Rolling Stone crushes puppy mill trade

By on January 3, 2017 with 37 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Of the entire dizzying array of animal cruelty concerns, there’s not one more top of mind for the American public than puppy mills. It’s a term we’ve all been hearing for decades and we’ve lamented the presence of the industry for at least as long. Yet, amazingly, there’s still so much confusion about puppy mills, and there’s been very little in-depth reporting about the state of the industry.

That changes today with Paul Solotaroff’s remarkable feature in this month’s Rolling Stone magazine entitled “The Dog Factory: Inside the Sickening World of Puppy Mills.”

This is Solotaroff’s second deep dive into animal issues; he first took on the efforts by agribusiness interests to pass ag-gag measures and to wall off America’s factory farms and slaughter plants from inquiring minds.

What Solotaroff learned in his original reporting was that ag-gag measures might even apply to puppy mills. That led him to his second investigative report, where he decided to take a first-hand look into the puppy mill business. He piggybacked on a raid that the HSUS Animal Rescue Team carried out with the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina.

As with all puppy mill rescues, the sight that greeted our Animal Rescue Team inside the puppy mill was appalling. “It was pitch-black inside, and the smell was a hammer,” wrote Solotaroff, in describing the house where the dogs were confined. “Here were the parent dogs in desperate shape: blinded by cataracts and corneal ulcers, their jaws gone or missing entirely after their teeth had rotted away. Some were so feeble, they couldn’t stand erect; their paws were urine-scalded and their wrists were deformed from squatting on wire their entire lives.”

Solotaroff saw our rescue team carry 105 dogs to safety from filthy, dark wire cages surrounded by cobwebs and trash. Altogether, we delivered 150 animals from this hell-hole, including numerous cats, kittens, and goats. For anyone who sees this kind of menace first-hand, it forever changes your perceptions. It was perhaps our 25th raid in recent years just in North Carolina.

Astonishingly, the North Carolina legislature – despite having an immense volume of photographic and video evidence, and testimonials from law enforcement personnel from rural counties throughout the state about the severity and scale of the problem – hasn’t taken action to root out the industry. In fact, it’s done nothing. North Carolina remains deregulated when it comes to puppy mills, and that’s why interventions wait until the living conditions are so bad for the animals that the average puppy mill morphs into an animal cruelty crime scene. Only then, when there is an active case of cruelty and neglect, can we work with law enforcement to pull animals from life-threatening, life-denying, and accursed conditions.

Solotaroff wrote not just about the plight of the dogs, but the burden placed on law enforcement and animal welfare groups who get saddled with the costs of picking up the pieces.

Solotaroff wrote not just about the plight of the dogs, but also about the burden placed on law enforcement and animal welfare groups who get saddled with the costs of picking up the pieces. Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

My colleague John Goodwin, who directs our puppy mills campaign, also took Solotaroff to a dog auction – this one in Missouri. The auction was held inside a hangar-size warehouse, and one by one 300 dogs were placed on a table on a dais and sold. Two auctioneers “called out bids while touting the dogs’ untapped value,” Solortaroff wrote. “She’s a 2012 model and showin’ a belly; she’ll work hard for you!”

This is what is extraordinary about this piece of journalism: the piece touches each vertebra in the spine of this grisly trade, from the puppy mill breeders and the auctioneers to state and federal regulators and other enforcement agencies who have so little to work with, because the agribusiness lobby and the puppy mill trade have teamed up to thwart progress in so many ways. In North Carolina, the hog industry fights rules to crack down on puppy mills. And, shockingly and shamefully, the American Kennel Club, which is headquartered in North Carolina, has also joined the opponents of legal reform to crack down on mills. Hard to believe. But indisputably true.

Solotaroff wrote not just about the plight of the dogs, but also about the burden placed on law enforcement and animal welfare groups who get saddled with the costs of picking up the pieces. “The HSUS expects to spend at least $100,000 on the raid – most of it for medical care – which is actually on the low side,” he observed. Indeed, we spend millions caring for animals who never should have been placed in this kind of misery. Agribusiness groups and the AKC stand in the way, but then we pay the bills.

Solotaroff also wrote about the deficiencies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the very rare circumstances when the agency shuts down a mill. As Solotaroff found in his research, Randy Stoen of Dows, Iowa, received a slap on the wrist from the USDA even though he shot one of his dogs and repeatedly threatened inspectors. What does it take to shut down a mill if those aren’t disqualifying actions? Steve Kruse of Stonehenge Kennel, another Iowa-based, USDA-licensed breeder, received only a 21-day suspension for throwing a bag of dead puppies at a USDA inspector. Both men appeared on our 2016 Horrible Hundred report due to their terrible mistreatment of dogs, yet they remain federally licensed to this day. Solotaroff’s story will help us pressure the USDA to shut down more puppy mills like Stoen’s and Kruse’s.

Online sellers pose an especially insidious threat, because they are an easy way for breeders to sell puppies. As Solotaroff writes, online dog sales is “the perfect crime. Courts don’t care about out-of-state victims, and the feds don’t even fine breeders, much less arrest them, for selling sick pups on bogus sites. Any amateur can do this out of his or her basement and make good, steady money for years.” Nevertheless, The HSUS has had some success bringing lawsuits against irresponsible and deceptive actors in this industry. HSUS attorneys are currently assisting with litigation against, an online puppy marketplace supporting many irresponsible breeders.

I hope you’ll share this piece with other people of conscience. It’s time to engage the animal-loving American public at a new and deeper level on this problem. There’s no excuse for more delays, inaction, and obstructionism. And it will be up to the incoming Trump Administration and Congress to address America’s dirty little secret of puppy mills. We can start a renewed campaign against the mills by making sure that Solotaroff’s work is widely read.

Animal Rescue and Care, Companion Animals

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  1. Peter Hood says:

    If the North Carolina legislature won’t endeavor to incorporate the need for simple decency into its lawmaking (or lack of) process, then it would seem appropriate for fair minded consumers to apply pressure. We should all examine our purchasing decisions. We should all make inquiry as to the origin of goods that we buy. Our local supermarket management should have information on what is sold on their shelves. North Carolina is a big producer of soybeans, corn, sweet potatoes and peanuts. So why not ask where your store’s stock came from. At the mall, we consumers should ask where the cotton comes from that is in the clothes that we may consider buying. Adverse economic pressure is something that we, out-of-state consumers, can influence, since, surely, there will be other choices available to us.

    • Cathi Bert-Roussel says:

      Peter, that is an excellent suggestion! Apply pressure downstream to the NC Ag business supply chain. We need all the help we can get. I personally talk to my two state legislators about regulating the dog breeding industry. One is fully onboard with it.
      The other is on the fence (although he says he loves dogs and even had one once – I’m sure he means it). But as he explained to me, they have so many issues to work on that they don’t have time to work on the puppy mill issue. He also said that the two veterinarians in the Senate are not supportive of the puppy mill bills presented thus far and as far as he and his colleagues are concerned they are the experts he and his colleagues listen to.
      Yes, my jar dropped to the floor.

    • Linda Staffulani says:

      They need to post on Facebook and other News paper that they think this is all right to have this in there state . Do Boycott there state . Stop going to there state . This is so wrong. There Governor and there was republican and Democrats should stop this.Do some calling on them .there mayor to.

  2. Joanne Singer says:

    Sue the offenders for medical costs, get a conviction and place a lien on their property. Don’t satisfy the lien seize the property. Also report to Internal Revenue for a nice big audit…. you can bet they are not declaring all or any of the income from these puppies. You can stop it, it just requires playing hardball. If criminal jurisprudence won’t punish them, go the civil route.

  3. Nancy Zimerowski says:

    I have just finished reading this disturbing and eye-opening article in Rolling Stone. I did not realize there were 10,000 puppy mills still in existence in the United States! The abuse described is truly sickening. Personally, I do not think the majority of Americans know what is going on in these puppy mills. The word needs to get out about the conditions in these puppy mills and the apparent lack of consequences for the owners abusing these parent dogs.

  4. Nicky Ratliff says:

    Thank you Wayne and thank you to everyone across the United States doing everything they can to help the animals in these dire situations while pressureing legislators into taking note and realizing the extent of the problem. I do not understand for the life of me why the AKC and Ed Sayers continue to shield these animal abusers and deny their very existence. I naively was hopeful that he might bring the AKC into the light. Ed says he’s never seen a licensed USDA puppy mill with these conditions. If possible would you please publicly invite him to attend the next raid of a licensed facility? Thank you again so much for all you are doing to protect animals of all kinds from human indifference and abuse.

  5. CANDISE Molloy says:

    I adopted a dog from an agency that had been taken from a puppy mill that had been shut down. He had been there for 4 or 5 years. Used for breeding. I have had him for 10 years. I had to give him a lot of therapy. He was so scared and didn’t know how to act like a dog.He is the best dog I have ever had. I love him so. He was very ill when I got him. He was full of worms, ear infection, missing some of his front teeth, and had skin allergies .He is a Bichon Frise. I named him Skipper. He had nightmares for about 3 or 4 years. He is a very happy boy now.

    • Michele Moore says:

      Thank you for rescuing “Skipper” & for having the patience to help him learn to just be a dog. It always seems that the dog’s who are rescued know they were given a second chance to live happily & they love their owner(s) twice as much. People PLEASE spay & neuter your pets ASAP!!! Also…ADOPT DON’T SHOP!!

    • Dawn says:

      Thank you

    • Alexandra Robedeaux says:

      Bless you and Skipper. And hopefully these mills will finally be shut down.

  6. Nadine says:

    Heart breaking. Awareness is the key. Hopefully our next President will hear our cry.

    • Michelle says:

      You do know that Trump placed someone who defends puppy mills on his ag transition team, don’t know. The new administration will be deregulating these industries even further, allowing them to multiply and potentially turning back any progress we have made on so many animal welfare issues. If you think Trump will be good for animal welfare, you haven’t been paying attention.

      • Diana says:

        Well where has your president been on this issue for the past EIGHT years?? He “has a pen”, apparently animals did not matter enough for him to use it.

      • Alexandra Robedeaux says:

        All of us who care must try our best to constantly hold him accountable!

  7. tricia tinnon says:

    This is in credible information and unbelievable that nothing is being done to the nasty corrupt people running these mills. I thought the government had made it against the law to abuse animals. I guess I was wrong . How do we force North Carolina to act in favor of the animals instead of in favor of greed?

  8. Diane Davison says:

    My God! What will it take to stop this business? Trump just appointed a proponent of puppy mills to head the USDA. Looks like there won’t be much help there.

  9. Karen Gavini says:

    Check the Amish in Lancaster County, PA. They are famous for it. The Mills are hidden in backyards or basements. I have 2 puppy mill dogs that were rescued from Amish mills. It’s sickening what they do to their horses too. Everyone just turns their head. $$$$$

  10. Diane McArthur says:

    Is it not possible to file a civil lawsuit against these sub humans? It seems like a way to recoup some of the funds spent to save the puppies.

  11. Heather Clark says:

    What can I do besides donating money to help?

  12. Mitch Hagan says:

    This would be dramatically reduced if the AKC would stop registering litters from puppy mills. If one breeder is registering more than 5 to 10 puppies (depending on breed) from one dam every year, they know damn good and well that is a puppy mill. Some mills register over 1,000 litters a year and the AKC takes in all of that cash, then takes in more when the puppy is registered. I wish the breeders who get to Westminster would take a stand and demand more accountability from the AKC. Those breeders are working hard to improve their breeds and then AKC holds up their dogs as a shining example, all the while working against the interest of those same breeders by registering puppy mill litters. I didn’t register my dogs with AKC even though my (very reputable) breeder wanted me to and it is because of this.

    • Diana says:

      This is an excellent point Mitch. Too often when one mentions pure bred vs mixed the commenters go off on those who want the former. Personally I prefer a pb.
      The AKC is only interested in the $. Good for you for taking a stand

  13. Michelle Myers says:

    I live in Ohio, and Governor Kasich just signed Senate Bill 331, “the Petland bill,” which prohibits communities from saying they don’t want businesses to sell puppies from puppy mills. I attended 2 committee hearings at the statehouse for this bill and I was disappointed and pissed. I can confidently say it was about money. It was not about stopping animal cruelty or listening to what the people want in our communities.

    The fight to stop the business of making money through animal abuse will go on. And I will do what I can to be part of the solution.

  14. Pamela M Beck says:


    I HAVE A DREAM THAT WE COULD DO AWAY WITH PUPPY AND KITTEN MILLS … Then the shelters could be used for what they were intended, as a safe haven for lost pets until their family comes for them, or they need to find a new forever home. And pet stores could get back to selling pet supplies.

    Many blessings to all who work to make animals’ lives better. WE ARE THEIR ONLY VOICE! So I am using my voice to post this repeatedly, until it somehow falls into the hands of someone who has the authority and the courage to help us put an end to puppy and kitten mills forever.

    We will euthanize thousands of pets today at our animal shelters and city Animal Care & Control facilities. We will euthanize thousands of pets tomorrow too, and most every day. Unless our lawmakers put an end to the mass production in puppy and kitten mills, this pet overpopulation crisis is doomed to increase. We will never be able to “rehome.” adopt, spay/neuter or even euthanize our way out of this crisis as long as these mills are churning out pets like they were food animals. This is costing our government millions of tax dollars, which are OUR TAX DOLLARS! And they are being spent to kill pets that the mills are producing. Some even sell the dead, sick and drugged (from euthanasia and illness) animals to “rendering plants” to make pet food, making our unsuspecting pets into cannibals and forcing us to literally feed our pets possible toxins.
    And the AKC IS SUPPORTING THIS CRUELTY because they make tons of money registering these poor souls. They are of no help, even though they claim to be an advocate for pets, they have fought against regulations for their care. This is a vicious circle that never ends and has become a wasteful sinkhole of our tax revenues, leading many shelters to fail for lack of funding. This revenue could certainly be better spent elsewhere. The USDA has neglected to regulate this mill production, to the point that we are glutting our own tax systems. We The People must demand that our lawmakers vote with us, and not with the Ag Industries, to STOP THIS INSANITY!
    I will never understand how the USDA has any business having pets under the same regulations, (or lack thereof), as poultry, slaughter hogs and beef cattle.
    oh, please don’t get me started on farm animal welfare)…but WE DO NOT EAT DOGS AND CATS IN THIS COUNTRY! They are our pets and to some, our babies! THEY ARE NOT LIVESTOCK! And the USDA doesn’t have sufficient personnel to inspect these mills even once a year, let alone follow up visits to ensure that the infractions have been corrected. Our government must stop allowing them to be mass produced like they were food animals! And the conditions that we accept as “USDA approved” for these animals to live in, consist of a lifetime of horrific neglect and deprivation! These pets don’t even get to go to slaughter when they are old enough and fattened up. They live their entire lives in a cage, often left out in all kinds of weather, with little or no veterinary care. The female’s’ life is spent carrying, nursing, or grieving her lost babies, until she is bred yet again. Then about twice a year, the male shares her cage until mating is complete. Then he is returned to languish in his own filthy cage until it is time to breed again. Or worse, they both share the same filthy, small cage, along with their babies.
    This only ends for them when they die, or become “no longer good for breeding”. Then they auction them off or kill them or just let them loose to be hit by cars, starve, be killed by a wild animal, or eventually get picked up as a stray, which is the bulk of what fills our shelters. What happens to the others is unknown. I don’t know what, if any regulations exist for their “disposal,” but dead animal carcasses have been found on the property of some of these mills.

    Unfortunately, the financial influence of the Agricultural business has managed to supersede the horrific conditions of the animals, the pet overpopulation crisis, even the glutting of our own tax systems!
    So why don’t they see that we are euthanizing millions of pets every year, and the puppy and kitten mills are “producing” a majority of them?

    Our government must act responsibly to end this.

    I can not imagine a more cruelty filled life, than that of a mill pet. If these poor souls were not under the “oversight” of the joke they call the USDA, their treatment would be felony neglect/abuse.

    If you mistreat or neglect a pet, or even a dog on the streets, you could go to prison.
    If these poor souls weren’t under the jurisdiction of the USDA, their treatment would be classified as felony abuse/neglect. How can our government continue to overlook this travesty???

    I think we need to get domestic pets: dogs, cats, rabbits etc, OUT OF THE JURISDICTION OF THE USDA’s AGRICULTURAL FOOD ANIMALS. Is this what prevents them from being subject to the new federal laws for animal cruelty/neglect??.



    UPDATE 01-03-16: The FBI started a new program targeting animal cruelty as a “crime against society” and a Class A felony, on Jan. 1, 2016. The new program is part of a decision made in 2014 that finally goes into effect at the beginning of the year with the FBI tracking animal cruelty cases.
    The National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a catchLIBRE D-all where crimes against animals were lumped along with every other offense across the U.S. has been used in the past. But now, the FBI can track where cruelty is occurring, how often and whether or not animal cruelty is on the rise. Having this specific targeted data will help in the fight against animal cruelty, with the offenses falling into 4 categories:

    (1) Neglect- Included are instances of “DUTY TO PROVIDE CARE”; shelter, food, water, veterinary care if sick or injured.
    *(2) Intentional Abuse ( includes officers that shoot dogs unjustly, shelter workers that abuse animals) and Torture; This includes: “Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment. Included are instances of DUTY TO PROVIDE CARE, e.g., shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured; transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., uses objects to beat or injure an animal.
    (3) Organized Abuse (dog and cock fighting)
    (4) Animal Sexual Abuse.

    Police agencies must report incidences as well as arrests.
    We, the general public, can also report abuse! If you see or know of anyone abusing or neglecting animals in any of these 4 categories, please report it to the FBI.

    According to the FBI, the official definition of animal cruelty will be:
    ***”Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that MISTREATS OR KILLS any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment. Included are instances of DUTY TO PROVIDE CARE, which includes; shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured. Also, transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., USES OBJECTS TO BEAT OR INJURE AN ANIMAL. This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping.”
    This new FBI categorization is intended to improve the way crimes against animals are tracked nationwide and could help bolster state animal cruelty laws across the United States. All 50 states now have felony animal cruelty provisions. On March 14, 2014, South Dakota became the final state to enact a felony provision for animal cruelty.
    There’s a national consensus that animal abuse/neglect should indeed be treated as a serious crime. Now animal cruelty will be a Group A felony . The new classification will make it easier to get harsher sentences, and to identify young offenders. Because cases of animal cruelty, including animal NEGLECT, will now be included in the FBI
    Uniform Crime Report, law enforcement agencies have more incentive to pay attention to any incidents, and statistics on these types of crime will be more accurate and detailed. It will take some time to update FBI and law enforcement databases nationwide.

    The new FBI categorization is significant because it affirms that at the highest level of our government, animal cruelty is recognized as a violent crime. As a civilized society, our opposition to all forms of animal cruelty must be unwavering.

    Report animal abuse crimes here:
    Report various different types of animal abuse crimes
    The National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) Mobile link only!

  15. Patricia says:

    People r cruel evil poor animals prayer god helps them .

  16. Meg Lamb says:

    I agree with Michelle Myers. Kasich missed the bus on this issue. I am also from Ohio and was very disappointed that he (Kasich) is allowing pet shops to sell puppy mill dogs. Follow the money. If puppy mills were not profitable it would end the whole issue. We have enough homeless dogs I say as a foster home of over 160 dogs. Spay, neuter, train until there are no more dogs that need homes.

  17. Denise mills says:

    More people also need to speak up, when they know that a puppy mill exist in there area. If you don’t speak for those who can not, you are just as guilty as the ones who own the mills.

  18. Janet T Polk says:

    I adopted a puppy mill rescue 2 years ago. She was terrified of many things, including grass! Has come a long way. Recently watched a documentary, Second Chance Dogs, on Netflix. Film demonstrates not only the horrible conditions of puppy mills, but highlights a program done by behavior experts with the ASPCA
    Rehabilitation Center. Worth watching, especially for those who have adopted dogs that were adult puppy mill rescues.

  19. Maria Espinosa says:

    I want to help. How can I get involved in ridding puppy mills in my area? I live in Southern California.

  20. Kim Bowler says:

    I live in Fentress county Tennessee, but I’m a born yankee from Illinois. When I moved here I was , and still am appalled by the uncontrolled and indiscriminate breeding that goes on here. It’s really bad. I’ve got 3 dogs, all rescues, all fixed. When I got each one, they were intact. The first thing I did was make an appt. to have an exam, shots and spay/neuter.
    Two of my dogs are Chinese Cresteds, I have had people ask me more than once if I breed them. My standard answer is why would I do that, the world doesn’t NEED another dog. One time a woman actually got mad and started yelling at me that I was stupid for spaying my dogs, I could breed them and sell puppies. Ugh….

  21. RITA SHAY says:


  22. leah Masterson says:

    How is it possible that with all the money donated to the HSUS and ASPCA these laws have not changed since 1966? Lyndon Johnson was president. That is not ok. How about worrying just a tiny bit less about the chickens at Costco and throw a little money at this issue. It’s not enough that you are occasionally busting up a puppy mill, which is a Band Aid on a gunshot wound? As someone noted during the Michael Vick disaster, “the only thing Americans love more than football is dogs.” Why isn’t this a priority? This, along with Mr. Pacelle’s stand on creating an animal abuser registry has caused me to stop donating to the HSUS.

  23. Helen Hoag says:

    I lived in N.C. for 15 years and am horrified by the treatment of animals in this state and most states in the south. I cannot believe these elected officials are blind and that stupid regarding puppy mills or anything that would show decency regarding animals. They voted not to allow any Ag-gag investigations so what does that tell you about them. They are most likely receiving bribes or a good amount of money to fill their pockets. What human would not stand up to protect innocent animals, well now you know your elected officials. I think everyone of them should be made to spend a month in a puppy mill without the owners aware of who they are and be made to participate in a raid. Wake up North Carolina. Take a real good look at your congressmen people and consider their dishonesty at the next election

  24. Alan B. says:

    The very least our lawmakers could do is to make spay/neuter MANDATORY on ALL pet sales and adoptions in the US. Puppy mills, backyard breeders, any source – require all animal transfers to not only be vaccinated but spayed/neutered as well. Impose hefty fines on violators to fund Spay Neuter in our communities.

    You can help stop puppy mills major support system- Craigslist.

    Find high priced puppies on your local craigslist and FLAG them (check PROHIBITED at the top of the post) – stop them from selling on the nation’s #1 animal abuse facilitator – Craigslist.

    Pass it on – get your friends and their friends to help.

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