A License for Puppy Mill Cruelty

A License for Puppy Mill Cruelty

“All of our puppies come from breeders licensed by the USDA," boasts the pet store owner to a concerned customer, who breathes a sigh of relief and promptly hands over a credit card. Of course, the pet store neglects to inform the customer that dogs at USDA licensed facilities may live in conditions worse than the accompanying image.

The truth is that a USDA license ensures only the barest standards of care. Under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), a USDA licensed puppy mill may legally:

  • Confine dogs in cages 6 inches larger than their bodies for their entire lives
  • Provide only crated wire flooring in cages
  • Deny dogs adequate exercise and socialization
  • Keep dogs in extreme temperatures for up to 4 hours
  • Breed dogs repeatedly and excessively with no limits
  • Provide no regular veterinary care other than annual visits 

Worse yet, the USDA only has 115 puppy mill inspectors to cover the entire country. With over 12,000 facilities, this means every inspector is in charge of more than 100 facilities each. It is impossible for inspectors to be everywhere, all the time. Therefore, they cannot ensure animals are not subject to cruel treatment at all of the locations they are responsible for monitoring. This also assumes the inspectors will take any meaningful action against those noncompliant facilities that they do inspect.

Internal audits by USDA’s Office of Inspector General revealed that inspectors routinely give even the egregiously negligent, repeat offenders “an automatic 75-percent discount” before eventually reducing the fines even further to “a fraction of the original assessment.” The audits concluded that violators considered these fines “a normal cost of conducting business rather than a deterrent for violating the law.”


WARNING: Graphic image below


According to an audit of a USDA-licensed Oklahoma puppy mill, a bite wound on a dog’s leg was left untreated for such a long period of time that the flesh around the wound had rotted to the bone. The inspector recommended only a fine. 

In yet another example of the USDA’s weak enforcement of safety requirement, an inspector observed seven dead puppies scattered on the ground of an Ohio puppy mill in 2014. The inspector only cited the facility for a minor housing violation.

The recent removal of AWA inspection report data only exacerbates the problem, since consumers can no longer find out which breeders comply with even the AWA’s minimal requirements. Enforcement actions under the AWA have hit a new low under the Trump administration, dropping from 239 cases between 2015 and 2016, to just fifteen cases over a nine-month period in 2017 and 2018.

Given rampant puppy mill cruelty, and the meaninglessness of a USDA license, the choice is clear: adopt don’t shop. Please donate to In Defense of Animals’ ongoing efforts to stop puppy mills.


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