One of the most rewarding experiences of dog ownership is to raise your companion from a small puppy. This forms an incredibly strong and loving bond as you become someone they'll love their entire lives. Puppies are wonderful for responsible adults and as gifts for children who will grow up with their beloved furry friend. However, the source of your puppy matters a great deal. Not all breeders are equal and unfortunately the low-end of the spectrum is truly despicable. Rather than loving breeders who sell the puppies of occasional litters, bad breeders known as puppy mills only breed for profit and disregard the health and happiness of dog parents and the puppies alike.
Because no loving dog owner wants to support evil breeding practices, it's important to know where your puppy is coming from. While puppy mills often try to disguise themselves as caring breeders, there are several ways that you can identify them for what they really are.
Defining a Puppy Mill
Puppy mills, also known as puppy farms, are breeders that put profit ahead of the quality of care for their puppies. To identify them it will help to understand their motives and methods. Puppy mills primarily sell to pet shops and people seeking pure or 'designer' breeds. They sell puppies because they are profitable, not because they want to see animals in good homes. To get the high volume of puppies, they often force a single mother to breed with every heat cycle and keep large numbers of puppies in cages and poor conditions. The signature of a puppy mill is saving money on care in order to pocket the profits.
Selling Many Puppies All the Time
Healthy, happy dogs don't breed all the time. Pregnancy and labor are stressful and mothers need time to nurse their infant puppies. Loving dog owners, even those that breed professionally, give their mother dogs plenty of time and trips to the vet between litters. This means a small number of puppies each year. In contrast, puppy mills are often selling much more than one or two litters worth of puppies at a time. Do the math in your head and be suspicious of any source that has an unnatural number of young puppies to sell, or are selling more often than would be healthy for mother dogs. Watch out for breeders and 'brokers' that frequently suggest puppies as gifts or seem to be pushing puppies as a product rather than as companions.
Suspicious Selling Habits
The act of buying a dog, especially from a breeder, should be one of personality matching and mutual verification. You need to know that they have healthy dogs and they should want to know that you will be a loving owner. Any breeder that wants to skip this step is likely to be connected to a puppy mill. Ask for their vet's contact information. If they don't want to give it, they may be lying about having one or be afraid their vet will speak ill of them. You should also distrust any breeder that offers to sell you opposite sex pairs or discourages spaying and neutering. Finally, never trust the care of a breeder who will sell you a puppy before they are 8 weeks old.
How They Disguise Themselves
One of the most notable things about puppy mills is that they know they're doing something bad. You can tell because they hide their practices. In some cases puppies are sold as 'rescues' because good hearted people are more likely to buy a rescue, but rescues don't come in big batches so keep your eyes open. Many milled puppies are sold through brokers and pet stores, so checking means asking about the shelter they came from or investigating the breeder. If you can't confirm their source, then a mill is highly suspect. Finally, they often pose as legitimate breeders, especially when selling their pure or designer breeds. Good breeders, however, will let you meet the dog parents, meet the puppies in a loving home, and will investigate you as a potential owner. For specific breeds, there is also usually a waiting list rather than several puppies ready for sale at any moment.
How to Report a Puppy Mill
If you think that a breeder you've been looking into is involved in a puppy mill, you're probably right. These terrible practices are unfortunately common and they exist in every state. When a breeder won't let you see their site, meet the breeding parents, or if they display suspicious selling practices these are all good reasons to believe that you have encountered a puppy mill. Should this happen, there are a number of organizations that will gladly help you but your first action should be to call the police. Animal cruelty and puppy mill methods are against the law in every state and the police will shut them down. After this, you may also want to contact the SPCA or Humane Society who may be able to help the police get the rescued puppies cared for and adopted.
Puppy mills are the unpleasant result of a high demand for breed-specific puppies. They may have even started as legitimate breeders but at some point chose to value money over the health and happiness of their puppies and dog parents. It's your job as a responsible and loving pet owner to ensure your money doesn't go to support these practices. Make sure your puppy is either a rescue or from loving breeders who take good care of both their dog parents and each special litter of puppies.