Puppy Mills: The Dog Farms (by Oscar Zielsdorff)


 oscar.zielsdorff-puppy-mill-stacked-cagesWalls surround you closely on all sides, the ceiling almost scrapes your head, smells of waste waft up into your nose, and all around you hear people crying. Seems like a scene from a nightmare, right? Well, for many dogs this nightmare is a reality. All across the country are establishments known as puppy mills, places that commercially breed pets, which keep animals in appalling conditions and only care about making a profit. During the last few weeks I have done community work by volunteering at a local farm. Helping out on the farm helped reinforce my beliefs that animals are intelligent and are affected emotionally by the conditions they are kept in. Seeing the healthy, happy animals was a great relief to the horrors I’ve come to know from puppy mills. I have done research into puppy mills and help how to stop them, and it is my intention that by the end of this post you will be informed enough to do something about it too. I had my first encounter with a puppy mill dog many years ago.

When I was younger our family began volunteering for a non-profit dog rescue. The first dog we received was a little Pomeranian named Buddy who was skinny and caked with his own feces. After cleaning him he was much more energetic and playful. During the following days we discovered that he was scared of almost everything, and wasn’t housebroken. This was the result of him being kept in a small cage with several other dogs, and never knowing affection for his whole life. After caring for him for over a month he was finally ready for adoption. This was my first experience with a puppy mill, something I had no idea existed prior to raising Buddy. Buddy turned out pretty well in terms of puppy mill dogs, many times they suffer genetic issues.


The subject of puppy mills is very large and often hard to define. Currently there are legal requirements in place called the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to help protect commercially bred animals, but many feel these don’t do enough for the animals and are often not enforced. For example, according to the AWA a dog only needs 1 foot of wiggle room inside of the cage it could spend its whole life in. The American Society for Preventive Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) does a nice job explaining these regulations, or if you’d rather look at the AWA itself you can read it here. Despite these regulations there are still many mills that operate illegally.

In some of the worse puppy mills dogs spend their whole lives living in stacked cages often crammed in with other dogs. These animals often have no bedding and are caked with their own and other dog’s feces. Just like with a human these experiences have negative effects on the dogs that stick with them the rest of their lives. According to Sharon L. Peters in her USA Today article “The dogs from puppy mills showed significantly elevated levels of fears and phobias, compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and heightened sensitivity to being touched” (Peters par 5). These conditions make for poor, often hazardous pets that just aren’t fit for families. On top of the emotional damage years of rampant breeding also leads to life threatening conditions for the dogs. Award winning journalist Pamela Sacks writes, “…their lineage is often haphazard, resulting in eye and heart abnormalities, hip dysplasia, and other genetically linked health problem” (Sacks par 3). These conditions often sprout up over time and can cost the owner thousands of dollars in veterinary care.

People operate and make money off puppy mills for a variety of reasons. Puppy mills often hold little cost to the owner, especially if they ignore regulations to cut down on bedding, food, and clean water. Mills often sell their dogs to commercially owned pet stores in order to produce cheap, readily available pets depending on current trends in dog ownership. Stephanie K. Sovino, a lawyer from Penn State, writes that “Today, ‘a big crop of dogs’ can gross up to five hundred thousand dollars annually” (Sovino 647). With profits like this it’s no wonder that many mills are still operating today.

Further Readings

Sacks, Pamela. “Puppy Mills: Misery FOR Sale.” Animals 133.5 (2000): 10. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 30 May 2015.

Pamela Sacks is an award winning freelance journalist. In this report she writes about the atrocities faced by dogs in puppy mills, and discusses other important aspects such as what motivates people to become “dog farmers”, how pet stores acquire these animals, and what has been done in the past to stop this. Sacks’ report is a great in-depth introduction to the world of puppy mills as a whole.

Sharon L., Peters, and TODAY Special for USA. “Puppy mills leave lasting emotional scars, study finds.” USA Today n.d.:MasterFILE Premier. Web. 30 May 2015

Sharon L. Peters, a writer for USA Today, talks about the emotional effects that puppy mills have on the dogs kept there. Peters’ article is short yet informative with plenty of interesting statistics and sources. I highly recommend reading it to get some insight into the disadvantages of owning a puppy mill dog and what sort of life these animals are likely to lead.

Savino, Stephanie K. “Puppy Lemon Laws: Think Twice before Buying that Doggy in the Window.” Penn St. L. Rev. 114 (2009): 646-649. Web. 30 May 2015.

Stephanie K. Savino is a lawyer from Pennsylvania State University. In her report she writes about “puppy lemon laws” which relate to puppy mills. Savino writes a detailed portion of her report dedicated to describing puppy mills. She talks about how they likely got started historically, how people hide their mills, the conditions the animals are found in, and how this costs the pet owner in the end. If you are interested in learning more about puppy mills section B of Savino’s report is a must-read.

How to Get Involved

Recognize the Signs of a Puppy Mill

  • The owner wants to meet in a public place, not at their kennel
  • You cannot see the dogs that your puppy came from
  • The breeder offers many different breeds and mix-breeds
  • The breeder has many litters of puppies with more on the way
  • The breeder doesn’t disclose veterinary information
  • The dogs smell bad
  • Breeder shows no interest in how well of an owner you’d be
  • If the puppies sold are under 8 weeks old


What to Do If You Suspect a Mill

The Humane Society of the United State (HSUS) tells what to do if you suspect a puppy mill and even offers a reward if you give information leading to a mills closure.

The main thing that should be done is report it to either your local police department or animal control agency. It is important to give as much details as possible as to why you suspect a particular operation. If you are worried that the breeder will find out you can always tell the police you wish to remain anonymous when giving them the information.

Additional Ways

Avoid buying from commercial pet stores, even though the prices are a little cheaper. Try to find a hobby breeder who cares about their animals, not the profit.

Lastly, spread the word! Tell your friends and family what to look out for if they are getting a dog and how they can help stop it. The more pressure we put on puppy mills the less animals that have to suffer.



  1. Eli Zielsdorff

    Very interesting read, I had no idea the dogs had such little room in their cages while owners remained in the confines of the AWA. It is also shocking how much these mills make and that commercially owned pet stores will buy from them.

    I think your strongest portion of this post are your research and personal story. The research seems very solid and really helps bring light to these mills. I also think that your tips on how to help shut down / spot a mill were an important addition.

  2. Oscar, I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post and found myself engrossed in reading it in it’s entirety. I was not aware of how puppy mills operated or the current laws, or perhaps lack-there-of, for animal breeders. I was under the assumption that commercial pet stores sought the highest quality of dogs, but after reading your article I can see how that is no longer the case.

    I appreciated you providing a section on “Recognizing the Signs of a Puppy Mill.” It is important to recognize where the dog you’re getting could come from as it can have a major impact on your family. Your research is strong and your story was compelling. Solid job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: