A Chihuahua with a large, open wound dead in her cage. Underweight dogs with their ribs and hip bones showing. A Nebraska breeder who euthanized dogs just because they had burrs stuck in their fur and he didn’t think they were worth the trouble of grooming. An Ohio breeder who left injured dogs bleeding and limping all day without calling a veterinarian. These stories sound heartbreaking to an animal lover, but they are only a few among dozens of similar incidents uncovered in the Humane Society of the United States’ sixth annual Horrible Hundred report on problem puppy mills, released today.
Missouri has the largest number of puppy mills in our report, for the sixth year in a row, followed by Ohio, where we are working to place a measure on the ballot that would require humane standards of care for breeding dogs. Iowa and Pennsylvania came in at number three and four for the most puppy mills in the report. Other states in the report with more than five breeders listed are Kansas, Wisconsin, Nebraska and New York.
Each year, researchers in our puppy mill campaign spend hundreds of hours sifting through federal and state inspection records to bring you the Horrible Hundred report. We do this because the public needs to know that puppy mills are still a problem, that we need better laws and enforcement to end their cruelty, and that puppy buyers need to be part of the solution, by refusing to purchase from breeders they haven’t met and screened, or by choosing shelter adoption instead.
But this year’s report was brought out amidst unprecedented challenges.
That’s because last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture redacted breeder names, kennel names and license numbers from its public inspection records. So while federal and state inspectors have continued to find conditions in puppy mills that are just as horrific as those in our prior reports — including dogs with grave injuries, animals standing in their own filth, and dogs exposed to the bitter cold and smoldering heat without adequate protection from the weather — this year, we couldn’t easily identify the puppy mill operators because that information was not available, as in prior years.
Despite this, our resourceful researchers succeeded in identifying more than half of the breeders and dealers who appear in this year’s report, through state inspection records, news reports and other documents. The remaining were listed only under a city and state, or with a likely name we linked using other research methods.
What’s also shocking is that the agency has not revoked a single pet breeder license since the publication of our last Horrible Hundred report in May 2017 – a fact the USDA confirmed to our researchers by email. Compare that to 2016, when the USDA revoked at least nine puppy mill licenses for chronic noncompliance.
We have seen other troubling moves from the USDA in recent months, including a potentially disastrous proposal to allow third party groups to inspect puppy mills and other types of animal dealers. This move could allow industry groups with strong ties that have a financial stake in perpetuating puppy mills, such as the American Kennel Club, to be part of the inspection process, effectively putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Several of the Horrible Hundred breeders in this year’s report are associated with the AKC. And just last month, the USDA even sent a letter to licensed dealers stating that they were considering announcing some inspections in advance – a stark departure from their usual practice, and one that will surely result in violations being covered up before they can be documented.
Every year, when we list the Horrible Hundred, we hope for the day this list will drop down to zero. But that can only happen when we can count on the USDA to do its job without unfair influence, when state and federal laws are stronger, when swift enforcement becomes the rule instead of the exception, and when the public refuses to buy puppies from pet stores, online sites or other sources that allow breeders to hide the true conditions in which their puppies were born and raised. Until then, this report is a reminder that we have a long way to go before the suffering of dogs in puppy mills is a thing of the past.