What are they? Wikipedia describes them in this way: "A puppy mill, sometimes known as a puppy farm, is a commercial dog breeding facility that is operated with an emphasis upon profits above animal welfare and is often in substandard conditions regarding the well-being of dogs in their care."
Although accurate, it is an incredibly diplomatic way to describe the horrific conditions in which these dogs live. Correction, they don't live, they barely exist.
There are varying ideas of what exactly constitutes a "puppy mill". However, everyone will agree that the following is an accurate description and although extreme, an all too common a practice of puppy mills. Where to begin; there is so very much wrong with these places.
Puppy mills are run by people who breed dogs for profit. Now, there's nothing wrong with making money or even making a profit. The problem with these people is that they are beyond irresponsible and are actually cruel and negligent to these animals. Their greed is so intense that they will have anywhere from several dozen to hundreds of dogs and the health and welfare of the dogs is not just compromised, it's completely disregarded. From the first time a dog is able to get pregnant (as early as 6 months of age) she is bred to have puppies. Depending on the breed each female dog could have 2-4 litters every year. It's not healthy for them to do so, but these irresponsible millers will make every effort to capitalize on every breeding opportunity. They are interbred and bred with dogs that have health issues that will be passed on to the puppies. These female dogs will spend their entire lives pregnant. When they can no longer breed they are put to death; usually with a hammer to the head because euthanasia through a Veterinarian costs money.
Having so many dogs barking and yapping constantly is not in the millers' best interest. It could alert outsiders to the puppy mill site and is quite likely annoying to the millers who keep these poor animals in a tortured state. Many puppy mills "debark" some of the dogs. This requires that some of the vocal cords are clipped resulting in the bark becoming more of a whisper. That, in itself, is a controversial topic as scar tissue can develop in the dog's throat making it difficult for the dog to breathe. Personally I don't agree with this procedure at all. However, if this must be done, it is possible for a Veterinarian to do this through surgery using anaesthetics. A puppy mill, however, will not spend the money for this procedure. They perform it themselves by shoving a large, metal pipe down the dog's throat. Assuming they haven't killed the dog by missing, they will have ruptured the vocal cords. This is done with NO anaesthetics and I don't believe for a moment that it is pain free. There is no protection; and no medical attention afterward.
They are only fed barely enough food to keep them alive. The quality of the food is substandard; the cheapest the millers can get away with. Often the food consists of what was swept up from the floor of dog food manufacturers. There is so little nutritional value in this food that the dogs' teeth rot at very early ages. The dog dishes are never cleaned and maggots are often present in the food. The water bowls never have clean water and often contain urine and feces from the crates stacked above. There is no protection; and no medical attention afterward.
The dogs are kept in small cages, often too small for the dogs to move around. Often there are several dogs in on cage. If a fight takes place, there's nowhere to hide or get away from the attacker. There's no protection; and no medical attention afterwards. So open wounds are left open to get infected, and body parts that are bitten off or broken are left unattended.
Typically these are wire cages which are never cleaned, so the dogs have no choice but to sit in their own excrement causing their open wounds to be infected and often causing diseases. It's common for their paws to get stuck in the holes of the cages and their legs get badly cut or broken by the wire while they are on their own to free themselves. There is no protection; and no medical attention afterward.
The dogs are never removed from the cages, never free to roam about, never walk on the ground or the grass. They're never loved, or hugged, or petted, or brushed. Their coats are so badly matted they often need to be shaved right down to the skin. Severe matting causes very serious health issues; bacterial and fungal infections. Untreated mats become bigger and tighter. This pulls on the dogs' skin and is very painful. No air can get under the mat and any moisture can't dry. Shedding hair gets caught in the matting and ultimately rots. The dogs' skin becomes irritated and ulcerated. Fleas, ticks, and other parasites nest and breed in the dogs coat causing further skin infections. Severe matting is grounds for charges of animal cruelty. In a puppy mill there is no protection; and no medical attention.
The dogs and their cages may or may not be sheltered in a garage or broken down barn, but they are not protected from extreme temperatures. Many dogs suffer from exposure as there is no heat to keep them warm so they have to endure freezing temperatures in the winter time. The heat is so intense in the summer that many of the already weakened dogs suffer from heat stroke, and some of the delicate puppies literally fry to their death on the hot wire cages. In a puppy mill there is no protection; and no medical attention.
Because of the horrific conditions these dogs are forced to live in, the dogs end up with countless diseases which are passed on to their new litters. Some of the common conditions are hip dysplasia, kidney disease, respiratory disorders, eye problems (including retinal atrophy, glaucoma, and many others), deafness, heart disease, and many other serious health problems. It's common for puppy mill puppies to arrive in your home with fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites, distemper, upper respiratory infections, mange, pneumonia, heartworm, and these just name a few. In a puppy mill there is no protection; and no medical attention.
When you buy a puppy, you may not be aware that it's from a puppy mill. You bring this adorable puppy home and you love him/her, and you play with him, and he/she very quickly owns your heart. A few months later your puppy get sick and you take him to the vet. Over the next few months you've spent thousands of dollars in an attempt to restore the health of your beloved new pet. Within too few months your beautiful new puppy has died because of a disease or genetic defect caused by the over breeding, inbreeding, and the unsanitary conditions at the puppy mill; and a part of your heart goes with him. Now you, too, have become a victim of the horrible, cruel conditions of the puppy mill.
How did that happen? How did you get a puppy mill puppy? You bought him from a reputable pet store. Or maybe you answered an ad in the paper, or bought him on kijiji or e-Bay. Or perhaps you were well aware, but you wanted to "rescue" this one puppy and believed you were doing the right thing. Unfortunately, by rescuing that one puppy you've supported and encouraged the entire puppy mill industry and confirmed to them that there is a market for them to continue torturing these animals. There is only one way to stop the greed of the puppy mill breeder. No customers. No customers equals no profits, and that's the only reason puppy mills exist. Most pet stores sell puppy mill dogs. Some know exactly where these puppies come from and lie about it, and others buy from a third party or broker and are lied to about it. Often the lineage papers are falsified to give the illusion of a pure bred dog. It is an educated guess that there are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in the United States alone. Because puppy mills try to stay in hiding, no one knows for certain. But it is estimated that 60 million puppies are born in puppy mills each year. This is much more than "just a problem". This is a catastrophe of pandemic proportions.
It would be fabulous to have enforceable government legislation to prevent puppy mills. That would help, but it will not eliminate them. There's only one thing that will truly put an end to them completely... an educated public. Only YOU have the power to truly stop them. Millions of dogs are put to sleep each year because of overcrowding. There is really no need to support puppy mills. There is an endless supply of good healthy dogs to adopt; many of them purebreds. Contact your local animal shelter or humane society. If you have your heart set on a puppy or a particular breed of pet, go to a legitimate, licensed breeder. You may have to wait a bit for the proper timing of the next litter, but it will absolutely be worth it. Legitimate breeders breed for the love of these animals; they are committed to improving the breed. Their dogs are well cared for, and the parents are screened for genetic diseases. To find a good breeder you can start by asking your local Veterinarian for a referral.
Here's a tip to ensuring you're dealing with a legitimate agency or breeder. A true, reliable breeder will never sell to a pet store. You will likely be asked to fill out an application and go through an interview process before you are given a dog. If someone just gives you a dog because you want one and have money; that should be a huge "red flag". Good breeders and shelters are interested in matching our canine friends with appropriate, responsible families that will treat the dog properly and give the dog a good home.
You should always be welcome to visit the home where your potential new dog was born and raised to date. If, for any reason, you are refused this request, you are likely dealing with a puppy mill. Don't get scammed by a puppy mill. Some ads over the internet or in the newspaper may offer "free to a good home" dog. Then they charge $300-$500 for shipping and possibly bogus medical attention (check-ups or shots for example). Don't fall for it! For more information about puppy mills visit the ASPCA (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) http://www.aspca.org