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August 26, 2014

Puppy Mills: Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about this cycle of cruelty

The Humane Society of the United States

Dog puppy mill resuce TN in bowl

Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about puppy mills.

What is a puppy mill?

What is The HSUS doing about puppy mills?

Are there any laws that regulate puppy mills?

There is a puppy mill in my area. How can I get the authorities to investigate and it shut down?

I bought a puppy and she got sick. What can I do?

I think my local pet store might be selling dogs from puppy mills. How can I find out?

Where can I find a list of known puppy mills?

Why can't we just outlaw puppy mills?

Isn't it against the law to sell a sick puppy?

What about anti-cruelty laws? Don't those affect puppy mills?

How are puppy mills regulated at the state level?

How do I file a complaint against someone who sold me a sick pet?

What is a puppy mill?

A puppy mill is an inhumane, commercial dog-breeding facility in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.

What is The HSUS doing about puppy mills?

The HSUS takes a stand against puppy mills on all possible levels, including supporting legislative changes, conducting investigations and litigation, and promoting public awareness and education. The HSUS also works with local authorities when called upon to help shut down the most abusive puppy mills.

It's important to know that, in many cases, puppy mills are not illegal. In most states, a breeding kennel can legally keep dozens, even hundreds, of dogs in cages for their entire lives, as long as the dogs are given the basics of food, water, and shelter. When documented cruelty exists, The HSUS assists in shutting down puppy mills with the cooperation of local law enforcement. The HSUS has assisted in the rescue of almost 5,000 dogs from puppy mills over the past two years alone. But while The HSUS is opposed to puppy mills, The HSUS cannot shut down or raid legal businesses. The HSUS is not a government, law enforcement, or regulatory agency.

Because most puppy mills are not illegal, we need help from the public to put an end to the consumer demand for their "product." You can help The HSUS put a stop to puppy mills by getting your next dog from an animal shelter, rescue group, or a humane and responsible breeder that you have carefully screened in person.

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Read more about adopting or buying a puppy.   

Are there any laws that regulate puppy mills?

In 1966 Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act, which outlines specific minimum standards of care for dogs, cats, and some other kinds of animals bred for commercial resale.

The AWA is enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture. Under the AWA, certain large-scale commercial breeders are required to be licensed and regularly inspected by the USDA. But there are many inefficiencies and loopholes in the system.

Only large-scale commercial facilities that breed or broker animals for resale—to pet stores for example—are required to be licensed and inspected by the USDA because they are considered "wholesale" operations. Those that sell directly to the public—thousands of facilities that breed and sell just as many puppies as their wholesale counterparts—are not required to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act or to any federal humane care standards.

Inspection records obtained by The HSUS show that many USDA-licensed breeders get away with repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act. These violators are rarely fined and their licenses are rarely suspended. Facilities with long histories of repeated violations for basic care conditions are often allowed to renew their licenses again and again.

For decades, The HSUS has been a leader in promoting legislative and regulatory changes that would address all large-scale breeding facilities. We also continue to encourage better staffing and funding for USDA inspection programs, which would increase enforcement capabilities.

Click here to see a chart of puppy mill laws by state »

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There is a puppy mill in my area. How can I get the authorities to investigate and it shut down?

First, please be aware that operating a commercial breeding kennel may not be illegal in your area. But if you have seen specific evidence of cruelty or neglect, the first agency to contact is a local agency with law enforcement powers, such as the local humane society, animal control agency or police or sheriff's department. 

Cruelty or neglect laws vary by state but typically address conditions such as animals without food and water, sick dogs who are not being medically treated, or dogs without adequate shelter from the elements. Prepare specific details of your complaint in advance, and after you have made a report get a case number or contact information related to your case. If you do not hear back from the local authorities within a week, please call them back to ask for an update, but be aware that if there is an ongoing investigation some information may not be available to the public. If you can't get local help for the situation or are not sure who to call, please contact The HSUS at stoppuppymills@humanesociety.org.

You may also wish to contact the United States Department of Agriculture Animal Care Division and find out if the USDA licenses the facility owner. Only "wholesale" breeding facilities (those that sell puppies to other businesses who in turn sell the puppies to the public) are required to be USDA licensed—this is a small portion of all the large-scale breeders in the country. Currently licensed breeders and some of their most recent inspection reports are available on the USDA/APHIS website.

The HSUS Puppy Mill Task Force tipline, 1-877-MILL-TIP, is available to anyone with information on a possible crime involving puppy mills—especially information from those with "insider" knowledge, or from law enforcement officials who might be aware of such operations. If you witnessed deplorable conditions in person and wish to file a complaint with the HSUS, please call 1-877-MILL-TIP or report it here ». You can also file a complaint with the USDA by clicking here.

If you have purchased a puppy and wish to report problems to The HSUS, please complete the Pet Seller Complaint form. This form allows us to track data accurately and ensure that we have as much information as possible to help us in our fight to stop puppy mills.

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I bought a puppy and she got sick. What can I do?

Step 1: Please take your puppy to a veterinarian as soon as possible, if you have not already done so. Save all records and receipts.

Step 2: Prepare your complaint. It is imperative that you put together as much information as possible to support your case. Please gather as many of the following items as possible:

  • Name, address and phone number of breeder or pet store (or both, if applicable)
  • Name of kennel (if any)
  • Copies of your veterinary bills
  • Copies of your purchase agreements or bill of sale
  • Copies of any registration papers given to you at sale
  • Photographs or other documentation of your dog's medical conditions
  • A necropsy report from a veterinarian, if the dog has passed away
  • A brief timeline of events related to the dog's sale and health problems.

Step 3: Contact the breeder or pet store where you purchased the dog. Your purchase agreement or store or breeder policy may provide you with some financial recourse. Please note that many sellers will encourage you to return the puppy for an exchange or refund, but that may not be in the best interests of your puppy. You may have other reimbursement options that do not require you to return the pet. For example, many states have puppy lemon laws that require pet sellers to reimburse a pet owner for veterinary bills up to the purchase price of the puppy, if the puppy becomes ill with a condition that existed at the time of sale. Contact your state Attorney General's office to find out more about puppy lemon laws in your state or to report a seller if you feel a law has been broken. For specific advice on how to handle your particular case, consult a local attorney or consider going to small claims court. 

Click here to see a chart of puppy mill laws by state »

Step 4: Complete the Pet Seller Complaint form. This form enables The HSUS to keep track of problem sellersand ensures that we have as much information as possible to help us in our fight to stop puppy mills. It also allows us to help other puppy buyers and report chronic abusers to relevant agencies. This information is also compiled for reference and statistical purposes, and will help us gather general information needed to advocate against puppy mills. You can also use this form to organize your case for possible further action. Please note that The HSUS is not a government or law-enforcement agency and cannot guarantee action on every complaint.

See our state-by-state list of Puppy Lemon Laws [PDF] » 

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I think my local pet store might be selling dogs from puppy mills. How can I find out?

Almost all pet store puppies come from puppy mills. Ask the pet store employee to show you the paperwork identifying the puppy's breeder and origins. If he or she refuses to do so or is reluctant to show you the paperwork, consider that a red flag. If you do inspect the paperwork, you may notice that the puppy has been shipped from out of state, often by a "broker" service. These are just a few indications that the store's dog may have come from a puppy mill. The bottom line is that responsible breeders do not sell their puppies to pet stores; they want to meet their puppy buyers in person and do not sell their puppies to the first person who shows up with cash in hand.

Read more about how to tell if a puppy came from a puppy mill »

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Where can I find a list of known puppy mills?

For many reasons, The HSUS does not publish a list of known puppy mills. There are literally thousands of puppy mills in existence all over the country, and most of them are not required to register with any one agency. There are so many unregulated puppy mills that to publish a list of the known or "problem" mills may give the public a false impression that any establishment that is not on the list is "safe." Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some problematic puppy mills have been known to change their names and locations frequently to evade their reputations.

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Why can't we just outlaw puppy mills?

The HSUS is the nation's leading advocate for legislation to regulate puppy mills. Since the early 1980s, we have fought for strengthened provisions and broader enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act. We continue to work to broaden the scope of the Animal Welfare Act so that all puppy mills must meet federally mandated standards and submit to inspection, regardless of where or to whom they sell their puppies.

In the last two years we've had some great successes. We've seen passage of federal legislation that outlaws the import of puppies from foreign puppy mills, and legislation in four states (Virginia, Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington) that limits the number of dogs who can be kept in commercial breeding facilities. In 2009 alone, laws to protect dogs in commercial breeding facilities were passed in 10 states. In 2010, The HSUS is part of a coalition of groups and individuals, Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, who are working to pass a ballot measure in Missouri that will limit the number of adult breeding dogs who can be kept in a puppy mill and improve the standards of care. In 2008 and 2009, The HSUS assisted in the evacuation of nearly 5,300 dogs (and many other animals) from 24 puppy mills across the U.S. and in Canada.

We will continue to push for new laws to  limit the number of dogs who can be kept in puppy mills, to outlaw the cruelest confinement practices prevalent in puppy mills, to require inspection and licensing of "direct seller" puppy mills which are exempt from federal regulations, and to protect puppy mill dogs from neglect and exploitation.

While legislation is the key to ensuring lasting change for animals,  simply passing a law to ban puppy mills—an idea that's often proposed—is impractical. Anyone who has worked on legislation—even on something as basic as stopping abuse—can tell you that bringing a bill from an idea into a law is a long and difficult process. Even bills that pass into law often do not contain all the protections we would desire.

Sadly, some purebred dog registries and kennel clubs (which often receive registration fees from puppy mills) have lobbied heavily against these changes—and they have even recruited other animal-use industry groups to help them. Scare tactics are used by those who profit the most from a lack of regulation in the pet industry to frighten small breeders into mistakenly thinking that the proposed laws will apply to them. This strategy has led some smaller breeders and local kennel clubs to oppose bills that would only impact the worst and biggest puppy mills.

This makes public support all the more vital. Join our online community to receive action alerts about our legislative efforts in your state » 

We ask responsible breeders to join us in this effort to change conditions for dogs who are warehoused in a life of misery in a puppy mill. If you are a breeder who wants to help stop the abuses of large scale puppy mills, please get in touch with us.

Read about what you can do to help stop puppy mills »

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Isn't it against the law to sell a sick puppy?

Because puppies from puppy mills are more likely to have health problems due to poor care, many consumers are faced with significant veterinary bills or even the death of their puppy soon after purchase.

In an attempt to hold breeding facilities and sellers responsible, several states have passed consumer protection laws that specifically address puppies. These laws, often called "puppy lemon laws," have good intentions and theory behind them, but most have limitations.

Under most of the laws, the dog owner is offered a refund, another puppy, or reimbursement of veterinary bills up to the purchase price of the puppy within a certain period of time. But when faced with a sick or dying puppy, most people choose not to give the puppy back but rather focus their efforts on saving the animal. A common fear is that the seller will simply destroy the puppy rather than invest the money and time into restoring the animal's health. Should the puppy die, most families are not ready to risk the heartbreak of yet another sick puppy from the same seller, so providing them with another puppy is not an acceptable option.

Nevertheless, an effective puppy lemon law can provide at least some recourse to unsuspecting families who purchase sick puppies, and may provide a financial incentive for pet sellers to provide improved conditions and veterinary attention for the dogs and puppies in their care. See our state-by-state list of Puppy Lemon Laws [PDF] »

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What about anti-cruelty laws? Don't those affect puppy mills?

Although all 50 states have anti-cruelty laws intended to prevent neglect and mistreatment of dogs, most large-scale breeding facilities continue to operate in ways that mock these laws.  In many cases, dogs in puppy mills are kept in physically and emotionally damaging conditions under which an individual pet dog would never be allowed to suffer. Anti-cruelty laws are seldom applied to puppy mills as long as the animals have the rudimentary basics of shelter, food, and water. Puppy mill dogs are often treated as agricultural "crops" and not as pets.

Some local humane societies and governmental agencies investigate conditions at puppy mills and intervene to rescue the animals if necessary. In many cases, though, local authorities may not set foot on a puppy mill unless they have received a complaint from a credible person who has personally witnessed substandard conditions and animal suffering. Because so few puppy mills invite customers onto their property to purchase dogs, it can be extremely difficult for law enforcement to intervene. This is why The HSUS supports legislation requiring regular unannounced inspections of large scale puppy mills.

In those cases where local authorities are empowered to investigate, the sheer magnitude of the problem can place and extraordinary burden on human, physical, and financial resources.

Shelters that have been able to intervene on the animals' behalf may suddenly find themselves with a large number of animals in need of immediate veterinary care. Additionally, the shelter may become responsible for housing the dogs throughout what can often be a lengthy legal process. The cost for veterinary care and basic food and housing can run into the tens of thousands of dollars within weeks of seizing as few as 50 dogs from a poorly run facility.

Most shelters consider protecting these vulnerable animals part of their mission and are generally eager to remove animals from such poor conditions. It is important to remember though, that regular shelter operations do not stop when a raid is conducted. The shelter will still need to be open to the public and will still need to provide care and housing for the normal number of animals being brought to it by the community. If a shelter is able to enter an inhumane breeding operation and remove dogs, financial and community support during the aftermath is essential to ensuring the animals receive the help they need.

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How are puppy mills regulated at the state level?

Click here to see a chart of puppy mill laws by state » 

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How do I file a complaint against someone who sold me a sick pet?

Please print out our Pet Seller Complaint Form. The document can be a very helpful tool in organizing your complaint, because you can make copies of the form, along with supporting documents such as vet bills and purchase records, to send to The HSUS and other agencies such as your local consumer affairs or Attorney General's office. These forms are used to track problem pet sellers and target the worst offenders for possible further action. Additional instructions are included on the form.

You may also report a problem online on our Tell Us Your Story form.

If there appears to be cruelty or neglect (unsanitary conditions, sick animals, lack of food/water/shelter, etc.) please also immediately contact the breeder's or pet store's local animal control agency, humane society, or animal shelter and request that they inspect the facility. If none of these exists in the area, call the police, sheriff or health department. If you witnessed deplorable conditions in person and wish to file a complaint with the HSUS, please call 1-877-MILL-TIP or report it here »

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