Humane Society Names Its 'Horrible Hundred' Offenders

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

puppy mills

Story at-a-glance -

  • In the puppy mills or facilities where puppies are produced through unscrupulous means, breeders focus on spending as little as possible to turn the biggest profit, and in the process, both dogs and puppies suffer
  • All too often, dogs kept in puppy mills are neglected and mistreated and sometimes bear one litter after another, with minimal or no recovery time in between
  • While running a puppy mill is not against the law, the Animal Welfare Act, which falls under the jurisdiction of the USDA, requires large-scale commercial breeding facilities to be licensed and regularly inspected by the USDA
  • The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) annually publishes The Horrible Hundred, a list of 100 problem puppy mills, to alert consumers and remind government agencies not to forget their responsibilities
  • Animal advocates say puppy mills would go out of business if people stopped buying puppies at pet stores and instead obtained them from rescue shelters or reputable breeders

While many of us are dog lovers and puppy advocates, it’s wise to be aware that not everyone has the best intentions when they appear to have a similar keen interest in dogs. Sadly, the people who run puppy mills — also known as commercial dog-breeding operations — have only one thing in mind: money.

The Humane Society1 says there are about 190,000 dogs in captivity for the specific purpose of producing puppies for sale, but these types of breeding facilities focus on spending as little as possible to turn the biggest profit, and in the process, both dogs and puppies suffer.

All too often, dogs kept in puppy mills are neglected and mistreated, underfed and underweight, and left without protection in unbearably hot conditions in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. Kept in cages that are too small and where sanitary conditions are not a priority, they’re also confined in staggering numbers, all used for the same purpose, sometimes bearing one litter after another, with minimal or no recovery time in between.2

Three Million Dogs explains, “Essentially, puppy mill dogs are prisoners and their sole purpose in life is to make more puppies.”3 Finally, the Puppy Mill Project4 discloses, rather than practicing humane euthanasia when dogs no longer serve a useful purpose, they’re killed, sometimes by being shot or even drowned.

Loopholes and ‘Inefficiencies’

According to the Humane Society, running a puppy mill is not against the law. However, the Animal Welfare Act,5 passed in 1966, which falls under the jurisdiction of the USDA, requires large-scale commercial breeding centers to be both licensed and regularly inspected by the USDA.

The problem is that loopholes and “inefficiencies” allow a large number of shady operations to slip through the radar, so to speak. While the large-scale facilities are regulated because they’re “wholesale,” smaller operations can breed and sell as many puppies as they’d like, especially when the transactions are face-to-face, but without any standards required by the Animal Welfare Act.

In response, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) annually publishes a list of 100 puppy mills and “dog sellers,” called The Horrible Hundred,6 to alert consumers of the existence of puppy mills and the many problems they cause, as well as to remind government agencies, principally the USDA, as well as local agricultural entities, not to forget their responsibilities.

According to dvm360,7 if there are five or more breeding female dogs in a facility, or the facility sells puppies to customers through a pet store, online or other sight-unseen techniques, the USDA is required to inspect them in each state. After the 2018 Horrible Hundred list came out, some of the dealers appeared to be out of business. Others may still be operating but have been penalized. According to Kitty Block, president and CEO of the HSUS, in an interview with dvm360:

“A few of the dealers listed have been shut down by local authorities or were urged to close voluntarily, due to ongoing and uncorrected violations … A few others have cleaned up their facilities to acceptable levels due to the increased scrutiny.”8

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How Can Puppy Mills Stay in Business?

Often the puppies born in such mills are sold to brokers as early as 8 weeks of age, and then handed off to retailers who market them to customers, often through sites as varied as classified newspaper ads, social media or flea markets.9 Three Million Dogs contends that puppy mills would go out of business if people stopped buying puppies at pet stores and instead obtained them from rescue shelters or reputable breeders. Further:

“Puppy mills exist because people continue to buy their puppies from pet stores, instead of rescues, shelters or reputable breeders. They take their new pet home, and still have no idea that the pups were most likely born in a place like this. A reputable breeder will never sell their pups to be resold at a pet store.”10

During inspections, if puppies are sick and haven’t been seen by a veterinarian, dogs are found with untreated wounds, their ribs are sticking out because they haven’t been fed properly, they’ve had nothing to drink because it’s frozen over — or they have no water at all — those are considered violations.

The 2019 Horrible Hundred report,11 which was the seventh issued, called out 27 puppy mill dealers for being repeat offenders. Missouri has topped the list for seven years as the state having the largest number of problem dog breeding operations — 22 of them; 13 in Iowa; 12 in Pennsylvania and eight in Ohio.

Block says veterinarians often see the impact of unscrupulous puppy mill operators when sick puppies are brought in by owners who never thought to question where their puppies came from. Many of these owners end up spending hundreds or thousands of dollars and only afterward learn where their puppy came from.

Block notes, “In a field already fraught with compassion fatigue, circumstances like this only exacerbate the situation.”12 According to HSUS officials, local inspection records are unavailable if states don’t have kennel inspection laws in place, but when they do, there are often more dealers listed in the report. However:

“In contrast, states such as Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee don’t inspect dog breeding kennels at all, and therefore have few to no dealers in the report simply because documentation is scant.”13

Is the USDA Doing Its Job in Regard to Puppy Mills?

An added problem is that the USDA seems to be failing to adequately monitor and deal with violations, as evidenced by a report in The Washington Post that there were 60% fewer licensed facilities in 2018 compared to 2017, just as an example of the failure to enforce where enforcements are due.14

Worse, the USDA started a pilot program that instituted notifications to some puppy mill facilities that inspections would be taking place. Also of concern are instances where small, nonprofit pet rescues were slated for inspection, when their only reimbursements were for expenses and fees for transporting pets, making it unlikely that they’re in it for the money.

At the same time, the USDA is accused of ignoring egregious problems with some of the largest facilities having some of the most serious violations. When contacted by HSUS for a response, USDA spokesperson Andre Bell responded:

“We are dedicated to conducting quality inspections and providing assistance to facilities with compliance challenges … In FY 2017, USDA conducted 2,727 inspections of breeding facilities and found that 97 percent of them were in substantial compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requirements.”15

When the USDA redacted the names and license numbers of breeders and the names of individual kennel, HSUS said its researchers continued publishing the Horrible Hundred report to identify many of the most serious offenders for consumers. Currently, a legislative clash is ongoing as HSUS seeks, through the Freedom of Information Act, to get the redactions removed.