Puppy Mills

Prisoners of Profit (Puppy Mills)

Lifer. It’s a term used to describe convicted felons sentenced to life imprisonment. It conjures images of harsh surroundings inadequate care and an existence without hope.

Lifer is also the apt term used to describe female dogs kept in puppy mills, sentenced to an existence of continual pregnancy to produce the cash crop of puppies sold in pet shops across the country. These lifers receive little or no human interaction, compassion or companionship. They are kept in small, overcrowded cages, and are often chained together with male dogs for weeks at a time to facilitate breeding. They are forced to become pregnant and deliver litters to the exclusion of healthy, normal canine activities.

Such horrors are all typical sights and conditions documented in an ongoing ASPCA investigation begun in December 1995. Dogs living in squalid, unsanitary circumstances receive less consideration than machines on an assembly line. One facility’s stacked caries forced puppies on the bottom row to be defecated and urinated on collectively by all the animals above them. Lack of adequate veterinary care was illustrated when state regulators documented a rabid 4-month-old -olden retriever bred at a Pennsylvania puppy mill and sold in the western part of the state. As a result, six people have received anti-rabies treatments, including a 6-year-old boy and two veterinarians.


Almost always, the only human concerns given puppy mill dogs are how many litters and how many dollars they can produce. So, it’s no surprise that conditions at puppy mills today are as miserable as ever. But our investigation also revealed some disturbing new trends in this cruel enterprise:

An industry once centered in the Midwest and Great Plains states has now spread east to Pennsylvania and probably upstate New York. The ASPCA uncovered 70 dog breeders in one Pennsylvania county alone: Lancaster has the largest concentration of wholesale puppy breeders in the United States.

Humane organizations and governmental agencies believed previously that the bulk breeding of puppies was considered by operators to be a secondary crop for side income. It is now clear that the puppy mill industry is a major money maker for everyone from the operator to the pet shop owner. According to our investigation, one Pennsylvania breeder sold 1,293 puppies last year for estimated sales of $290.000.

One of the biggest problems we revealed is breeders relinquishing their U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) licenses, thus hoping to escape the regulation of Federal inspectors.

Above the law?

Given authority under the Animal Welfare Act since the 1970's to set and enforce federal standards for sanitation, nutrition, housing and general conditions for dogs wholesalers, the short-staffed corps of USDA inspectors – only 73 nationwide – has tried to regulate puppy mills. But the results have been uneven at best.

Many breeders who have been cited for numerous violations stay in business; the operator who took in $290,000 last year received dozens of citations for overcrowded cages, inadequate sanitation, lack of pest control and substandard feeding and watering of his animals.

And rather than correcting such problems, some of these breeders simply give up their licenses, knowing they will no longer be scrutinized by the USDA if they do. And without vigilance over both puppy mill conditions and the volumes of puppies being produced, the strongest weapon against these abuses, the Animal Welfare Act, is rendered useless.

The conditions documented in our investigation cry out for swift and decisive action. USDA officials need to hear your views on these issues – their authority for enforcing provisions of the Animal Welfare Act is the key to addressing, the inhumane conditions forced upon our nation’s dogs. Inspections of all puppy mill operations must be undertaken immediately with enhanced management attention and support from the highest levels of the USDA. More inspectors are needed. Monitoring and follow-up of violators must be done on a regular and more determined basis. Unlicensed wholesale operators should be prosecuted for engaging in an activity for which a license is, in fact, required. Sanctions against violators must be meted out swiftly, with meaningful penalties, including closure, enforced. Federal and state regulators must work more cooperatively to share Information and coordinate enforcement, as Kylie who fill the pet store pipeline.

Please address correspondence expressing these concerns regarding puppy mill dogs to:
Honorable Dan Glickman
Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
14th & Independence Streets, S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Lifers, pups and the other dogs sentenced to miserable existences must be helped now and their exploiters made to comply with the strictest standards of the law.

Kylie’s Story

Small for her age, the 4-month-old Yorkshire terrier named Kylie huddled in her- box, shivering from fear and illness. For $4oo, she was purchased by one of The “A’s” investigators in a Lancaster, PA, puppy mill operated by Daniel Esh. The investigator was assured by Esh that “(She’s) a healthy puppy.”

When veterinarians at The “A’s” Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital examined Kylie, they saw a medical disaster. Ellen Hirshberg, D.V.M., noted a dog who was very anemic. She wasn’t socialized. She was hypoglycemic, meaning she had low blood sugar and small for her age. She didn’t act like a puppy normally would. Dr. Hirshberg and the Bergh Staff provided the proper attention and good old fashioned veterinary skill. And, probably for the first time in her life, Kylie was treated with love. In fact, Dr. Hirshberg later adopted this lucky Yorkie.

Puppy mill operator Esh, whose words about Kylie’s health proved false, is a study of his industry. Having received numerous notices of violation under the Animal Welfare Act, he has given up his USDA license, but continues to mass produce puppies for sale. We bought Kylie for $400, but had Esh sold her through normal puppy channels, Kylie would have gone to an intermediate second dealer, then a shipper and finally to a pet shop with a consumer price tag of more than $1,000.

Anthony E. Shaw is ASPCA Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer

Courtesy of the ASPCA National Shelter Outreach Department
424 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128-6804
(212) 876-7700