Most people have heard the phrase “puppy mill” but aren’t really sure what it means. Other people have the idea that mills are located in some far away place and that most of them are in the Midwest. The unfortunate truth is that puppy mills are becoming a pervasive problem in most states. The commonly accepted definition of a puppy mill is a dog breeding facility that keeps so many dogs that the needs of the breeding dogs and puppies are not met sufficiently to provide a reasonably decent quality of life for all of the animals. For some people, the phrase refers to the volume of dogs produced - thus use of the word "mill."
Puppy mills first became a part of American culture following Word War II and were introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture. In response to widespread crop failures in the Midwest, the USDA began promoting purebred puppies as a fool-proof “cash” crop. This concept was well received by farmers facing hard times; breeding dogs does not require the intense physical labor that it takes to produce edible crops, nor are dogs as vulnerable to unfavorable weather. Chicken coops and rabbit hutches were “re-purposed” for dogs, and the retail pet industry - pet stores large and small - boomed with the increasing supply of puppies from the new “mills.” Mills have since become a multi-million dollar industry due, at least in part, to the American love affair with dogs.
Puppy mills (many of which are licensed by the USDA) usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The dogs do not receive adequate veterinary care, food, water, exercise and socialization. Breeder dogs often spend their entire lives in outdoor cages with no protection from the elements and no opportunity to walk on solid ground. Because the people who operate puppy mills don’t adhere to normal practices that would remove sick dogs from their breeding pools, mill puppies are prone to a variety of congenital and hereditary conditions which include Epilepsy, heart disease, kidney disease, hip dysplasia, diabetes, anemia, deafness, eye problems and respiratory disorders. There are some people who believe the USDA program and standards should simply be revamped to provide for better care of the dogs. I don't agree at all. The USDA needs to get out of the business of licensing this industry in any way and the federal funding should instead be diverted to a national animal welfare agency which can ensure the dogs receive proper care, socialization and exercise until such time as the mills close.
There are a number of ways to fight puppy mills, starting with refusing to patronize the stores and web sites that sell dogs. Never buy a puppy from a pet store. Despite what you may be told by a store employee, 99% of pet store puppies come from mill operations. No reputable breeder would ever sell a puppy in a store. If you are told that a puppy comes from a USDA licensed breeder, that does not mean that the puppy does not come from a mill. Never buy a puppy from any person who will not allow you to see the breeding facility and meet the mother dog - this includes web sites that sell pets online or ads you may find in the newspaper. Just because a web site looks professional does not mean that the puppy came from a good environment. If you buy a puppy without demanding to see the breeding facility, you may be unknowingly keeping a horrific breeding operation in business and contributing to the suffering of the breeder dogs. If you have decided that a purebred dog is best for your family for some reason, remember that many shelter and rescue dogs are purebred and that there are countless rescue groups across the country which are “breed specific” which means that they only focus on one breed.