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Posted on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Empowering the public in identifying puppy mills is crucial in ending them, local experts say

By Lorrie Shaw


flickr photo by jefferyw

Can you imagine the idea of more than 350 dogs on your property?

That's the scene that animal control officers saw when they arrived at a home in Allegan County on Monday.

Julie Kowal, office administrator of the Allegan County Animal Shelter accompanied the officers that morning and noted that the homeowners — who were breeding dogs for profit, were overwhelmed.

It was reported on Monday on MLive, that in the past, animal control officers had been trying to work with the couple to reduce the number of dogs on the property.

"This is the largest puppy mill that has ever been tracked in the state of Michigan," said Pam Sordyl of Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan.

Sordyl, who has made it her mission to make operations like this a thing of the past, detailed a bit more of what a colleague conveyed to her upon seeing the animals firsthand.

"Dogs caked with dried fecal matter so badly that it couldn't be removed by simply pulling it off. Skin that was badly irritated — burned even — from being in contact with urine-soaked fur... can you imagine?"

Sordyl is one of three local animal advocacy experts who weighed in on this issue that is believed to exist in our own backyard as well.

Breeding operations like this are the dirty little secrets that lurk in our state — and across the country. Regardless of the size, Sordyl says that they need to be put out of commission.

A 2009 study done by Puppy Mill Awareness looked at 83 counties in Michigan, and 1,800 kennels were reviewed. Out of 639 confirmed breeding kennels, 25 of them had more than 50 dogs. Additionally, 927 facilities were 'unclassified': private kennels, and it's not known what activity is occurring. (Some may be a household with several dogs who find it more cost-effective to apply for a kennel license, rather than individual dog licenses.)

"Mini-mills," as the seedy homegrown operations like the one in Allegan County are referred to, are easy to keep under the radar: they use small or toy breeds in the operation (their smaller size allows for more dogs to be housed in a limited space).

This, among other loopholes and lapses, gives the people behind puppy mills power.

These people understand that small/toy breeds are all the rage. That spurs the breeders to produce "designer breeds" — usually a combination of two to three breeds to create dogs like YorkiePoos, Daisy Dogs (various mixes of Shih-tzu/Bischon/Poodle), Puggles, among others.

Sordyl noted that the incident in Allegan County is an example of what is going on in Michigan and will be used to support the efforts of Puppy Mill Awareness at Michigan Humane Lobby Day on April 17.

Many of the pets that are the product of puppy mills are in many cases seriously ill, and the ramifications clearly go beyond the physical for some: canines who grow to have behavioral problems due to poor breeding, less-than-ideal husbandry practices and lack of proper socialization. The conditions that the dogs are kept in is awful.

Empowering the public is essential in the fight against puppy mills.

Matt Schaecher, Director of Rescue and Cruelty Investigations for the Humane Society of Huron Valley offers a few things to look for if you suspect that someone is operating a mini-mill:

  • Most of these mini-mill operations are breeding small dogs.
  • Watch for "Puppies for Sale" signs that stay up for months or all year long in a yard.
  • Look for traffic with people bringing or leaving with dogs (not usually buying dogs but dropping them off to have them breed).
  • These types of operations will offer to meet you to show you the puppy and not have you come to their facility.

If you suspect that you've come across a puppy mill, document the conditions (often they will be poor), and report them to contact animal control, as well as your local zoning department, local police, and of course HSHV's Cruelty and Rescue Department.

Also, avoid buying dogs. You see, pets have become a commodity and puppy mills are all about money. If there's no demand for these dogs, it won't be profitable.

Instead, Sordyl suggests abiding by the mantra: "Adopt, don't shop".

"There are plenty of shelters throughout Michigan that have adoptable animals," adding that the Humane Society of Huron Valley is an excellent organization, and that other reputable shelters and rescues are great choices, too — as is using

Knowing that there are those that are set on buying from a breeder, Sordyl remarks that choosing a reputable one is crucial.

You should be able to meet/get a verifiable history on the parents of the puppies. Responsible breeders come highly recommended (they seldom need to advertise), they will typically legislate their clients carefully, and waiting lists are not uncommon.

Tanya Hilgendorf, executive director of HSHV offers an eye-opening piece of advice.

"People who are overwhelmed usually look overwhelmed. Follow your gut. If something seems fishy, there is usually a good reason for that."

Not losing a clear perspective is crucial.

"The process of getting a new pet can be very emotional, and there are few things in the world that cause our emotions to go haywire more than an adorable puppy face," continues Hilgendorf.

"These emotions can block critical thinking. It is very important to remember to think rationally when making such a critical decision. Don’t be fooled, and therefore over-forgiving, by someone who expresses great love for the animals. Every hoarder I’ve ever met says they love the animals. Dog fighters say they love their animals."

One step in the right direction: Ads from people who breed and sell dogs over the Internet will no longer be allowed on Facebook.

"Avoid buying a pet from an online store or website, or having a dog shipped to you from one," ends Sordyl.

"And never, ever buy a dog from a suspected mill just to get the pet out of that kind of situation — you'll only fund the operation."

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for Catch her daily dog walking and pet sitting adventures or email her directly.


Mary LaHay

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

6 and 7) If we only had "hobby breeders" adding to the number of puppies produced in this country Ms. Brinkley's comments might be accurate. But as it is, we have thousands of commercial breeders adding to the problem and that is what animal-welfare advocates take issue with. For example, according to our research of USDA data, in 2007 Iowa's ~450 USDA-licensed commercial breeders produced ~100,000 puppies and generated ~$17million in income. Other states' puppy-production increases these numbers exponentially. We euthanize millions of dogs every year in this country. Commercial dog-breeding absolutely contributes to the problem. I'm always perplexed by the fact that those responsible breeders who work toward bettering the breed won't speak out against the issue of large-scale breeding. Don't they realize that the commercial breeders are driving down prices? Don't they realize that the commercial breeders are the reason that breeding is called into question? Don't they realize that commercial breeders are compromising the genetic pool with their experiments to generate the next big money-making mixed breed? As an ardent animal-welfare advocate I take comfort in knowing this; that the puppy mill industry is imploding and that they've created their own demise.

Mary LaHay

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.

Reply to Ms. Brinkley's comments, continued. 4) Ah. At last we agree on something... sick puppies don't sell. But our organization has been contacted by many unfortunate consumers who've purchased a puppy that has gone on to become ill shortly after purchase. I was most touched by the story of an elderly woman who spent $800 on a puppy for companionship. She said she really couldn't afford the $800 but she did it anyway because she was longing for a lap dog. The dog started coughing and wheezing within a day or two and was extremely ill within a few days. The woman didn't seek vet care when she should have because she "couldn't afford it." She finally accepted that she needed to get help for the dog but it was on a weekend and the vet charged even more for after-hours care so she elected to wait until Monday. The puppy died in her arms on Sunday. She made several attempts to contact the breeder to complain but the breeder never answered these calls. That Iowa breeder is still in business. One other significant comment here... while the health of the puppies is definitely an issue (and, IMHO, wholesale fraud!) it is the health and well-being of the adult dogs that is of greatest concern to those of us on the animal-welfare side. The fact is that a sick, injured, neglected, abused adult dog can still provide cute, fluffy, marketable puppies. Maybe not as many puppies as a healthy dog would produce, but still enough to be profitable. 5) We somewhat agree on this issue. I concur that laws that exist need to be better enforced, but the dogs also need some additional laws. And they most certainly need better regulations/standards! 6) Continued on next post.

Mary LaHay

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

I must reply to Ms. Brinkley's comments. 1) Actually, "puppy mill" is found in several sources including Merriam-Webster and its legal definition was established in a 1984 legal case; Avenson v. Zegart. That definition is: "a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits." 2) While I can't speak to the validity or origin of photos used by any other group or agency, I can attest to the validity and origin of photos used by our organization. Visit and to see several photos of puppy mills in Iowa and elsewhere. All but 5 of the photos on those websites have been obtained within the last 1.5 years and all were taken either by members of our organization, the USDA or an Iowa resident who has generously donated time to obtain them. There are approx. 23,000 adult dogs in Iowa puppy mills. Do the math. The horrendous conditions that exist are not "1 in a million." 3) Our organization has been researching USDA-inspection data on Iowa mills. There were 450 mills in our state when we first started doing this in 2009. We found that at least 59% of those mills had been cited for significant violations to the federal Animal Welfare Act (the "standards"). The AWA is dismally inadequate. One example: cage size requirements are that it be 6" deeper and wider than the dog is long (not including the tail) and provide 6" above the head. Yet, even with these insanely lax standards, the majority of breeders in Iowa aren't even meeting them, much less exceeding them. The minimum will most always be the standard. Bottom-line is that being licensed and inspected by any agency, federal, state or local, is absolutely NO guarantee that the dogs are treated humanely. Just take a gander at the USDA OIG 2010 audit: 4) Continued in next post.


Thu, Apr 12, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

I just got an email from ASPCA. If the store sells puppies? Walk out. Do not buy anything from that store at all. Tell everyone you know that that store sells puppy and they are from a puppy mill. Go to their web site and see the new video. I love what their mascot does to an unsuspecting customer. Great job.

Elizabeth Brinkley

Thu, Apr 12, 2012 : 3:03 a.m.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Puppy Mills 1) There is no such thing as a "puppy mill". "Puppy mill" is not a legally defined term, it is slang used by the "animal rights" community to denigrate any and all breeders -- small or large, standard or substandard. It's the "N-word" of breeders. The phrase "puppy mill" has been promoted in the media by the animal "rights" movement, people who want to end all animal ownership. It is applied indiscriminately by these fanatics to anyone who breeds dogs. 2) Those horrendous photos you see in commercials for the "Humane Society" are mostly outdated or a 1 in one million exception to the care given animals by breeders everywhere. The photos are intended to shock and horrify you into giving money. Any photo can be photo shopped into looking really bad. Be skeptical. If you didn't see it with your own eyes take it with a grain of salt. 3)There are three main types of breeders: Commercial, Pet and Hobby/show breeders. Every one of these can be a large-scale breeder, every one of these could be a substandard breeder. Commercial kennels are subject to state and/or federal oversight. Substandard care can be found with all types of breeders. It is about the standard of care, NOT the numbers. Most commercial breeders have state of the art kennels that meet USDA standards and the standards of their state laws. They are inspected at least yearly and must meet or exceed standards far higher than those expected of the average hobby breeder. 4)"Sick" puppies do not sell. It is counterproductive for any industry to produce a defective product and expect to stay in business. Any dog can have health issues. Its about Mother Nature NOT lack of care or numbers.


Wed, Apr 11, 2012 : 10:36 p.m.

So my comment is removed because of the location of a puppy mill? Boy this place really knows how to cover up the truth.