Report highlights. Commercial dog breeding facilities or “puppy mills” are defined by overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. This is primarily due to the overwhelming number of illegal mills in addition to licensed mills that fail to abide legal regulations.
- Up to 4.3 million puppies are born in mills every year.
- About half of puppies born in mills survive their first 12 weeks.
- 70% of puppy mills operate illegally.
- 10,000+ facilities, licensed and unlicensed, are actively producing.
- 0ver a half-million dogs are kept solely for breeding purposes.
Puppy Mill Populations
The true population of puppy mill dogs is unknown. Mill populations are in constant flux due to births, sales, deaths, etc. Additionally, the federal agency in charge of keeping those numbers – the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – stopped making them accessible to the public in 2017.
- Legal facilities report over a million puppies born in a year.
- Upwards of 4 million puppies are born annually among all facilities, legal and illegal.
- 167,388 breeding dogs lived in licensed facilities in 2017.
- By current estimates, the breeding dog population in legal mills exceeds 194,000 animals.
- 660,000 is the estimated total for breeding dogs in all puppy mills, legal and illegal.
- 30% of breeding animals are male.
Breeding in Puppy Mills
Most breeding dogs in mills are female. They usually breed at much earlier ages than is recommended by veterinarians and animal specialists, which can lead to health problems; some of these problems may be passed down through generations of their offspring.
- 460,000 total breeding animals are female.
- Some puppy mills breed dogs as early as 4 months of age.
- 6 years is the average age breeding females stop producing.
- A female breeding dog’s “career” may last a little more than 5.5 years.
- 9.4 is the average number of puppies each female produces in a year.
- 77,000 breeding females are “worn-out” each year and replaced with new dogs.
Health in Puppy Mills
Dogs born and/or kept in commercial breeding facilities exhibit significantly higher rates of health problems both mental and physical. Specialists attribute these health problems to poor breeding, malnutrition, lack of socialization and other improper care.
- Mill puppies are 41.6% more likely to develop health issues than the general population of dogs.
- Common problems in mills include dogs living in their own filth with multiple animals to a cage.
- Studies by animal behavioral scientists have shown that mill puppies exhibit behavior consisten with poor mental health into adulthood.
- Mill dogs are more likely to struggle with house-training.
- Mill dogs exhibit higher rates of fear, both social and non-social.
- Mill dogs have also been observed to exhibit low energy and lack of trainability.
Common Hereditary Diseases
Improper breeding practices can result in disorders and diseases that may be passed from one generation to the next. Some of these disorders are not immediately obvious; some may not make themselves known until the animal has reached a certain age, which is why people who purchase these animals may not realize right away that their puppy is ill.
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Respiratory defects
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Hip dysplasia
- Luxating patellas
- Endocrine disorders
- Cushing disease
- Blood disorders
- Von Willebrand disease
- Eye problems
- Retinal atrophy
Common Communicable Diseases
Puppy mill puppies are more succeptible to diseases, including illness that can endanger people. Among the most common communicable diseases found in mills, more than a third are human communicable (in bold).
- Kennel cough
- Intestinal parasites
- Chronic diarrhea
- Upper respiratory infections
Death in Puppy Mills
Note that any numbers regarding deaths in mills must be estimated and/or extrapolated based on available data. There is no data regarding the number or nature of deaths in puppy mills, as commercial breeders are not required to report deaths of animals under their care.
- Excluding breeding animals, as many as 2 million dogs die in puppy mills each year.
- Breeding animals are usually killed once they are no longer able to produce.
- Puppies taken from their mothers too young (as is common practice in mills) are prone to illness and death.
- Dogs rarely receive veterinary care, leading to preventable deaths.
- Sometimes mill dogs are purposefully euthanized; these procedures rarely use legal or approved, including:
- Gassing with improvised gas chambers.
The Puppy Pipeline
The path a puppy takes from birth in the mill to its final owner is commonly referred to as the “puppy pipeline.” For most dogs the pipline includes the truck (transport), the brokerage and/or the pet shop. Investigations have uncovered abuse and neglect at many points in this pipeline, from improper transportation to unsanitary housing.
- Almost half of mill puppies are purchased by pet shops, chains, and superstores.
- 90% of pet store dogs were born in puppy mills.
- The USDA estimates that just over 2 million puppies are sold in pet stores.
- Investigators routinely find ill, underweight, and abused animals these pet stores.
- Breeders associations discourage or disallow their members from selling to pet stores.
- 34% of pet dogs come from breeders.
- Some mills sell their animals in states where puppy mills are illegal or strictly regulated.
Terms used along the puppy pipeline can be confusing. Animal rights groups refer to this language as “doublespeak” and claim that it is deliberately designed to mislead pet owners.
- A “breeder” may refer to any person who arranges for two animals to produce spawn.
- A “dealer” or “broker” is an individual or organization that buys mill puppies and sells them to stores, to other brokers, or directly to consumers.
- “USDA Class A” refers to a licensed breeder that only sells animals bred in their facility.
- “USDA Class B” refers to a licensed broker that purchases and/or resells warm-blooded animals.
- “Transporters” are people who move animals from one place to another.
How and Where Mill Puppies are Sold
Puppy mills’ biggest customers are not pet owners. Pet shops, chains, and superstores purchase dogs in mass amounts, often indiscriminately. Brokers make it more difficult for consumers to determine the origin of a puppy. Unhealthy dogs are such a problem in these stores that state and federal agencies warn consumers about purchasing from such stores, with some even passing laws to reduce instances of animal cruelty.
- For every 50 licensed breeders, there are 13 licensed brokers.
- 2/3 of pet store puppies are shipped by brokers.
- Many Class B animal brokers have been caught breeding animals themselves.
- Legitimate breeders are highly unlikely to sell their animals using brokers.
- More and more, brokers are moving online to avoid inspection and transparency.
Watchdog groups report a steady increase in online brokerages – for which there are virtually no regulations – masquerading as legitimate breeders or even as animal shelters/rescues.
- Online brokers often refer to themselves as “puppy concierges” or “puppy finders,” using their web site to “match” a user with one or more breeders.
- 36% of dog owners use the internet to find their pet.
- The USDA reports a higher rate of illness among dogs purchased online than those purchased in person.
- The Better Business Bureau reports a high rate of scam complaints regarding online pet sales.
- The Humane society received 5,000 complaints between 2007 and 2017 about online pet sales operations.
Contribution to Animal Homelessness and Death
Pet owners are just as likely to buy a puppy mill dog as they are to adopt from a shelter. Unadopted shelter animals often face euthanasia.
- 1 out of every 10 dogs born will find a permanent home.
- 1-in-3 pet dogs come from puppy mills.
- Animal shelters take in an estimated 3.3 million dogs annually.
- At least 1-in-4 of these animals are euthanized; some euthanizations are due to lack of shelter resources.
- The World Health Organization estimates there are 200 million stray dogs worldwide, all of which pose a potential health risk.
Legality of Puppy Mills
In order to operate legally, puppy mill owners are required to register with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) under the USDA. Most do not. While there is no one official definition of a puppy mill, a U.S. district court in defined puppy mills as “dog breeding operation[s] in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”
- 3,000 puppy mills are registered with APHIS.
- 70% of all puppy mills continue to operate illegally.
- There are 7,000 illegal puppy mills nationwide.
- $500,000 is how much it costs taxpayers to bust a single illegal breeding operation.
- A single puppy mill may keep anywhere from 5 to over one thousand dogs.
- The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) of 1966 regulates animal commerce; like many laws, however, its language contains loopholes.
- The AWA’s language does not contain the term “puppy mill(s).”
- For dogs, the AWA delineates standards for survival (as opposed to standards for humane care.)
- Dealers or breeders that sell directly to the public or within their own state are not subject to AWA regulations.
- APHIS agents may conduct inspections to determine if someone is in violation of the AWA.
- The AWA has been ammended 8 times; none of these ammendments relate to puppy mills, but pending legislation often does.
State Laws about Puppy Mills
The AWA protects some animals at a federal level, but many states have additional regulations for puppy mills, pet stores, and/or supply lines. The AWA contains language that allows for states to make their own animal rights’ laws to fortify federal regulations. States with a poor track record of prosecuting animal rights violations tend to have a higher number of commercial breeders and brokers.
- In most states, puppy mills are legal.
- 31 states require puppy mills to obtain a license from the state in addition to the federal license.
- 14 states require puppy mills to undergo a State inspection.
- 4 states – Louisiana, Oregon, Virginia and Washington – place limits on the number of dogs a single mill can keep.
- 16 states have no laws to regulate breeding facilities.
- Missouri has a higher rate of animal abuse in commercial facilities than any other state by far.
- Other states with high rates of unchecked and repeated abuse in commercial facilities include Ohio, Kansas, and Wisconsin.
Additional Animal Protections
Veterinarians, breeding associations, and animal rights groups support outlawing all puppy mills. Targeting mills directly, however, is often ineffective. Lawmakers and animal rights groups now focus on alternative ways to subvert the commercial breeding industry.
- A “puppy lemon” law is designed to help pet owners who purchase a sick animal gain some recourse.
- Some states have increased regulations or on pet stores nationwide, including outright bans.
- The State of California prohibits all pet stores from buying from commercial breeders.
- At least a dozen more states have passed or are expected to pass similar legislation, including Georgia, Maryland, Florida, and Ohio, among others.
- 300 U.S. cities and counties have have passed addtional laws designed to subvert the commercial breeding industry.
- The City of Philadelphia has banned all retail pet sales.
- Cook County, Illinois has outlawed the purchase of animals from commercial breeding facilities.
Report Illegal Puppy Mills
To report an unlicensed puppy mill, animal abuse, or other violation of the AWA, please immediately contact APHIS at the USDA, local authorities and/or animal welfare nonprofits.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- File a complaint with APHIS using their online form.
- Call 1-877-MILL-TIP to make a report to the Humane Society of the U.S.
Signs of a Puppy Mill
Some pet owners falsely believe their animals to be rescues. Mill puppies may also be “adopted” through classified ads, online, at flea markets, bizarres, and roadside stands. Seemingly legitimate groups may provide bogus “certifications.””
- Puppy mill sellers and brokers may attempt to pass off their dog-breeding operations as an animal rescue organization.
- At least 15% of Horrible Hundred puppy mills are registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC).
- Legitimate breeders never sell puppies under six (6) weeks old.
- Real breeders do not use pressure sales tactics.
Red Flags Online
Legitimate breeders generally don’t sell their animals online. Unscrupulous breeders will post multiple ads, usually under different names and/or with conflicting information.
- Google the phone number or other contact information for the person selling the puppy. If they are not a reputable breeder they will likely use multiple advertisements or venues to sell their dogs.
- Copy+paste text from the breeder’s website into a web browser. If it appears elsewhere on the internet, check to see if it’s on a duplicate site or ad.
- Check to see if photos of dogs appear elsewhere online. Right click on the image and “search Google for image” to find duplicate ads or stock photos.
Red Flags in Person
Any reputable breeder will be able to demonstrate that their dogs do not come from a mill.
- Insist on meeting the dog or puppy in the home or kennel where they were born and raised. A responsible breeder will gladly answer your questions and arrange for you to meet the puppy more than once to make sure you are compatible.
- Ask to meet the parents. If the puppies’ mother is not present, or the dog that’s presented as their mother does not interact with the puppies, the puppy likely was not bred there.
- Note questions the breeder asks. A responsible breeder will likely ask you many questions to be sure you are going to give their puppy a good home. Some will not release their dogs without performing a background check on the would-be purchaser.
- Request the animal’s full medical history. Do not agree to have them forward this to you later. If a breeder lacks any paperwork or certificates for puppy vaccinations, worming, microchips, or veterinarian check-up, they do not properly care for their animals. If a breeder seems dismissive or unconcerned about any health issues you might see in the puppy or tries to tell you they are typical for that breed of dog, walk away.
|State||Horrible Hundred Mills||Inspection Mandates|
|Missouri||21 listed, 10 repeat offenders||State inspections reduced (COVID-19)|
|Ohio||16 listed, 8 repeat offenders||State regularly inspects commercial breeders|
|Iowa||11 listed, 3 repeat offenders||State regularly inspects commercial breeders|
|Pennsylvania||8 listed, 6 repeat offenders||State regularly inspects commercial breeders|
|Nebraska||8 listed, 6 repeat offenders||State regularly inspects commercial breeders|
|Kansas||7 listed, 3 repeat offenders||State regularly inspects commercial breeders|
|New York||7 listed, 4 repeat offenders||State regularly inspects commercial breeders|
|Indiana||6 listed, 0 repeat offenders||State inspects complaints only|
|Georgia||5 listed, 3 repeat offenders||State regularly inspects commercial breeders|
|Illinois||4 listed, 1 repeat offender||State inspects complaints only|
Puppy Mill Case Study: The Nebraska Disterhaupts
Sandhills Kennel in Stuart, Nebraska, is a commercial breeder that has multiple violations with state inspectors. Recently, an inspector could not complete an inspection due to alleged assault by owner Clem L. Disterhaupt. According to the official report: “Inspector was unsafe and had to leave the facility […] Clem grabbed the camera”.
Citing filthy flooring and no veterinary plan, state inspectors found issues at Sandhills Kennel twice in February 2021. This is not the only Disterhaupt-owned operation with repeated violations. Clem Disterhaupt, Jr owns and operates the unlicensed Ponca Creek Kennels in Spencer, Nebraska. Ponca Creek was officially called “unacceptable” during a January 2021 inspection that found more than 225 dogs and puppies, some sickly and lethargic with open sores.
Sandhills advertises multiple breeds and designer dogs, which is not typical of legitimate breeders. Included among their breeds are “Bernese Mountain Dogs, Bernadoodles, Sheepadoodles, and Party Poodles!” according to their digital ads. Sandhills is USDA licensed and sells dogs online at PuppyFind.com, a website the Humane Society has repeatedly found to host ads from problem breeders.
- The Humane Society’s Horrible Hundred 2021
- Merriam-Webster Definition of Puppy Mill
- The Truth About Puppy Mills
- Stopping Puppy Mills
- Pet Store Doublespeak
- Shelter Intake and Surrender: Pet Statistics”
- 11 Facts About Puppy Mills
- Humane Society Fact Sheets and Resources
- Mental Health of Dogs Formerly Used as ‘Breeding Stock’ in Commercial Breeding Establishments
- Pets by the Numbers
- Animal Welfare Act
- Animal Care Factsheet: The Animal Welfare Act
- Cities Are Fighting Back Against Puppy Mills
- HSVMA Veterinary Report on Puppy Mills
- Does America Have Enough Dogs for All the People Who Want One?
- A Closer Look at Puppy Mills
- HSVMA Report on Puppy Mills
- Perspectives From the Field: Illegal Puppy Imports Uncovered at JFK
- USDA Removes Inspection Reports
- HSUS: State Puppy Mill Laws
- Pathogenesis of Endocrine Diseases in Animals
- Animal Diagnostic Center: Hemophilia A
- 577 F.Supp. 958 (1984) Avenson vs. Zegart
- Puppy Mills: Millions of Dogs Suffer Needlessly to Create Pets
- The Puppy Pipeline
- Ending Retail Puppy Sales Standing Against Puppy Mill Cruelty
- Another Reason Not to Buy Puppies from Puppy Mills
- Shelter Intake and Surrender Statistics
- The Internet is a ‘Wild West’ for Pet Sales
- Animal Shelter Euthanasia
- The Global Stray Dog Population Crisis and Human Relocation
- NY Kennel Owner Admits Gassing 93 Dogs with Farm Engine
- About Puppy Mills
- Puppy Mill Brokers