Puppy Mills, Pandemics, Disaster Preparedness, and Decency

The COVID-19 situation shows why it's time to close them down once and for all.

Posted Mar 22, 2020

Closing puppy mills and kitten factories is a form of disaster preparedness

Puppy mills and their cat equivalents, kitten mills or factories, still exist throughout the United States. The website Bailing Out Benji contains incredibly detailed state-by-state information without sharing graphic images, and is a factual gold mine and an outstanding educational resource. 

There are a lot of puppy mills in the U.S. The International Society for Animal Rights (ISAR) notes, "There are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in 47 states and Puerto Rico, with the majority being located in the Midwestern United States and Great Plains, including Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. On the East Coast, Pennsylvania is notorious for puppy mills, with Lancaster County having the greatest concentration of puppy mills in the country." (There's no shortage of information on these horrific businesses.) 

Puppy mills and kitten factories are a well-kept secret of the pet-trade industry. I've learned that numerous people don't know about them—especially kitten mills—and the routine violence and sexual abuse that occurs at these horrific breeding factories in which females are used as breeding machines and when they're used up and can no longer make babies they're often killed, dumped, or sold. Males, too, are forced to make more dogs.

People need to know the facts. and here I'll focus on dogs, but much of what I write applies to our feline friends. During the past few weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic spread globally, I've been inundated with questions about how companion animals are faring and will fare as this virus rapidly spreads globally, respecting no borders. Numerous people are concerned about whether or not dogs, for example, can serve as vectors for the coronavirusthey can't—and why we continue "making more dogs" when there are so many dogs who need forever homes.

A note from Colorado resident, Pauline, read, "There were so many dogs who needed homes before the COVID-19 outbreak, and now there are many more." She went on to ask, "Isn't this as good a reason as any to close them down?" I responded that she was right on the mark with her question. 

During this pandemic, dogs are being relinquished in record numbers, so there are more dogs who need to housed and hopefully be fostered and rescued. However, there are also reductions in adoptions resulting in overcrowding, and some shelters are closing adoptions or totally closing down. In my home state of Colorado, "The Dumb Friends League Solutions—Veterinary Hospital (SVH) is the only subsidized veterinary hospital in Colorado, and it is being overwhelmed by demand. Just yesterday [March 17, 2020], SVH received calls from 374 pet owners who needed help. While our team is doing all they can to serve the needs of this community, it is impossible to meet the demand. Donating to SVH helps us serve this population, which, with current unemployment rates in Colorado, is expected to increase drastically."

The COVID-19 demands we revisit what happens at puppy mills and kitten factories.

"An estimated 167,388 breeding dogs are currently living in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-licensed commercial facilities for breeding purposes this very moment.*There are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the United States (this includes both licensed and unlicensed facilities). Over 2 million puppies bred in mills each year. An estimated 1.2 million dogs are euthanized in shelters every year. Thousands of commercially-bred puppies are shipped into Illinois and sold from Illinois pet stores each year." —The Puppy Mill Project

Now is as good a time as any to revisit puppy mills, kitten factories and what happens with the animals who live and are made there. When I talked with Erwin a few days ago about puppy mills and why they still existed, he and his partner were thinking about rescuing a dog and he offered that the pandemic would be a great time to begin to shut them down because "we surely don't need any more dogs and these dogs will have no place to go." When I asked him what he meant, he mentioned that pet shops will likely have to close down and shelters will be overwhelmed with dogs and cats needing temporary or forever homes.

I agree, and I hope that by publicizing what happens at puppy mills and kitten mills, more and more people will become aware of the violence and abuse that go on in these places. According to The Humane Society of the United States

"A puppy mill is an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers. Dogs from puppy mills are often sick and unsocialized. Puppy mills commonly sell through internet sales, online classified ads, flea markets and pet stores. In fact, the majority of puppies sold in pet stores and online are from puppy mills. Responsible breeders will be happy to meet you in person and show you where the puppy was born and raised—and where their mom lives too."

Closing down puppy mills isn't some sort of "radical animal rights" move as some claim it to be. In fact, it's all about decency. It's about showing respect and compassion and honoring who dogs and cats really are—deeply feeling sentient beings.

Some states and cities have already banned or are in the process of banning puppy mills and selling commercially bred dogs and cats in retail stores. Shutting down the "puppy mill to pet store pipeline" or "the puppy pipeline" is essential, because stores, online sites, dog brokers, auctions, and transporters serve as outlets for puppy mill produced dogs. In a data-packed essay by Helaine Olen called "We all hate puppy mills. States are finally taking action" we're told, "At the beginning of 2016, about 100 U.S. cities had forbidden them, but the number has approximately tripled since then. States are also getting in on it: California, Maryland and Maine no longer allow such sales."2

Let's briefly consider Colorado, where there are at least 25 puppy mills and more than 1,300 trapped dogs. Unfortunately, people in power don't always walk their walk. For example, despite what we read above, in early February 2020 Colorado legislators failed to pass a watered-down puppy mill bill called the "Humane Pet Act." Even people who clearly know what happens in these hellholes didn't support the original bill or the diluted version on which they voted, which really was a form of disaster preparedness. The current COVID-19 pandemic clearly shows this is so. 

The wonderful news for Coloradans is that an emergency exception for the state's pet animals in need of foster care was passed on March 21, 2020. This will really help dogs and cats in need because it will facilitate their rescue and at the same time frees up much-needed space at already overcrowded pet animal care facilities. You can't give dogs and other companion animals too much love, and it surely will be a win-win for all. We're very important for their psychological and spiritual health and they are very important for ours. And, a leading veterinary diagnostic company sees no COVID-19 cases in pets.

I hope more and more people will pay more attention to what happens in puppy mills and kitten factories.No one I know would ever put their own dog into a puppy mill. They are non-essential businesses and it's time to close them down. 

Calling dogs "our best friends" is a fabrication and a myth that isn't based on reality. Nonhumans, including dogs and cats, need all the help they can get, and humans also will benefit from such efforts. It's a win-win for all. 


Note: These statistics are sourced from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) 2014 Puppy Mill Facts and Figures report (available here) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Pet Statistics (link here). For more information on puppy mills click here, and for more information on kitten factories, click here

Angilly, Mary. Dogs in Gilded Cages: Surviving, but Not Thriving.

Bekoff, Marc. Colorado Legislators View Dogs as Disposable Commodities. (Considering the "Humane Pet Act" as disaster preparedness is enlightening.)

"I Sure Wouldn't Put My Dog in a Puppy Mill, Would You?" (I was thrilled when a 10-year-old asked me this question.)

Colorado's "Humane Pet Act" Fails in Committee. (This shameful move against dogs and cats allows horrific abuse to continue.)

The Doggie in the Window: Izzie, Pet Stores, and Puppy Mills

What Pet Owners and Vets Need to Know About COVID-19

"I'm a Mess About My Dogs and Coronavirus—How Will They Do?"

Are Dogs Really Our Best Friends or Family? )An analysis of data from 107,597 dog welfare complaints is very discouraging.)

Why Dogs Matter. (Dogs matter because they're alive, have intrinsic value, and are feeling beings.)

Should We Still Make Future Dogs in a Crowded Canine World?


Dale, Steve, Why Are Puppy Mills Allowed to Operate?

Folley, Aris. Maryland officially bans pet stores from selling dogs from puppy mills


Kangas, Cathy. Shut Down Puppy MillsHuffington Post.

Paxton, Pete with Gene Stone. Rescue Dogs: Where They Come From, Why They Act the Way They Do, and How to Love Them Well. Tarcher/Perigee, New York, 2019. (Contains detailed discussion about puppy mills. For an interview with Pete Paxton see Rescue Dogs: Who They Are and the Joys of Rehoming Them.)

ASPCA. The Puppy Pipeline.

The Puppy Mill Project. About puppy mills

Combating Puppy and Kitten Mills with Legislation. Best Friends.

Puppy Mills: Puppy mills are a well-kept secret of the pet-trade industry.

Leading Veterinary Diagnostic Company Sees No COVID-19 Cases in Pets. 

More information on states and cities that have banned puppy mills or are working such legislation can be seen here and in a document called Puppy Mill Laws By State