A puppy mill is a commercial dog breeding facility with as many as 1,000 breeding dogs who are kept in deplorable conditions. Not only are the cages overcrowded and unsanitary, they usually have wire floors that are difficult and painful for puppies to walk on and injure their paws and legs. In addition, cages are often stacked in columns to save space. Puppies never get the chance to walk on grass and it’s not at all uncommon for adults to have lived their entire lives in such cages.
Dogs and puppies often do not receive adequate food, water, or shelter, and never any veterinary care. It’s easier and cheaper to simply kill an obviously sick puppy or dog rather than pay to get it well. Likewise it’s easier and cheaper to kill a female dog who’s too old to breed anymore rather than to maintain her.
Since profit is the only motive for puppy mill owners, puppies are taken from their moms and littermates as early as six weeks of age when they’re barely weaned. They never receive any socialization, the all-important process of learning how to live, act, and get along with other dogs, let alone humans.
Puppies are sold to pet stores and directly to consumers as young as eight weeks of age before they’re old enough to have received their first DHLPP (Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus) shot. Parvovirus is an especially insidious disease characterized by constant vomiting and bloody diarrhea. It is a highly contagious puppy killer. Puppies with this deadly virus usually die within 48-72 hours after the onset of symptoms.
Unfortunately, many vets are hesitant or even refuse to keep a parvovirus-infected puppy at their animal hospital or clinic because this disease is so highly contagious. That means that if your puppy has parvovirus, you probably will have to treat it yourself at home after buying the necessary drugs and supplies from your vet. Treatment is not guaranteed to succeed and can take as long as two to three months.
You will have to be extremely vigilant, careful, and dedicated the entire time. Since it’s the vomit and feces that contain the virus, you will need to isolate your puppy from any other household pets, keeping him or her confined in a crate or large, tall, topless box with newspapers on the bottom. Soiled papers must be disposed of immediately and handled like hazardous materials. Roll them up and put them in a plastic trash sack that you immediately tie off. Then wash your hands with antibacterial soap. It’s also vital that you do not accidently step in any of the feces or vomit because your shoes will track the virus all over your house.
In addition to parvo, puppies also can suffer from distemper, parasites, kennel cough, anemia, eye problems, pneumonia, and other respiratory ailments.
Since puppy mill puppies are not properly socialized prior to being sold, they often are anxious, nervous, shy, and fearful of everyone and everything. Some are even fear biters since biting is the only way they have of protecting themselves from the next bad thing they are convinced is going to happen to them based on their past experiences. They do not know the meaning of joy and do not realize that life can be good, let alone happy. They don’t know about treats, toys, exercise, or basic grooming. Socializing a puppy mill puppy is a long, difficult process requiring patience, understanding, and extremely gentle treatment. Never raise your voice, even if (s)he does something that displeases you.
U.S. Puppy Mills
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that there are as many as 10,000 puppy mills in America. They are located in virtually every state, although most of them are in the Midwest, most notably Missouri or Illinois.
Under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), commercial breeding facilities that sell puppies to pet stores and/or puppy brokers and have more than three breeding females are supposed to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, only 2,000 to 3,000 of them are. Even these are far less than ideal since USDA standards are so low. For instance, it’s legal to keep a dog confined for his or her entire life in a wire floor cage that’s only 12 inches longer than (s)he is.
While 29 states have passed legislation requiring higher standards for puppy mills than those of the AWA, 21 states still have no laws regulating commercial dog breeders.
Breeds Most Often Produced in Puppy Mills
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) warns that the following popular breeds are those upon which puppy mills concentrate:
Tips to Prevent Buying a Puppy Mill Puppy
If you’re looking for a puppy to buy, here are several things that should raise red flag warnings that the puppy you’re interested in comes from a puppy mill.
1. You call a breeder who insists on bringing the puppy to you at a park or parking lot rather than letting you come to his or her kennel.
2. You go to the breeder’s home, but are allowed to see only the puppies, not their mother. You always should be able to meet the mom. If you can’t, you have no way of knowing that the breeder even whelped this litter. (S)he may be a puppy broker or selling these puppies second hand for whatever reasons.
3. You go to the breeder’s home and notice that there are several different breeds of puppies running around. Reputable breeders breed only one kind of dog, two at the most.
4. You call a breeder who tells you that they have several litters right now and you can have the pick of any litter. Or they tell you that they have two or more litters on the way, but there’s already a waiting list. Reputable breeders are dedicated to their breed, are breeding to produce show-quality dogs, never offer “the pick of the litter” to prospective pet parents, and rarely will sell a puppy younger than 12 weeks old.
Buying a puppy mill puppy is dicey at best. For your own peace of mind, always buy only from a reputable breeder.