Thanks to television reports, websites, and word-of-mouth, the word “puppy mill” has gone mainstream in just a few years. No longer is the public ignorant of the pain and frustration inflicted on the animals living in these crowded conditions. Many have educated themselves on the subject and pledged never to buy from pet shops again. You know puppy mills are bad news, but exactly where are these places?
The world of puppy mills has two unofficial “capitals.” The “puppy mill capital” of the Midwest is Missouri, while the East Coast version is Lancaster County, PA. Two different regions with the same problem, but what are the motivations for the people who run these puppy mills?
Missouri puppy mills are often found in rural areas deep in the Ozarks, making it hard for United States Department of Agriculture agents to inspect these operations. Missouri puppy mills bring in over 40 million dollars a year by shipping puppies on airplanes via cargo to pet shops in California, New York, and a host of other states. These puppy mills have developed relationships with pet shops across the country; so until people stop purchasing pets from pet stores, Missouri puppy mills will always have customers.
Lancaster County, also known as “Amish Country,” is well known for its horse and buggies, plain clothed people, and sprawling farms. The Amish have always been known as hard-working people, but they have also been known as a quiet and secretive group. Before 2008, their best kept secret was puppy mills…until Lisa Ling blew the lid off in an undercover investigation broadcast on Oprah.
The Amish have always had their roots in farming, and years ago they discovered that raising puppies would be an easy “cash crop” to produce. Soon, they started filling up their chicken coops and rabbit hutches with as many breeding dogs as they could handle. Bill Smith, the founder of Main Line Animal Rescue, has worked with the Amish to rescue puppy mill dogs from deplorable conditions. He has even had to teach dogs how to walk because they lived their entire lives in rabbit hutches with wire grated floors. "Dogs in this community are viewed as livestock," Smith said. "Nothing more. Chickens or pigs or goats. It's just a source of income for them." The Amish sell their puppies to pet shops across Pennsylvania and make approximately 4 million dollars a year doing so.
Of course, there are puppy mills in other areas of the country; but Missouri and Lancaster, PA, have the highest concentration of puppy mills in one area. There are approximately 4,000 puppy mills in Missouri, and it is believed that these mills make up 30 percent of all of the puppy mills in the United States. Lancaster County has the highest concentration of commercial dog breeding operations in one county, with approximately 200 puppy mills calling the county home.
What can you do to stop this abuse? First, refuse to buy animals from pet stores and tell your friends to do the same. Second, adopt your next pet from your local animal shelter. Third, contact your representatives and ask them to strengthen your local animal welfare laws. Representatives really do listen to their constituents. In fact, next month Missouri citizens will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, which would crack down on large-scale dog breeders by prohibiting them from keeping dogs in wire cages, requiring kennels be climate controlled, and allowing dogs access to the outdoors [Ed. Note: Proposition B passed in the November 2010 election!]. We hope you are inspired by this proposition in Missouri; please be the voice for puppy mill dogs in your area and help make a difference in their world. .