'Horrible 100': Where The Worst Puppy Mills In U.S. Are Found

Problem puppy mills — high volume breeding operations where females sometimes have multiple litters in a year and their offspring are often kept in tiny, filthy cages —were called out in 17 states in the seventh annual “Horrible 100” recently released by the Humane Society of the United States.

The Humane Society researchers found instances of dogs found shivering in the cold; dogs with only frozen buckets of water available or no water at all; dogs with untreated wounds; sick puppies that had not been treated by a veterinarian; and underweight dogs with their ribs and spines showing.

Twenty-seven of the dealers in the report are repeat offenders who have appeared in one of more the previous reports on puppy mills, the Humane Society said.

The states with the most problem puppy mills on the “Horrible 100” list are largely in the Midwest. Missouri and Iowa topped the list with 22 and 13 problem puppy mills, respectively, the report said. The states on the list, in order of the number of puppy mills called out in the report, are:

Missouri (22)
Iowa (13)
Pennsylvania (12)
Ohio (8)
New York (7)
Wisconsin (7)
Nebraska (6)
Kansas (6)
Texas (4)
Arkansas (3)
Georgia (3)
Indiana (3)
Illinois (2)
Maryland (1)
Massachusetts (1)
Michigan (1)
Oklahoma (1)

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Rather than purchase a dog online or through a breeder, it’s better to visit a reputable rescue shelter.

The Humane Society emphasized the list doesn’t include the worst puppy mills, as many operate in secrecy and aren’t subject to regulatory oversight and inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is required to inspect dog breeding kennels if they have five or more breeding females and sell sight-unseen puppies through pet stores or online.

“The information in this report demonstrates the scope of the puppy mill problem in America today, with specific examples of the types of violations that researchers have found at such facilities, for the purposes of warning consumers about the inhumane conditions that so many puppy buyers inadvertently support,” the Humane Society said in a statement.

The Humane Society noted a steep decline in enforcement by the USDA over the past two years, and said the agency is working to “weaken even the most basic rules that protect animals.”

In May 2018, the USDA revised the guide inspectors use to eliminate requirements to identify suffering animals or require veterinary examinations for those that are sick. Even when reports show inspectors found injured or emaciated animals, “they sometimes did not cite the issue as a ‘direct’ or ‘critical’ violation” that would trigger a follow-up inspection, the Humane Society said.

When inspectors don’t require that breeders or dealers with acutely ill dogs take them to a veterinarian, disease outbreaks such as canine brucellosis, which can be passed from dogs to humans. In dogs, the disease causes infertility, spontaneous abortions and stillbirths. In humans, symptoms can include fever, sweats, headache, joint pain and weakness, according to state health officials in Iowa, where the state veterinarian confirmed an outbreak of canine brucellosis earlier this month.

With weaker regulatory standards, outbreaks such as this will become more common, the Humane Society warned, noting that USDA records show that in some instances, owners of the sick dogs were only required to call a veterinarian for advice during inspections and veterinarians weren’t required to physically see the dogs.

Agency inspectors documented 60 percent fewer violations at licensed facilities in 2018 versus 2017, The Washington Post reported. In fact, The Post reported in a follow-up story, of the 39 written warnings in the first three quarters of 2018, it settled only one complaint against a puppy mill.

Troubling to the Humane Society is a pilot program launched by the USDA in 2018 that would alert some dog-breeding operations in advance of visits by inspectors, and its decision to devote limited resources to inspections of nonprofit dog rescue operations that receive only reimbursement for its expenses.

“In fact, while the USDA was pursuing small, cash-strapped rescues, it appeared to ignore problems at some of the massive dog breeding operations we identified in our prior reports, including Georgia Puppies, which state authorities finally closed down after finding more than 700 dogs in shockingly poor conditions in early 2019.”

The Humane Society noted the USDA did take a step forward in March with a proposed rule that would prevent dog sellers who have had their licenses revoked from obtaining a new license under a family member’s name. The rule, if finalized, would also prevent chronically noncompliant breeders from automatically obtaining license renewals, as well as require dog breeders to obtain annual veterinary examinations for each dog and provide a continual source of water.

“While the proposed rule is a good start, if the USDA is not diligently and accurately citing breeders for egregious problems, then the relicensing part of the rule would be moot,” the Humane Society pointed out in its report.

The Humane Society said the agency also needs to do more to improve living conditions for dogs and eliminate currently allowed practices such as housing dogs in stacked wire cages and on wire or gridded flooring.

Members of the public can weigh in on the proposed rule here.

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