Some of the findings of our latest Horrible Hundred report sound like scenes from horror films. A puppy mill operator in Iowa performed do-it-yourself surgeries on puppies. A breeder in Ohio is suspected of using rusty scissors to cut the tails off puppies. A breeding facility in Oklahoma was so infested with mice that some dogs could not eat their food without ingesting rodent feces. That breeder was associated with the American Kennel Club, a purebred dog registry organization that used to call itself “the dog’s champion.”  

These are just a few of the details we’ve featured in this year’s Horrible Hundred report, the culmination of an annual analysis that puts the spotlight on 100 problem puppy mills across the U.S. We publish the Horrible Hundred report to alert the public about common problems at puppy mills that sell dogs through pet stores, such as Petland, as well as through flea markets, websites, social media and classified ads. To the best of our knowledge, all the breeders listed in the report are still in business, and most of them have not incurred any significant penalties.   

One of the most striking findings this year is that more than 20 breeders in the report have links to the American Kennel Club. Several of them advertise on the AKC’s Marketplace website and many register puppies with the AKC. One of these Horrible Hundred breeders has even been identified by AKC as a “Breeder of Merit.” Yet we found that several of these AKC-linked breeders had violations for cramped cages, dirty and smelly conditions, or sick or injured dogs. These issues are especially disturbing in light of the fact that the AKC routinely lobbies against humane legislation that would protect dogs in puppy mills, such as the federal Puppy Protection Act and the Better CARE for Animals Act.  

Other findings of note:  

  • Missouri is home to 23 Horrible Hundred breeders. Missouri has been the state with the highest number of problem puppy mills in our report for 12 years in a row. Missouri’s high concentration of Horrible Hundred breeders was followed by Ohio (20 dealers), Iowa (15), Wisconsin (10) and New York (8). One Missouri dealer has been included nine times and in one instance, there was so much feces in part of her facility that some puppies had difficulty moving without stepping in it, and flies surrounded some pups. Prior issues at this kennel included underweight and injured dogs, with violations stretching back more than a decade.  
  • At least nine Horrible Hundred dealers sold to Petland, the only national chain of pet stores in the U.S. that still sells puppies. Several of these problematic breeders hailed from Missouri, including one whose operation authorities found 10 violations during a single inspection. These dealers who sold to Petland also included an Iowa breeder at whose facility inspectors found a puppy with her eye sealed shut by crusted yellow discharge and a breeder in Arkansas against whom the U.S. Department of Agriculture has brought an enforcement action for refusing inspections.  
  • Sixty of the puppy mills in the report are licensed by the USDA to sell puppies to pet stores and online. By cross-referencing inspection reports, our researchers found that several dealers cited by state inspectors for issues such as puppy deaths, the sale of sick dogs or unsafe or filthy conditions had not been cited by the USDA for any violations at all during the same period. In a few instances this pattern has held true for many years, providing insight into the need for stronger laws and enforcement effort at the federal level, and better collaboration between local, state and federal authorities.  

It's simple: Dogs are not commodities to be mass-produced and sold for profit. But puppy mills show continuing disregard of the real worth of these animals, cramming mother dogs into small cages and depriving them of personal attention, discarding or killing mother and father dogs when they can no longer breed, and mass-breeding puppies without regard for their long-term health.  

Bringing a pet into your home and making them part of your family is one of life’s true joys. But it matters where you go to look for that new family member. Anyone seeking to add a dog or puppy to their family should be keenly aware of the hazards and wrongs of the puppy mill industry. And this year’s Horrible Hundred report, like previous ones, drives home a critical point. Affiliation with the AKC or a sign off from the USDA should not be seen as a stamp of approval signaling the humane commitment of the breeders involved. That’s why we strongly urge families to consider adopting from an animal shelter first, or to visit in person smaller, responsible breeders willing to allow families to see where the puppy they’re considering was born.   

If you have purchased a sick puppy from a pet store or a suspected puppy mill, you can report it to our team.   

Support stronger protections for dogs by contacting your federal legislators and asking them to support the Puppy Protection Act and the Better CARE for Animals Act.  

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.