Despite the pandemic, our fight against puppy mills continued full throttle in 2020. We won several important legal and legislative battles against these commercial enterprises that keep large numbers of dogs in sordid conditions, and we continued to raise awareness about problem mills through our annual Horrible Hundred report.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture continued its lax enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, but our report led to state authorities either closing down or fining 12 puppy mills, including four in Missouri, the state with the most problem mills. We helped pass even more laws in localities to prohibit puppy mill sales in pet stores, taking the total nationwide to more than 370.

Following are some of our biggest wins of 2020:

  • The USDA finalized a new rule requiring commercial dog breeders to obtain regular veterinary care and vaccinations for dogs, provide fresh water and demonstrate compliance with the Animal Welfare Act before obtaining a new license. The rule encompasses several standards we requested in a 2015 legal petition to the agency and had been pressing the agency to adopt ever since, with strong bipartisan congressional support led by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Charlie Crist, D-Fla.
  • Laws prohibiting the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores went into effect in January 2020 in Maine and Maryland (the Maine law applies to stores that didn’t already sell kittens and puppies). California, which was the first state to pass such a law, closed a loophole in the law that pet stores were using to sell breeder puppies as rescued dogs. In February, a federal court rejected a lawsuit challenging the Maryland law. Our lawyers filed a briefing in the case supporting the state’s authority to protect animals from cruelty and to ensure that consumers are not misinformed about the sources, health and welfare of the animals they purchase as pets.
  • The USDA in February restored thousands of unredacted puppy mill inspection reports to its public website at the direction of Congress, ending a three-year blackout. As a result, our eighth Horrible Hundred report included a full list of puppy mill names and locations for the first time in three years.
  • At least a dozen puppy mills exposed in our Horrible Hundred reports closed down or were charged in court, including Audrey Rottinghaus/ Wendy Pets in Kansas; Debra Ritter’s Cornerstone Farms, Marlisa McAlmond’s Cedar Ridge Australians, and Marilyn Shepherd’s Pup4U, all in Missouri; Whispering Springs Kennel and Deep Run Kennel in Pennsylvania; and Hobo K9 Rescue in Iowa (affiliated with JAKs Puppies), which sold fake “rescue” puppies to pet stores. The latter was forced to close down due to fraud and, along with another fake rescue, must pay the state a $60,000 fine after both were sued by Iowa’s attorney general.
  • In November, we released an undercover investigation revealing footage of dozens of USDA-licensed puppy mills that sell to pet stores. The footage revealed that even though many of the breeders had issues such as cramped, ramshackle cages and dingy and dangerous conditions, none had been cited by the USDA for any recent critical or direct violations. The breeders sold to at least three Petland stores in Florida, Kansas and Missouri, 20 pet stores in New York state and 18 pet stores in Florida, among other outlets.
  • We helped pass new ordinances in more than 30 localities that prohibit the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores, including San Antonio, Texas; Naperville, Illinois; Hillsborough County, Florida; and Olympia, Washington, bringing the nationwide total to more than 370.
  • In Iowa a new regulation on puppy mills and pet stores was enacted in January. This requires commercial breeders and stores to comply with new standards of care, including protection from extreme weather, regular exercise, prompt veterinary care for any sickness or injury, and other improvements. Since this law went into effect, the number of pet stores selling puppies in Iowa has been cut by half. Three of the eight puppy-selling pet stores in the state closed their doors rather than comply with the new regulation, and a fourth has stopped selling puppies and kittens. One of the stores that continues to sell puppies is a Petland franchisee in Iowa City.
  • We fought off proposed pet store preemption bills in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma. These bills would have voided local ordinances that ban the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores. The Humane Society of the United States has defeated every attempt at a pet store preemption bill for four consecutive years now.
  • Our Puppy-Friendly Pet Stores conversion program reached a new milestone of nearly 35,000 homeless pets saved. The program encourages pet stores to help with homeless pet adoptions rather than selling commercially raised puppies.
  • Our investigations of Petland, the only national chain that continues to sell puppies, continued to yield results. The former manager of the Fairfax, Virginia, Petland store, which we investigated in 2019 and which shut down a few days later, was found guilty of cruelty in August. He now faces possible jail time. Earlier in the year, the Frisco, Texas, city council passed an ordinance that imposes stronger regulations on pet stores like Petland in the wake of our investigation of that city’s store, addressing issues such as veterinary care and sanitation. The nearby city of The Colony, Texas, banned the retail sale of dogs and cats shortly thereafter.
  • In October, the former owners of the Chelsea Kennel Club, a New York City puppy store that shut down after an HSUS undercover investigation revealed puppy mistreatment, were fined almost $4 million for selling sick puppies to unsuspecting consumers. The Supreme Court in Manhattan granted the judgement in a lawsuit brought by the city, which relied on consumer complaints as well as many documents and videos that we provided.
  • Humane Society International/Latin America assisted with the rescue and care of 27 dogs from a puppy mill in Costa Rica. When we found them, the dogs were severely underweight with skin problems, bad teeth and behavior issues. We helped care for the dogs in the following months, providing them with veterinary care and all the TLC they needed, and all were successfully placed in loving homes.
  • HSUS lawyers successfully beat back an attempt by, an online puppy marketplace that promotes the sale of puppy mill puppies, to avoid a consumer protection lawsuit filed against it for misleading consumers.

Puppy mills are a deep-rooted problem in this nation but we---and you---can take heart in the fact that we are making progress and winning important fights every day. Consumer awareness is key to ending this problem, and as always, we urge you to look to shelters and rescues to adopt and help save a pet’s life. If you want to purchase a new pet, please ensure you are using a reputable breeder and never purchase a puppy online or from a pet store. The road ahead is long, but with your support we can take this problem on and defeat it for good.

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