Puppy Mills Are Terrible, So We Explained Them In Cartoons

What exactly is a puppy mill?

A puppy mill is a commercial operation that breeds puppies for profit, over and over again and often in excess. The puppies are sold to pet shops, sometimes before they're weaned from their mothers.

Though legal puppy mills are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, the standards are tragically low. (More on this later.) There are about 10,000 legal and illegal puppy mills operating within the U.S., according to 2015 data provided to The Dodo from The Humane Society of the United States, and more than 2 million puppies are sold from these facilities annually. Meanwhile, we euthanize roughly 3 million healthy shelter pets each year.

What is life like for dogs and puppies in puppy mills?

Both the dogs and the puppies in puppy mills are typically kept in squalid conditions. According to the Animal Welfare Act, it is perfectly legal to keep a dog in a wire cage, stacked on top of other wire cages, for the dog's entire life. Because of this legal leeway, the animals are often packed in tightly together, standing in their own waste. Some puppy mills have up to 1,000 breeding dogs at a time - and these mother dogs rarely make it out of the facilities alive.

What's the business model of a puppy mill?

The main motivator in puppy mill operations is quantity, not quality. The more puppies that can be produced, the more money the breeders can make. This means that very little attention is usually paid to a puppy's health or upbringing in the puppy mill environment, and the puppies often have congenital illnesses or behavioral problems. They may also arrive at the pet store sick with kennel cough, mange, heartworm and other ailments.

Meanwhile, many shelters are full to the gills - in part because puppy mills keep driving pet overpopulation.

Puppy mills also tend to falsify the information on a puppy's papers when they sell them to a pet store. Though a pup's papers may say he's old enough for adoption, that may not actually be the case. Puppy mill puppies are often taken from their mothers and siblings when they're just 6 weeks old, which can have lasting effects on their ability to socialize with other dogs.

What's the solution?

If you are looking to add a furry member to your family, consider adoption first and foremost. Even if a pet store claims that their puppies come from "USDA-licensed breeders," such a claim is meaningless: Every breeder who sells to a pet store is required to be licensed by the USDA, and most puppy mills have USDA licenses. By adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue organization, you are not giving money to or supporting the existence of puppy mills. If you are looking for a certain breed, breed-specific rescue groups are available to show you purebreds that are also in need of loving homes.

You can also push for more legislation regarding puppy mills by contacting your state representative. Tougher laws for pet stores and breeders can help squeeze the puppy mill industry. Just this week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that will require pet stores that sell dogs to tell their consumers exactly where the animals come from.

The less the demand for store-bought puppies, the greater the likelihood that puppy mills can be eliminated. Consider opening up your heart and home to a dog in need - because there are a bunch out there.

Your pup will be grateful!

All illustrations by Lindsey Robertson