Defeating Puppy Mills


In the 25 years I’ve worked at the Berkshire Humane Society, I’ve talked to many people who come to the shelter to surrender their dogs.  Sometimes, it’s because circumstances have changed for the family, but most often it’s because of concerns about the dog’s behavior.

“I’ve read every manual and watched every video there is on housebreaking a dog and I still cannot housetrain this dog.”  “She sulks around all the time and tries to hide.  She does not want to interact with us.”   “We’ve spent a fortune at different veterinary hospitals to try to find out why he scratches himself until he bleeds.  They say it’s allergies, but we can’t spend any more to find out what he is allergic to.”  She doesn’t like the kids. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t like anyone.”  “He bites for no reason.”  “Sometimes she is so fearful you’d think monsters were coming through the door, but there is nothing there.”

Far too often, these problems are seen in dogs who came from puppy mills. Although the problems aren’t exclusive to these dogs, the fact is that puppy mill dogs who are surrendered to animal shelters nearly always have health or behavior problems.

Puppy Mills Put Profit over Animal Welfare

Puppy mills are breeding factories for dogs that act as commercial kennels. The majority of puppy mills are located in rural areas in Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma and in the Amish settlements of Pennsylvania.

These facilities seek to maximize profits by reducing costs. As volume businesses, puppy mills provide only minimal care for individual animals. The dogs are kept in cramped wire cages in sheds that often lack any climate control. Some of the puppies die from exposure. Because of the huge numbers of puppies bred –2 million per year—the loss of some percentage of puppies is considered part of the cost of doing business.

The worst suffering, however, is endured by the female dogs kept for breeding. They are bred repeatedly until, at the age of four or five years, they are so depleted and worn out, that they are no longer profitable. Once dogs are no longer producing litters, they are killed. It’s an inhumane end to a short, brutal life. The dogs never receive any exercise or veterinary care.  They are frequently “debarked” by having a metal rod shoved down their throats to destroy their vocal chords.  Without anesthesia, it’s a painful and frightening experience for the dogs. If the procedure is botched, the dog may bleed to death. The breeding population may be replenished by puppies who can’t be sold because they are born with defects or deformities.

On the rare occasions where dogs are rescued from puppy mills, they often cannot be rehabilitated. Good veterinary care can help puppy mill dogs who have infected sores from malnutrition and constant exposure to filth. The dogs can be bathed and groomed –often by shaving their fur down to the skin because they are so matted and dirty. But dogs who have spent their entire lives in small cages with no experience of human kindness may never learn to trust humans. With glazed over eyes, they withdraw from any human touch. Some dogs simply never recover.

Puppy Mills are Big Business

Almost all – about 98% — of the puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills. Puppy mills sell their puppies to brokers who gather large shipments from several mills. The puppies are packed into trucks and shipped over long distances to pet stores throughout the United States. Some puppies die before they ever reach the store. Many are sick when they arrive.


The business of puppy mills extends well beyond the mills themselves. The American Kennel Club (AKC) benefits financially by providing registration papers for litters sold by puppy mills. It’s a lucrative arrangement for the AKC. Contrary to their pledge to support the welfare of all dogs, AKC has repeatedly opposed legislation that would restrict puppy mills or help these dogs.


What You Can Do


Ending puppy mills requires education, legislation, and a personal commitment to refuse support for this industry. Western Massachusetts residents can help in three ways.


  1. Adopt. Don’t Shop. The best way to show your commitment to a better life for all dogs is to pledge to adopt family pets from a rescue organization or shelter. This helps to support these organizations, removes your financial support of puppy mills, and provides a loving home to a deserving animal.


  1. Support Legislation to End Puppy Mills. The only way to end the abuses that are an inherent part of the puppy mill industry is through state-wide bans. Recently, the state of California passed legislation that limits the sale of pets in pet stores to rescue animals. A new bill in the Massachusetts Senate, S.470 would ban the sale of cats and dogs from commercial kennels in pet stores throughout the state. Currently, more than 22 cities around the country, including Boston, have enacted similar legislation.  One of our Berkshire Representatives, Smitty Pignatelli, is the house chair of the committee that this bill currently is in. Please contact Representative Pignatelli and ask him to support this bill and vote it favorably out of committee.

Call him at 617-722-2210. You can follow up with a quick email:

You can also follow this and other current animal legislation by joining the mspca’s animal action team at

  1. Attend the November 9th Screening of the Documentary Dog by Dog at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.  The film follows the puppy mill money trail across the U.S., confronting the people who profit from this corrupt system. The event, offered by the museum in conjunction with the Berkshire Humane Society and Berkshire Voters for Animals will take place on November 9th, at 7 pm at the museum. It will include important information about legislation affecting the puppy mill industry. Tickets are $7.50 ($5.00 for Berkshire Museum members). A portion of ticket sales will benefit Berkshire Humane Society. For more information contact

Judith Embry is a member of

Berkshire Voters for Animals


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