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"What IS a Puppy Mill?"

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The signs are all over the place -- but exactly what IS a PuppyMill?

What Is A Puppy Mill?   *   What Can I Do About It?   *   Laws/Legislation   *   ACTION ALERTS!


It depends on whom you ask.
Over the years, Puppy Mills have been defined variously as:

  • Any high-volume breeder whose "cash crop" is puppies (small-scale puppy farmers by this definition are usually referred to as "backyard breeders");

  • Just those high-volume breeders who breed pets as their livelihood and keep them in unsanitary, cruel, or abusive conditions;

  • Just those commercial breeders who sell their "crop" to pet stores;

  • Anyone who breeds puppies purely for commercial gain, "warehousing" animals in small cages or pens with little positive human contact, and sells through pet stores, wholesale to brokers, direct to the public either at the facility or at swap meets, out of the back of cars, through the internet, with advertising in newspapers, signs along the road, etc.

  • Webster's New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.7). Retrieved April 05, 2009, from website: "Puppy Farm: a place where puppies are bred for profit. Also called a puppy mill."

  • Merriam Webster's Online Dictonary: "puppy mill: Function: noun Date: 1973: a commercial farming operation in which purebred dogs are raised in large numbers."

  • Legal definition from a 1984 Minnesota court case, courtesy of Wikipedia's puppy mill page, Avenson v. Zegart, 577 F. Supp. 958, 960 (United States District Court, D. Minnesota, Sixth Division January 17, 1984) A "puppy mill" is a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits. (Please also see: Wikipedia: Puppy Mills)

  • 2019 Legal definition from A "puppy mill" A Puppy Mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation 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. (Please also see: Puppy Mill Law and Legal Definition)


Breeding stock at a WI puppymill.        All sources agree, however, that even the best "commercial breeder" is an undesirable source for happy, healthy, well-socialized pets. It's a little known fact that many, if not most, pet store kittens, birds, reptiles, and other animals come from the same type of breeding facility.

       The problem with large commercial breeding facilities is, they are in the business solely to make money. They "farm" pet animals as other livestock breeders "farm" pigs, chickens, and cows (and, if they sell pets wholesale, are governed by the same agency). The goal is profit, pure and simple.

       Puppy "farming" in the US started right after World War II (1946 or thereabouts). When farmers' crops were failing, they needed to find another way to make money, so they started raising puppies -- whether they knew anything about taking care of dogs or not. Dogs were housed in whatever buildings were available, including barns, sheds, chicken coops, and rabbit hutches! To many "puppy farmers," the parent dogs are livestock, like their hogs or chickens or cows, and the puppies are just another "cash crop."

       Farming puppies started in the midwest, but as the number of pet stores grew, so did the number of "puppy farms" to keep up with the demand. Now, though there is no way to know an exact number, there are probably tens of thousands of commercial breeders all across the United States.

Wire cages suspended on the sides of a structure that looked like a poultry building.       Why can't we pinpoint an exact number? Basically there are two types of puppy mills: those who sell wholesale to pet stores or laboratories, and those who sell directly to the public through classified ads, over the internet, at flea markets, etc.

       The breeders who sell wholesale to pet stores must be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA does have minimum standards that the puppy farmers are supposed to meet. You can read more about the USDA Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in the USDA Regulations section of our Existing Laws page. Here, you will also find links to the USDA website if you would like to read the AWA in its entirety.

       The "direct to public" breeders far outnumber those who sell wholesale to pet stores, and the numbers are growing all the time. With no licensing or regulation process. there is no way of knowing how many breeders there are. Many former USDA licensees are now selling direct to public -- no licensing fees, and, in most states, no pesky regulations to be concerned about. (NOTE: as of September 2013, Internet-based Puppy Mills now Subject to USDA Regulation!)

Jo, a worn-out breeder dog       The "breeding stock" — parents of the "cash crop" — will probably never make it out of the mill, subsisting with poor quality food and shelter, often in overcrowded, filthy, wire-bottomed cages; receiving minimal veterinary care, if any; lacking socialization with humans; enduring active physical abuse, and being killed or left to die when no longer "productive." They will be bred as often as possible to increase profits, inbred (meaning that the parent dogs are brother and sister, father and daughter, mother and son, etc.); and sometimes bred indiscriminately. Altogether too frequently, "defective" pups rejected by brokers, pet stores, or consumers, end up at mill auctions as breeders.

       Investigations of some millers have even uncovered falsified lineage records (fake AKC/UKC registrations). If this type of fraud is discovered, these facilities lose their "registration privileges" with the AKC or UKC (see What Does AKC/ UKC/ Breed Registration Really Mean?), but some other registries have been invented by and for breeders who have been barred from the legitimate breed registries just to impress prospective puppy purchasers who haven't "done their homework."

       Because of these indiscriminate breeding practices, pups may not actually be purebred, or may be born with serious genetic disorders such as heart murmurs, hip problems, skin problems, deafness, allergies, plates in the skull that don't close properly, aggressive temperaments, or a host of other hereditary defects. Some of these problems may show up as soon as the customer gets the new pup home. Some may not become evident for several years.

Henrietta the puppymill coonhound pup had severe socialization problems to overcome.       Puppies born in commercial breeding facilities are also generally separated from their mother and siblings weeks before they are ready. Studies have shown that pups are taught important lessons in socialization, pack order, and discipline in the first eight weeks of their lives. Puppies removed from their mothers' gentle discipline and their siblings' play before the age of eight weeks may never learn important lessons about getting along with other animals — including non-dominant members of their new human families. And puppies whose only contact with humans is as "merchandise" may never learn how to respond to humans as friends and pack leaders.

       For the consumer who purchases a pet that started life with a commercial breeder, these factors all too often result in the heartache of a new animal companion facing severe physical and temperament problems and even early death. At the very least, a pet store customer may take home a completely unsocialized — and unsociable — puppy who may, within a matter of days, end up in a shelter because of excessive nipping, biting, or refusal to bond with his/her new family members.

       Are there good breeders? A most emphatic YES! Raising sound, healthy, well socialized puppies is difficult work with some very specific demands. Quality breeders care about the animals they produce, and most say that if someone is making money breeding puppies, that person is doing something wrong! (Please see our Finding a Pet Responsibly section for tips on selecting a quality breeder and Breeders With Pride: Responsible Breeders Speak Out to see how some breeders feel about puppy mills.)

A west highland terrier balances on wire mesh too large for its feet.       It is the opinion of the Wisconsin Puppy Mill Project that puppy millers and back yard breeders should not be called "breeders." They do not deserve the title. Regardless of whether the facility is a large, sprawling commercial endeavor or a few crates in someone's barn or backyard, whether they sell to brokers/pet stores or direct to the public, Puppy Millers, Back Yard Breeders (BYB), and pet brokers are PET PROFITEERS. They don't care about the animals, they care about M-O-N-E-Y. They use and abuse animals for profit.

       NOTE: In 2009, the Wisconsin State Legislature unanimously passed Act 90, a law regulating dog breeders and sellers in our state. Since Act 90/s.173.41, the WI Dog Seller Program went into effect in June 2011, MANY Wisconsin breeders and sellers have been regulated and have either given up the business OR have come into compliance under ACT 90. If you have personally encountered any problems with any Wisconsin dog seller, please see our How To File a Complaint With the WI Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection page.

For more information on Puppy Mills, see our Puppy Mill Links page and:


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