These are places where adult dogs spend their entire lives in tiny cages stacked on top of one another. They are likely to live in filthy conditions, be underfed and in poor health. Often, even the most basic grooming care is ignored; for example, there have been many reports of dogs rescued from puppy mills with toe nails grown around in a full circle because they have not been trimmed. As you can imagine, these dogs cannot walk. The females are kept pregnant constantly but receive little veterinary care due to the costs. Smaller breeds of dogs often require surgery to deliver their pups, but due to the costs involved they don't get it. This leads to the agonizing death of many females and their puppies. (For more information see "Binkie's Story" in the Rescue Folder.) The puppies produced are frequently of poor quality and ill health. They are often taken from their mothers before they are old enough, in order to be shipped across the country to the pet stores. Most of the puppies haven't been handled, socialized or loved at all in their short little lives. This can lead to temperament problems, or exaggerate undesirable inherited personality traits. Think again how it tugged at your heart to think of the puppies spending all their time in a small cage. You are certain, though, that someone will buy them and end their "prison sentence". (Consider for a moment the pups' parents, for whom the future holds no such reprieve.) What if you are wrong? What if no one buys the puppies? That baby 'cuteness' doesn't last long, and older puppies are hard to sell. Sadly, some of these puppies are killed, ending their short, sad lives only because they grew too old to be salable. Many others are sold to laboratories to become test subjects in animal experimentation.

What can you do? Consider adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue organization. If you must have a puppy, the best advice is to buy from a puppy reputable private breeder. If you must buy from a pet store, find out where they get their puppies. If they are from local breeders, visit the breeder and satisfy yourself to the humane conditions. If they come from a puppy mill, let your conscience be your guide.

(The above is the sole opinion of the author and in no way is meant include all pet stores and larger breeding operations.)

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Last updated June 8, 1997.