The Inside Story of Puppy Mills and the Dogs Who are Caged There

This year, May 8-13 is Puppy Mill Action Week. A puppy mill is a collection of dogs kept in one location, normally for the single purpose of breeding. These dogs live there lives in cages, get very little socialization, often are thin from hunger, could have matted hair/open wounds and untreated medical conditions. Once their usefulness is over as breed stock, they are either turned over to rescues/shelters or destroyed. In human terms, a puppy mill is a life sentence in a filthy and overcrowded prison, which also is a sex trafficking ring. Crowded cages, often stacked on each other, unclean/filthy conditions, inconsistent or poor quality food, and little to no health maintenance. Puppy mill dogs are basically a commodity, only there to produce the product of new puppies, and drive profit. It’s a tragic way to live and… in most states… it is not illegal and has little to no Government oversight.

The Humane Society estimates there are over 10,000 working puppy mills, but this is a rough estimate as most mills are unregistered. In addition there are 2,500 licensed USDA facilities that breed dogs for pet trade. Mills are normally in a rural area, on farm land or secluded property, away from the public eye. In those mills there are an estimated 215,000 dogs kept solely for breeding purposes. That number does not include the puppies shipped each month to stores and resale locations, or sold out of the front end of the mill operations to unsuspecting new pet parents. The less you ask, the less you dig for answers, the less you know, and the better the Puppy Mill owners like it.

Here are some stark stats you need to know about Puppy Mills

  • The vast majority of pet store puppies come from large scale mills. This includes major retailers that we all know, and probably frequent for pet supplies or food

  • Sixteen of our states have NO restrictions or laws on the books surrounding puppy mill breeding

  • Only around 24% of puppy mills are licensed, the rest are hidden and unregulated

  • Of the 215,000 mill dogs, 130,000 are females kept for breed stock

  • Each female mill dog produces 9 to 10 puppies each year

  • As we’ve made mention of, most mills are overcrowded, unsanitary, and full of dogs with health issues that go untreated

  • Dogs who die at the mill are likely to be dumped, not cremated or buried

  • For smaller breed dogs, cages are stacked to allow for more volume in smaller spaces

  • Due to the conditions and non-existent medical treatment, mill puppies have a high rate of illness (conditions like Parvo lie silent for a few months, normally not appearing until after adoption)

How can YOU tell an actual good breeder from Puppy Mill?

  • Pricing is #1.  If the price for the puppy is lower, or appears to be to good to be true… it likely is. The mills have lower overhead, less cost to operate due to the way they are ran. This means they can sell the product for less and still make the profit they are after.

  • If the seller is shy to produce references or cannot provide names of satisfied clients. Mills want to be invisible, they want one-and-done transactions. Whereas a legitimate breeder lives on word of mouth and customer satisfaction, mills want to make a quick sale and disappear back into the shadows. They don’t have concern for the dogs, pre or post sale.

  • If they refuse or give excuses on why you can’t see where the dogs are kept, or won’t allow you to see other puppies/parents/siblings of your potential puppy purchase. The mill owners don’t want you in their facility, for fear that the conditions of the property, cages, and other animals will chase you away.

The reality is people want new, and not used. The shelters are overflowing and destroying thousands of animals a day. Rescues are taxed to the max, struggling to keep up with health issues, behavioral issues, and food/supply/volunteer shortages. Pet store pricing for new puppies is through the roof, as pure breed dogs run in the thousands of dollars to purchase. If people searching for their special pets would take the time to “adopt, not shop”, they could find a large variety of puppies, adults and seniors at these shelters and rescues. These dogs are looking for their forever home, as well. They may not have that new car smell, but they do have the special bond of gratitude to their new families. The devotion and dedication from a rescue or shelter dog is miles deep.

Mill Dogs Transition to a Forever Home

When mills are closed, for whatever reason, or when a mill dog is given up to rescue or shelter, there is a huge difference in treatment and living conditions. This is even more dynamic when these dogs attempt to transition to a loving family home. It’s not that they don’t want to be loved, or that they purposely act out… they have no baseline of what a normal life is like. To them, a normal day at the mill is looking out of their cages at other dogs, being tired and dirty, hoping that there is enough food to fill them up, then being called upon to their jobs of breeding and/or birthing for profit. The smells are horrible, the sound is loud and sad, the conditions are filthy, and love or human contact for affection is non-existent. Suddenly having a solo gig, or having their own bed, being free from cages, or even the simple task of learning to be loved is new to them. The stress of being free and away from the rigid routines and closed quarters can be overwhelming to a dog from a mill.

Behaviors You Might Encounter from a Rescued Mill Dog
  • They might be poop eaters. A hungry dog will eat anything, and food is hard to come by in a mill. So your cats poop, or even their own poop, might be mistaken for a treat or snack.

  • They could develop separation anxiety. If they bond with you they will likely be attached to a person, someone that makes them feel safe and loved. When this beacon of comfort is missing, the reaction could be screaming, pacing, howling or crying until that special someone returns to love them again.

  • Socialization might be tricky. In the mill world, there is no socialization. If they were in a cage with others, it was crowded and loud. Competition for food would have been constant. Introducing a dog from a mill to a multi-dog environment might be a slow process. They could attempt to position themselves as the “alfa” in the pack, thus assuring they would be first in line for food and affection.

  • House training fiascoes. When you’re used to being in an enclosed space with other dogs, you don’t ask to go to the pee pad or tree… you go where you stand in a lot of cases. Asking someone newly extracted from that situation to change is a longer process. Seeing as these dogs are likely older, the transition will be slow. So be willing to work with them.

  • Trust Issues. Would you trust humans after living a life in those conditions? Trust is learned, and for a mill dog the idea of trust and love are foreign. You might have to work to get these dogs out of their shell and socialized as a part of your family. Don’t give up, keep working the edges until they come around. Love is a powerful tool, and the need to be treated with love and respect is a trigger.

  • Getting used to the new living space. It’s like going from living in a studio apartment with a bunch of people to living in a mansion. New things, new smells, a whole new world, all of it inviting and strange. There are no written rules, and with the language gap between dog and owner you can expect some uncomfortable moments until boundaries and routines are set.

  • Tricks, games or even walking on a leash. The idea of these things is unimaginable to a mill dog. Training a rescued mill dog to walk on a leash might never happen, or it might take a very long time. Teaching them tricks or the art of playing with toys might be a long term education. But… imagine the thrill and satisfaction when you see them learn and succeed.

  • Just getting used to being loved. Touching, handling, affection, and good treatment will seem strange for a dog who has never had any of these things. This goes back to trust issues and comfort. Take baby steps, reward good behavior, and celebrate the small wins with treats and positive tones. The dog will catch on, everyone wants to be praised.

These are special dogs, deserved of a great life and a new chance. If you decide to take one home, make that decision for the long term. Imagine the crushing blow to the dog if they are taken back to a rescue or shelter after tasting a life of luxury in a forever home that didn’t turn out to be forever. Understand what you are signing up for, then do the work. What lies on the other side of the struggle is a dedication and bond that is unlike any other. If you don’t think dogs know the difference between the life in a mill and the life of comfort in your home… you don’t give enough credit to the animals. The ability to release their old life varies from dog to dog, but know that you are a hero for giving this fur kid a better life. Stay the course, put in the work, and don’t give up on the dog… they wouldn’t give up on you.

If you lived the life they have been subjected to over their entire lives, how psychologically scarred would you be? Their emotional trauma and despair, the learned behaviors and built in expectations, all of the struggles they have lived through lies deeply mapped in their brains. I can take weeks, months, and in extreme cases years to release those memories and trust. A dog can have a form of PTSD when transitioning out of the mill and into a loving home. Know that fact, and commit for the long haul before you bring them home. states that there are eight words to live by when dealing with a puppy mill dog that you are re-homing; Patience, love, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, calmness, empathy, and perseverance.  Always consider where they’ve come from, the life they lead, their learned behaviors over the years of captivity at the mill… then watch them grow into the dog they were meant to be with your love and guidance

You may never know your new best friend was a mill dog. But if you see signs of these behaviors and struggles, if you try hard to correct and teach but it seems to be going at a snails pace, then maybe you have a reclamation job on your hands. You made the choice of THIS dog for reason, make that the beacon you focus on as you work through the issues and help this animal transition to their new life.

There are hundreds of online resources, or printed books, on this subject, so help is out there. Be honest with yourself and the dog, create a plan, have a road map drawn from the start to the desired destination, then don’t quit until you’ve reached the end of your journey.  You can be each other heroes, and best friends for life.

This brings to a close another edition of our Dog Blog. The key points to consider, “adopt, don’t shop”, have a plan and follow it till the end, don’t give up if it takes longer than expected, and love conquers all… eventually. We hope this information was enlightening and educational. The road to Oz isn’t always traveled on a Yellow Brick road.  Sometime you have to take the long and winding path to get to the same location. Either way, if you’re traveling with purpose, a friend by your side, the journey is well worth the effort.

We hope you have a fantastic week ahead. It’s Mothers Day on Sunday, so be sure to recognize all the Mothers out there… fur and flesh. We hope to see you back next week as we tackle another subject, as you find out what #FreddieSez.

To see what one actual puppy mill looks like, follow the link below to the Humane Society video