Puppy mills came into existence after World War II. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encouraged farmers to raise puppies for supplemental income when traditional crops were failing. Retail pet stores sprang up, and a new group of puppy brokers began to act as middlemen. In the last half-century, commercial puppy production has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry.
People who buy puppies that have been bred and sold irresponsibly support cruelty and perpetuate the production of dogs with serious physical and mental problems. For the sake of the dogs, and yourself, please be informed and responsible when you get your new dog.
Most puppy millers know and care little about choosing physically and mentally sound breeding dogs. Most have little in the way of capital, so they start their businesses with poor facilities and poorly bred dogs. They house their dogs in deplorable conditions. The dogs often live in filth and get little or no exercise. They are fed cheap, poor-quality food. They get substandard health care, no screening for inherited diseases, no proper prenatal care, and little if any socialization or affection. Bitches are bred every heat until they can no longer produce puppies. Then they are often killed, dumped, or just left to languish until they die. Millers usually keep a few male dogs, who are bred as much as possible as long as they are fertile.
Make no mistake—puppy mill dogs are not beloved companions for their owners. They're money makers, and when they can no longer make money, they're of no use. Some states in the Midwest, as well as areas of Pennsylvania and other states, are notorious for puppy mills, but they exist throughout the United States and in other countries as well.
A puppy mill produces lots and lots of puppies with only one motive: to make money. Puppy mills are usually overcrowded with dogs, and the dogs are usually neglected and may be abused because there are just too many of them to be given proper attention and care. Puppy millers don't care where the puppies end up once they're paid for, and don't socialize the pups for proper mental and social development. Pet wholesalers (brokers) buy puppies in quantity from puppy mills and resell them, usually to pet stores.
Puppies from puppy mills are often damaged before they're even born. Poor nutrition for a pregnant or nursing bitch can cause permanent physical and mental problems in her unborn puppies. The puppies are often ill, infested with parasites, and improperly socialized. It's not a very good beginning for a dog chosen to fulfill your wishes for a healthy, happy companion.
Puppies from puppy mills are usually sold to pet wholesalers or brokers, who buy puppies in large numbers from puppy mills in the United States and abroad, and then sell or trade them to other wholesalers or to pet stores. When operating across state lines, brokers have to be licensed by the USDA, and they have to follow the shipping regulations provided for in the Animal Welfare Act. Those requirements, however, are minimal and not always strictly enforced. To a broker, puppies are strictly a commodity, like furniture and clothes.
One term that is confusing because it is used very differently by the USDA on the one hand and the AKC on the other is the term hobby breeder. The USDA defines a hobby breeder as someone who sells puppies directly to pet stores, but owns no more than three breeding bitches and who grosses less than $500 per year. USDA hobby breeders do not need to be USDA licensed, so there is no regulation of their facilities or practices except in the rare places where local laws are in place (and those aren't usually enforced unless someone complains).
The term hobby breeder is used in very different ways by different people. Some use the USDA definition, which is essentially a small-time breeder of puppies for distribution through pet stores. Others use the term to mean a responsible, serious breeder who places puppies carefully and directly with individual buyers. If someone tells you he's a hobby breeder, be sure you know which definition he has in mind.
The confusion arises because serious dog fanciers and breeders use the term hobby breeder in a very different way. For this group, a hobby breeder is someone who usually breeds only one breed (or possibly two), and who has a well-planned breeding program designed to protect and improve the breed. Such breeders usually have only one or two litters a year and may skip some years. They regard puppies as living, feeling beings and provide them with a clean, safe environment, proper food, health care, exercise, and socialization. They sell puppies directly to individuals whom they first screen to be sure the pup will be well cared for. So if someone tells you she is a “hobby breeder,” be sure you find out what she means by the term.