Just the term “puppy mills” conjures up images of desperate, sickly, dirty dogs crowded in small cages with wire bottoms. Dogs simply there to turn out puppies as fast as they can without any love or affection. If you’ve seen an ASPCA commercial, you know exactly what I am talking about. Puppy mills are horrifying, they’re scary, and they’re legal.

Wait, what?

That’s right. Most puppy mills are legal. Given licenses to operate through the USDA and subject to inspections. These inspections often do uncover horrible conditions and reports are filed saying as much. However, a puppy mill has never been shut down due to a failed inspection or any other reason. The Animal Welfare Act sets forth standards that are not well enforced by the USDA. These standards are low to being with, but without being enforced, puppy mill operators are able to get away with a lot. The ASPCA estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills in the United States.

What puppy mills are not required to do is provide adequate veterinary care, proper food, clean water, socialization, sanitary conditions, or cages that are more than 6 inches larger than the dog in them (not including their tail). For their whole lives, these animals sit in cages with wire bottoms so their feces can drop out the bottom endlessly breeding.

Of course, many people have no idea a puppy came from these conditions when they purchase them.

Where do you find these puppies?

There is no legal definition of a puppy mill, though many of us define it as large-scale commercial dog breeding facilities where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Without a legal definition, it can be hard to figure out who is selling puppies from mills.

The two biggest places to find these pups are pet stores and the internet.

Pet stores display their puppies in stacked cages on a wall or in the middle of the aisle. When you ask where the puppies are from, they might tell you, “a local AKC registered breeder,” or “a responsible breeder.” But these dogs are often from puppy mills. No sales person is going to tell you that these puppies came in on a big box truck like a shipment of kibble.

Responsible breeders wouldn’t let just anyone off the street buy their puppy. A responsible breeder is going to have lots of questions for you. They wouldn’t let that puppy sit in a cage in a store all day where it cannot socialize, play, or have easy access to food, water, and potty breaks.


The internet is an easy place for puppy mills to sell dogs. All they need is a place to take photos of the puppies, a website or site to post to, and a way to ship the puppies. An internet site with a large selection of puppies that are ready to go right away and can be paid for on the site are usually puppy mill puppies. If several breeds are available through the same site, that is another big indicator that these dogs aren’t coming from responsible breeders who care about the genetics of the puppy and the well-being of the parents.

A responsible breeder focuses on a single breed, cares about the characteristics of the puppies they produce, and usually has a waiting list for their upcoming litters. They likely only produce a handful of litter a year, and sometimes less. Their website will be all about their dogs (including the breeding stock), their facility, breed and puppy info, and could include a questionnaire. They have the parents there for you to meet when you come by, in their home or in a well-kept, clean, dry, roomy facility. If they aren’t willing to show you the facility and they won’t introduce you to the parents, that should be a red flag. If they are willing to come to you, no questions asked, to drop off a puppy and pick up payment, that’s a red flag.

Taking Action

The best way to take action is to make sure you are acquiring your pets from rescues, shelters, or responsible breeders. Buying puppies produced from puppy mills only ensures their parents continue to live terrible lives. Spreading the word about puppy mills is also important. Many people don’t know that puppy mills are legal or the signs of a puppy mill puppy. Supporting causes like The Puppy Mill Project and the ASPCA is also important in the fight against puppy mills.

If you want to learn more, check out either of the above-mentioned organization’s websites or watch the documentary Dog by Dog, which you can find of Netflix.


The featured photo is not a puppy mill dog. The photos of puppy mills were too graphic to include.