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Most people have heard the words “puppy mill” but, most do not understand what those two words really mean. If asked most people would tell you their dog was not born in a puppy mill. Most likely, they would tell you they purchased their dog from a pet store or internet site that sells dogs from “private” breeders who are USDA licensed. Few know about the cruelty that exists in legal dog breeding facilities called puppy mills. Puppy mills can be found in every state in our country. They vary in size, housing anywhere from 10 to 1,000 or more dogs. The mills supply the vast majority of puppies purchased in pet stores, on the internet, and classified ads. The ASPCA and Best Friends Animal Society define puppy mills as dog breeding facilities that put profit before the health and well-being or welfare of the dogs. This definition refers to all of the dogs in these facilities including both the adult, breeding dogs imprisoned for life and the puppies that are produced and shipped to pet stores or to unwitting customers who purchased online or through the newspaper. The common theme with all of their definitions that has been documented by the USDA and animal welfare inspectors is that profit comes BEFORE the health and well- being or welfare of all the dogs.

Most will agree that to take proper care of a dog, you need to care for all of its needs. These needs include nutritious food daily, access to clean water, daily exercise, protection from extreme heat and cold, socialization, human kindness and proper veterinary care on a structured, scheduled basis. In puppy mills all of the dogs’ needs are not met. For example, vet care is the most expensive and the first expense avoided. Spending money on vet care cuts directly into profit! This is a very common theme within the industry… plain and simple, the breeding mothers and fathers are not getting proper vet care.

Most people think of puppies when they hear or talk about puppy mills and, yes the puppies are an integral part of puppy mills. After all they are the product produced and the reasons puppy mills exist. They are the cash crop of this industry. Puppies born in these facilities are often inbred. Most are shipped off to customers via the internet or sold to puppy brokers who sell them to pet stores. The puppies are often taken away from their mothers when they are 7 weeks old. They are very young and barely weaned. They are un-socialized by their mothers at this age which can cause problems as they grow. These puppies can often be sick, have suppressed immune systems and many develop behavioral problems. They are shipped to consumers and pet stores without food, water or ventilation. They often get sick during transport developing illnesses such as respiratory infections, mange and parasites that usually present after a family has purchased their new, beloved pet. Many of the puppies have genetic defects that do not show up for years such as luxating patellae, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, eye disease such as juvenile cataracts, deafness as well as heart disease and more. These puppies can also have emotional and behavior problems.

The puppy mill industry is all about money with the breeders and pet stores charging top dollar for the puppies. The breeders, brokers and pet stores cash in as they literally bank on the fact that the new families will love the animal and go to great lengths to help their new puppy if it gets sick or has a lifetime of special needs. Families rarely return a puppy to a store for a refund. Instead, they incur high vet bills, heartbreak and devastating loss. The online breeders and pet stores are committing consumer fraud as they mislead the customers about where the puppies were born. They know where the puppies come from but fail to inform the consumer that the puppies come from mass breeding facilities or puppy mills. With all of this being said, the puppies can sometimes be viewed as the “lucky” ones!

The unlucky dogs are the ones sentenced to life imprisoned in a puppy mill. I am talking about the mother and father dogs of puppies purchased online, through the newspaper and in pet stores. They are the true victims and the ones that are forgotten. These “breeding stock” dogs, as they are referred to, are treated like livestock, and the inhumane treatment of these dogs is legal in the eyes of the USDA. These dogs usually never see the sun or touch grass and do not know what it is like to be loved or have a warm touch from a human. They live in very stressful conditions and are usually sick. Females are forced bred every six months, and the males usually number one for every 30 or more females and are also forced to breed as often as possible. They are essentially bred until they can no longer produce a profitable litter. At that point they are either disposed of by gunshot, drowning, poisoning or hit over the head. If not “disposed” of, the breeding dogs will sometimes be sold to another puppy mill in “as is” condition, auction style, where they are sold to the highest bidder. Very few breeding dogs are rescued. Buyers and sellers at auctions sign an agreement stating they will not hold the auction house responsible for any refunds or guarantees. They understand that “items”, in this case dogs, are sold “as is where is.” Attending an auction clearly defines the priorities of this industry and demonstrates how cruelty can be legal.

Eleven “lucky” French Bulldogs and a Pug, five males and seven females were recently rescued from a dog auction in Missouri. They were part of an all bulldog auction where 110 bulldogs were being sold “as is” to the highest bidder. The “as is” part is the most disturbing. Remember, they were in these conditions at the time of sale and would most likely remain in these conditions at their new resident puppy mill once sold. They would be expected to produce litter after litter until they were noticeably sick in the cage or no longer produced profitable litters.

While attending a 2012 auction in Missouri, I was able to see firsthand the conditions, both mental and physical, of the dogs being placed on the block. One group of four dogs was being sold by the same breeder. All four were under a year old. They were sick and being sold “as is”. The mental condition of these young dogs was inhumane. Not only were they hand shy and petrified of human touch, they were physically sick as well. They all walked with their bellies to the ground, pancake style. All four were overweight. They all had loose hips and poor muscle tone from being caged since birth. When you picked them up they would arch their backs and frighteningly stare blankly towards the sky. I was horrified by this alone. It was later found that three females all had upper respiratory tract infections upon rescue and two of them also had blood in their urine due to painful urinary tract infections. They were being sold “as is” sick with no mention of their illnesses at the time of sale. Allowing these animals to exist in these conditions is legal animal cruelty and abuse. They needed vet care!

There were other examples of legal animal cruelty that I witnessed at the auction. For instance, #41 a female born in Sept 2011 was too young to have any selling points in the auction catalog. She was extremely hand shy and had an elongated palette which causes breathing problems. Upon rescue, she was found to have blood in her urine due to a painful urinary tract infection as well as an upper respiratory infection. She was sick and not feeling well. She needed medication and vet care.

#45 a male born Nov 2011. Too young to have any selling points in the auction catalog. Upon rescue, he was found to have ringworm and an upper respiratory infection. He was sick, he did not feel well and he needed vet care.

#46 a male born Nov 2011. Too young to have any selling points in the auction catalog. He was extremely thin at the time of rescue but healthy otherwise.

#53 a male born Jan 2011. This boy had ringworm and a painful urinary tract infection. He was sick and needed medical attention.

#93 a female born Jan 2007. This beautiful girl’s selling point was that she was due “in season” in July 2012. Upon rescue she was found to have a painful untreated eye ulcer and blood in her urine due to a painful urinary tract infection. She was sick and needed medical attention.

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#96 a female born in Oct 2006. She was described as a “good mother” that had 6 pups in her last litter. Upon rescue she was found to have glucose in her urine. She had painful chronic untreated ear infections that caused her ears to thicken and she had been branded on her hind leg. She previously had been treated for mange with motor oil that burned her skin and she had a hernia. Her face had numerous fly bite scars and she had an untreated eye ulcer. She is currently being monitored for diabetes. She was sick when sold at the auction “as is.”

#99 a male born Sept 2006. He was listed as a “proven breeder” and a “free breeder.” Upon his rescue he was found to have an upper repository infection as well as an elongated palette. The rescue vet that specializes in French Bulldogs said it was the worst elongated palette she had ever seen. Elongated palettes make it hard for dogs to breathe especially if they get too excited or are exposed to extreme temperatures.

The 9 year old female Pug was not listed in the auction catalog but was for sale for $20. She had 3 broken teeth that were very painful. It was difficult for the rescue vet to sew her up after her spay as her abdominal wall was extremely thin due to having so many litters.

As I reflect on the auction, I know the reason why dogs can legally be allowed to live and breed while being so sick. The federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) which governs commercial dog breeders only requires the breeders to have an adequate vet “program” established. AWA Section 2.4 Vet Care says nothing about guidelines for the actual health or condition of the dog. In other words, the current system outlined by the AWA allows dogs to be sick while still being forced to produce puppies. The AWA requires the licensure very minimum standards for housing, cage size, food and water. However, the USDA fails to adequately enforce even these standards. Puppy mills feed poor quality food, water is often contaminated and dirty, illnesses and injuries are not addressed, and they live their lives in all wire filthy cages. In some kennels USDA inspectors have documented high concentrations of urine causing blindness to the resident breeding dogs. This failure to enforce results in dogs’ continued suffering while living in substandard conditions, as well as, allows them to be forced to produce puppies while sick or unhealthy. Lastly, when the dog’s body is finally worn out and can no longer produce profitable puppies, the dog is essentially exterminated. If you read USDA inspections reports, it is not unusual to find numerous violations while the breeder is allowed to keep his or her kennel in operation.

The USDA inspection report for Oct 2011 for #96’s breeder shows this mill had 57 adults and 26 puppies on the property. The mill had 13 USDA violations at that time for the following: inadequate vet care, expired medication, improper record keeping, indoor and outdoor housing violations, inadequate housing of dogs in cages, exercise violations, pest control (an overabundance of flies were listed) and filth. The breeders are asked to “correct” the violations but nothing about the actual health of the dogs is addressed.

The health and mental conditions of the dogs at the time of sale supports the definitions that profit prevails over their health and well being. While at the auction I noted that breeders came from at least 8 different states, and sick dogs were being offered by as many different breeders. This is not just one bad breeder, it is industry wide. The puppy mill industry is a country-wide issue; no region or dog is exempt from this legal cruelty.

National Mill Dog Rescue, an organization that has rescued close to 5,000 breeding dogs directly from puppy mills, reports that 10% of the dogs they take in are deathly ill and suffering with life threatening issues. 60% of the dogs they have rescued have emotional problems and half of those dogs require long term rehabilitation. 100% of the dogs over age 4 have genetic problems or other painful health conditions affecting eyes, teeth, ears, skin, and knees. Many have genetic diseases that are passed on to their puppies. These statistics are a bold and accurate statement describing the inhumane effects this industry has on the breeding dogs it uses. These dogs are the mothers and fathers of the puppies sold in pet stores and online through misleading websites. They are the forgotten ones, but they are also the dogs that need our help the most.

Puppy mills are profitable because “breeders do not provide the basic needs to allow these animals’ to live healthy happy lives. This is legal animal cruelty. Period! Consumers support this every time they buy a dog from a pet store; online or through the newspaper but so many unaware do not know. The puppy mill industry keeps its “dirty little secret” hidden from the un-enlightened consumer. Most do not understand where or how puppy mill puppies are sold. If they knew this secret, most people would not want to support this industry.

As a society we need to determine if it is worth putting these dogs thru this hell so we can walk into a pet store with a credit card and walk out 15 minutes later with a puppy? Some stores will even finance their puppies on credit. What about ordering a puppy online and having it shipped overnight to your doorstep? What kind of a society do we live in that views this industry as acceptable?

The forgotten mothers and fathers in the mills need us. They do not get a soft bed or big backyard to run in. Most never touch the ground or have ever been out of a cage or dark barn.
While demand for puppies will always exist. Education and awareness will stop this industry from flourishing while we work on changing the laws. We desperately need the good breeders to step in and speak up for laws that will help stop puppy mills.

Janie Jenkins
Co-Founder
Stop Online Puppy Mills