A Sad Tail

The Truth Behind Pet Store Puppies and Puppy Mills
By: Cathrine M. Sheete

A female dog whines in the back corner of the dark enclosure. She pants heavily in the heat of the blackened shed, unable to escape into a cooler location. With the rare beam of sunlight from the cracks in the walls particles of dust and other debris can be seen floating in a continued stream throughout the damp air. Ventilation to the building is almost none and the overpowering odor inside emanates of stale ammonia, feces, and decay. The female rises on atrophied legs covered in raw sores and a multitude of flies jump at her movement. Her nails are overgrown, almost curving under her cracked and swollen pads. Her stiff movement also tells of severe hip dysplasia in her hind legs making movement painful. Her eyes, which ooze pus from each corner have become acclimated to the pitch darkness of the enclosure and she has become numb to the pain of hunger. Her ribs protruded grotesquely from her emaciated figure. Even though she can hardly support her own life, new life is stirring within her. Four weeks ago she was mated with a male in equal conditions to herself. Her coat is almost gone from the scaroptic mange that has infested her exterior coat for months. Her eyes once full of the sparkle of puppyhood are now dull and lack response to any stimuli, although at only two year of age she is hardly more than a puppy herself. Her previous litter weaned only weeks before she was rebred for this upcoming litter. In another corner lays her kennel mate, or what is left of her kennel mate. Now reduced to a decaying mass in layers of old feces. Maggots feed upon the dead body with zest. Welcome to life in the death camp.


You have just been introduced the conditions of a puppy mill. While almost no one would knowingly support this type of inhumane treatment of animals, many do so each year buy buying a "product." Puppy milling is a multimillion dollar business in the United States. Obviously no one would buy a dog in this females conditions, yet millions of people buy the product that she and other female dogs produce each year- puppies.

Who has not been taken in by that adorable puppy sitting in the pet shop begging you to be bought? One fact that many people do not realize about these pet-store cuties are that at least 90% of them are a product of these mass production farms. The term "puppy mill" is exactly what it is. Most of these "businesses" churn out puppies like an assembly line. In almost all cases the goal of a puppy mill is to make money with little or no care about the welfare of the puppies that they sell. With these types of conditions it is no surprise that besides holding a hefty sale price this new pet often comes with extra expenses that can not be seen on the surface. Most puppies bought from pet stores will develop problems sometime in their life as a result of poor breeding practices and unsanitary conditions prior to their arrival in the pet store. According to a 1990 California study more than half of the out-of-state puppies bought from pet stores were ill, or became ill, soon after being purchased. This does not take into account temperamental problems that also are rampant in many pet store puppies.


The largest number of puppy mills are located in the mid-western state, but no state is immune to these operations. Although the situation above is a description of one of the most severe conditions that can be found at a puppy mill, it is a surprisingly common scene for these production plants. The females are almost always bred at their first heat cycle of six to twelve months and bred continually without break between each litter of puppies and the next heat cycle. The females generally "wear out" by the time they are four to six years old at which age they are often destroyed. In some cases only the lucky ones are destroyed with euthanasia and the unlucky ones, well cheaper methods are used. Often times the males are kept in equivalently poor conditions as the females. The dogs are almost always kept in small, cramped cages, often with wire bottoms, which can cause permanent damage to a dogs feet. Many times they are kept outside with only a thin piece of plywood as protection from the elements. Others are kept in sheds with very poor lighting and ventilation.

Malnutrition is also common. In many cases the dogs in a puppy mill are fed the minimum to keep them alive and producing. The less food that has to be bought, the higher the profit margin for the seller. Often the females are only well fed when they are suckling puppies. The food is almost always the cheapest that can be bought, often not meeting the dogs nutritional requirements. In almost all cases neither males or females receive adequate veterinary care. Many are not vaccinated properly or wormed to rid them of internal parasites. Almost no puppy millers bother with pre-breeding vet inspection or post parturition care. No genetic tests are conducted on the vast majority of producing dogs. This greatly increases the chance of the puppy developing a genetic disorder like hip dysplasia or progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), which causes blindness. Although these genetic diseases do not effect all breeds of dogs, no breed is immune to genetic problems, that can often be screened for by tests, but tests cost money that most puppy mills are not willing to put out.


At four to eight weeks of age the puppies are generally removed from their mother and transferred to a puppy broker. This person is the middle man between the puppy mill and the pet store. He will often keep the puppy a short while to "fatten them up," and then they are shipped off to occupy that little cage in the store that you see them in. Many puppy mill puppies are shipped great distances to pet stores throughout the USA in crammed crates without quality food or water. Most of these puppies are between the age of four to six weeks of age, because they are so cute at this age, and easier to sell, but also very susceptible to disease. They are shipped for as long as a week at a time with inadequate care. Many of these puppies have also received none or too few vaccinations before being shipped. They are shipped in large groups and exposed to other puppies that may also carry internal parasites or contagious diseases that are passed easily from one puppy to another.

In this puppy's short life it has not experienced very much of the outdoors. Its experiences with people have been almost all negative, and it has not been socialized to other dogs either. The puppy may not have ever been outside of the cage with its mother . It may not have ever seen grass and almost certainly not the carpet of a house. It has been taught to relieve in the same place that it sleeps and eats. This early conditioning can make house training a big challenge. Most likely this puppy has never been inside of a house before. What about walking on a leash or having its toenails clipped? These are things that a pet store puppy will almost for sure never have experienced, and will be much more difficult to train when the puppy is eight to twelve weeks old than if the puppy had experienced them from a younger age. Responsible breeders socialize their puppies to the outside world well before they are sold to new owners.


Where do puppy mills get their breeding stock you might ask? Many of their dogs are bought at public auctions. Others are bought from people in duress trying to get rid of their dog in a hurry for a cheap price. A few are even stolen from their owners. Puppy mills are often changing the breeds they produce to meet current demand. Almost all puppy mills breed three or more breeds at once. Puppy mill dogs are generally purebreds and the fact that the puppies have American Kennel Club (AKC) papers seems to be a big selling point to many prospective buyers. AKC papers do not guarantee the puppy to be healthy or free of defects in any way. In fact purebred dogs have over 200 identified genetic disorders. AKC papers are supposed to assure that the puppies are purebred, but even this is often fabricated. Many puppy mill breeders do not follow AKC regulations for keeping records in order. The breeder often does not really know which of their males actually bred each female. Once the puppies are born the puppy mill owner often registers more than the actual number of puppies born in order to have extra AKC "blue slips" to pass out with unregistered dogs that they sell at a later date. The AKC seems to be very reluctant to ban a person from registering puppies, even after repeated complaints from other individuals. In essence, it seems, the AKC is out to make money too.


Puppy mills are supposed to be monitored by the United Sates Department of Agriculture (USDA), but too many kennels and too few inspectors result in many kennels only being checked infrequently. The USDA is responsible for overseeing commercial dog production, but many people would agree that its unit is underfunded and understaffed for them to be effective at doing anything to stop the puppy mill producer, and even when they see problems they are often unwilling to act. Even when violations are found the fines are small and kennels are almost never shut down. If they are "closed down" this does not generally stop the miller from continuing their breeding, they just do not register their litters with the USDA now!


Many people turn to pet stores because they do not want a dog to show. This is not a good reason to continue supporting the puppy mill trade. Even reputable breeders will produce puppies that are not destined to enter the show ring. Good breeders are just as concerned about the placement of a pet puppy as they are for a show quality puppy. They also sell on spay/neuter guarantees or limited registrations to ensure that they are not contributing to the pet overpopulation problem and are also helping to preserve the quality of their breed. Reputable breeders will help you pick a puppy best suited to your family and life style. They will also help you through training problems, temperament problems, and will hold strong on their guarantee. They are almost all willing to take back a puppy that the owner can no longer care for. They can tell you about the background of your dog and often the parents, or at least the mother, is available to be seen on sight. This will give you an idea of what your puppy will look like when it is mature. Both parents should be genetically screened for problems relevant to the breed of the dog. Ask to see the parents test results. The breeder will know what genetic disorders are common in their breed of dog. Their dogs should be titled with working or conformation titles also. Champions several generations back in the pedigree may look impressive, but they really mean nothing about the quality of the dog you have in front of you. An honest breeder will point out both the positive and negative traits of their breed. There is no breed that is perfect for everyone. How many pet stores will give you all of this information? Well I have never been to one!! Why? First of all almost no pet stores have all of this information, or they prefer not to tell you. Most stores do not care what happens once the puppy has left either.

There are many things you can do to help stop the puppy mill practice. The number one thing is to NOT BUY THAT PUPPY IN THE WINDOW!!! It is difficult to pass up that puppy, but as long as there is a market for these puppies then they will continue to be produced in the same fashion they are now. Pet stores generally rely on impulse buys to sell their puppies. People must demonstrate self control and rational thought and not buy these puppies. Like all businesses, the "product" will only be produced to meet the demand. When you buy a pet store puppy you may think you are saving that puppy's life, but in fact, you are condoning its mother to one more litter in "concentration camp" type conditions.


Spaying and neutering your own dogs are another crucial factor. A spayed or neutered dog is of no use to a puppy mill and will therefor eliminate a reason for a puppy miller to steal your dog. Also if your dog is bred, even accidentally, each of their puppies, or their puppy's puppies have a risk of ending up in a puppy mill breeding program no matter how carefully you think you screened your puppy's buyers.


An even better alternative to buying a puppy is adopting a dog from the local humane society or shelter. About 25% of the 15-20 million unwanted dogs that are euthanased each year are purebreds. Breed rescue organizations are also spread throughout the US to save purebred dogs. Often shelters and rescue organizations can provide you with a loving pet and you are saving a life too. Crossbreeds can be just as good a pet as any pure bred dog. Shelters get dogs of all ages, sizes and personalities and it should be possible to find one to match your lifestyle.


There are many advantages to getting a mature dog over a puppy. You can see what your dog will look like without unexpected size, weight, or coat type. Some shelter/rescue dogs are already house trained saving you a lot of hard work and dirty floors. Many are mature and well mannered in houses and have outgrown the chewing stage. It is much easier to see what a mature dogs personality is like than a puppy that is ever changing with hormones and growth. Almost all shelters and rescue organizations require the dog they place to be spayed or neutered before it is released. This itself helps prevent to overpopulation problem. Dogs from shelter or rescue organizations are almost always cheaper to acquire as well. Rescue organizations are also concerned that the dog fits into your lifestyle and will try to place a dog with a proper personality for your family.


Now that you know all of the facts about puppy mills, why would you even consider buying a puppy from a pet store? By passing up the next cute puppy face in the window you are helping stop this horrible practice. There are many good places to buy a puppy, but a pet store is almost never a good one. What else can you do to stop the puppy mill problem? Well by becoming educated about puppy mills you are making a good start. By spreading the message and educating others about these horrible operations you can help also. Please copy this article and it share it with anyone that you think might be planning to buy a puppy in the future, or even people who are not, as remember that almost all pet store sales are based on impulse buys. Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself about puppy mills.


The distribution of this article is encouraged by the author. Please distribute this article, but credits must be maintained.



Butcher, Amy. Pet Store Puppies.

Italiano, Laura. $4.4M Puppy Mill Scandal. New York Post.

Lamb, Rachel A. Prisoners For Prophet: The Shame of Puppy Mills.

Lewallen, Ruth Dawn. Soap Box Time.

News 8. Backyard Breeders.

PAWS. Pet Store.

PETA Factsheet. Puppy Mills: Breeding Ills.

Pet Plan Insurance. Puppy Mills, A Senseless Tragedy.

Randolph, Mary. When a Dog is a Lemon.

Stark, Karl. The Inquirer. Puppy Mills Ruin the Family Pet.

Sturla, Kim. Hidden Holocaust: The Overpopulation Crisis.

Woolf, Norma Bennett. Dog Owners Guide. Just what is a Puppy Mill?

Woolf, Norma Bennett. Dog Owners Guide. What About a Pet Store Puppy?


[Home] [Cats] [Dogs] [PEAT] [Articles] [Adopted]

[Shopping] [Volunteer] [Donate] [Help] [Contact Us]


© 2001-2002 WellPetUSA. All Rights Reserved