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Shining a light on puppy mills

From Animal Sheltering magazine Fall 2017

Wayne Pacelle and his adopted dog, Lily.

The HSUS’s annual Horrible Hundred reports, based on federal and state inspections of commercial animal breeders, provide a window into some of the nation’s most retrograde puppy mills. The 2017 report shines a light on cruelty of the worst kind: the puppy miller in Missouri who twisted the tails off of puppies instead of getting a veterinarian to dock them; the operator in Kansas with more than 600 dogs living in filthy conditions, some with only barrels for shelter; the Missouri facility crowded with matted and neglected dogs, including one with maggots eating away at his skin.

For the fifth year in a row, Missouri dominates the Horrible Hundred report with 19 problem dealers. Kansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania each have 12 problem dealers called out. Fifty-five of the breeders are chronic offenders who have previously appeared on the Horrible Hundred list. Most of the breeders sell online or to pet stores. We found at least nine dealers selling on, a website linked to problem puppy mills.

The importance of such information became all the more apparent earlier this year. Two weeks after the Trump administration assumed power, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) removed inspection records concerning large-scale dog-breeding operations from its website, along with other information about federally regulated animal enterprises. The reason given was purported “privacy” concerns raised by some of these industries.

We’ve been fighting to reverse this move for months. More than 200 lawmakers in Congress have called for the USDA to restore the data to its website. The only reason we were able to compile this year’s Horrible Hundred report is due to the tenacity of our puppy mills research team, which had already saved many reports from the USDA website before it went dark. They also gathered and reviewed local inspection reports from many states, consumer complaints and court records.

It was Congress that passed the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, and it is Congress that funds inspection activities to the tune of millions of dollars every year. If these federally licensed and registered breeders, exhibitors, research facilities and horse show operators wanted an absolute right to privacy for all records, then they shouldn’t have chosen to do business in a regulated industry.

If commercial breeders want to sell dogs to the public, they should be inspected. That’s what Congress said. No federal court has countermanded Congress’s action to protect animals and provide some level of transparency. Those inspection reports should be available to the public on the internet, since that’s the way information is consumed in the Information Age.

It’s not that the government is doing too much, as puppy mill operators sometimes complain. Rather, it’s been doing too little for a long time. Transparent reporting is just the beginning of the government’s responsibilities; there’s also a duty of enforcement that’s being neglected. Why are people who do such terrible things allowed to continue to operate a commercial enterprise in a nation that abhors these terrible practices? Why are they showing up as repeat offenders in our reports? 

When I think about institutional mistreatment of dogs around the world, U.S. puppy mills and South Korean dog meat farms jump out at me. There are thousands of mills in the U.S. and thousands of meat farms in South Korea. Only intentional campaigning can turn around these problems. When abusive businesses operate in the shadows, they revert to even more intense forms of neglect and cruelty.

Keeping tabs on our government is not a spectator sport. And it is not something that The HSUS can handle alone. Local humane organizations are critical advocates for new laws and robust enforcement. Make a commitment to get involved. Ask your staff, board and supporters to write to the agriculture secretary. Write your federal, state and local lawmakers. An engaged community of advocates is the only antidote to legal animal exploitation.

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About the Author

Wayne Pacelle is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. Under Pacelle's leadership, The HSUS has been approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and is ranked in the top 10 for nonprofit brands.