Revealed: 100 reprehensible US puppy mills in Horrible Hundred report

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on May 17, 2023 with 11 Comments

In a photo taken by a state inspector, a dog stands looking away from the camera, her tail pointing down. At first glance, this image may seem like a sweet photo because of the boxer’s soft brown eyes and emotional expression. But farther up in the frame, the dog’s body tells a different story. Her ribs jut out; her hip bones and spinal column are starkly visible. And just beside her emaciated body is a pile of five tiny puppies sleeping next to an empty bowl.

Protect dogs from cruel puppy mills!

A Missouri Department of Agriculture inspector documented this boxer, whose name is Lindy Lou, at a breeding facility that is still licensed, not only by the state, but by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The owner, Ellen Roberts (Rocky Top K-9s), is listed in our Horrible Hundred report for the eighth time. Lindy Lou was not confiscated; the inspectors required the owner to have her treated by a veterinarian within two days of the inspection. Despite inspectors finding many ailing dogs in her kennel over the span of a decade, it appears Roberts has faced no serious repercussions, and her “business” is still operating.

An emaciated mother boxer documented with her puppies at Rocky Top K-9s by a state inspector.

Something must be done. Every year in our Horrible Hundred report, we expose 100 problem puppy mills across the U.S. The cruelty is never easy to witness or read about. But sharing the plight of dogs like that mother boxer and her puppies is essential to correcting a broken enforcement system that fails to prevent animal suffering.

Although Roberts’ kennel continues, at least 240 puppy mills that have appeared in prior Horrible Hundred reports have finally closed. We publish the report in the hopes of raising that number every year.

Among other things, the Horrible Hundred report concentrates pressure on government agencies to prioritize the enforcement of humane laws, to confiscate animals who are suffering and, where charges are warranted, to apply strong penalties. The report also serves as a powerful reminder for the public, educating them about common problems at puppy mills and urging people to do their due diligence when searching for a new puppy to bring home. Everyone can take a stand against cruel puppy mills by sharing this information with friends and family members about the shameful industry so often behind cute puppies in pet shop windows or pictured in ads online.

We recently released a 15 year summary of puppy buyer complaints that connects the dots between poor conditions at puppy mills and the industry’s terrible disservice to the public: Thousands of consumers have purchased unhealthy animals, leading to high veterinary expenses and sometimes disability or even death for the puppies involved. We want to raise awareness of these problems and spare families from going through this painful and expensive experience.

Takeaways from the new Horrible Hundred report show systemic problems with mass-scale breeders:

  • Many of the puppy mills in this report have been featured in five, six or even eight previous years.
  • For the 11th year in a row, Missouri had the most dealers in the report, with 31 dealers on the list, followed by Iowa and Ohio (13 each) Pennsylvania (eight) and Kansas and New York (six each).
  • At least 12 of the puppy mills in the report have sold to Petland, the only national chain of puppy-selling pet stores still operating.

Horrible Hundred highlights prove that dogs cannot wait for stricter enforcement:

  • At the Rocky Top K-9s property in Missouri, an operation that appears in our report for the eighth time, state inspectors found cockroaches, piles of feces, and many other issues, in addition to the emaciated mother boxer. Yet a USDA inspection in January 2023 did not document any violations.
  • Since 2015, at the property of a breeder in Iowa (Steve Kruse/Stonehenge Kennel), USDA inspectors have found more than 125 ailing dogs, including dogs with bleeding wounds, crusty eyes, lameness and hair loss. But the USDA recently relicensed Stonehenge Kennel through 2025.
  • At a self-described American Kennel Club breeder in Nebraska (Brenda Carroll/Carroll Sell Farms), inspectors found a bleeding dog and another matted with feces. This adds to the many violations that have been found at the property over the past decade.
  • At a facility in Missouri (Mary Smith/Smith’s Kennel) that has sold puppies to Petland stores, inspectors found dead mice and rodent feces. Some dogs didn’t even have drinking water.
  • Even though a breeder in Missouri (Sandra Kozlowski/Sho-Me Labradors) surrendered more than 80 dogs to the state a few years ago, she was found keeping dogs in deplorable conditions in 2022 and 2023. Large dogs were confined in tiny airline crates and did not have access to water.
  • At a breeding operation in Nebraska (Clem Disterhaupt Jr./Ponca Creek Kennels), inspectors cited more than 100 state violations between 2022 and 2023, calling it “unacceptable,” but our undercover footage from March 2023 shows the kennel remains in operation with many dogs on the property.

To underscore the urgency of helping dogs at these facilities, we are releasing undercover footage of some of the dealers listed in the report.

You can advocate for better treatment of dogs currently languishing in puppy mills by asking your lawmakers to support the Puppy Protection Act of 2023, which would require greater standards of care at commercial dog breeding operations licensed by the USDA.

If you’re thinking of adding a furry family member to your home, please consider adoption first. Animal shelters are full of dogs and cats who would make wonderful companions. And sign this pledge to never buy a puppy from a pet store or online, as you could be supporting puppy mills with your purchase.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Elaine F Livesey-Fassel says:

    Always deeply grateful for your vital comprehensive overview of the variety of issues of animal advocacy you daily cover. It allows us to educate our legislators so that they can, if they so choose, to act on laws that will better the often wretched conditions in which far too many animals attempt to exist. This is invaluable information. Puppy Mills is one such horror that gravely disturbs and shames me!
    Thank you !

  2. Sandy Miles says:

    Any USDA inspectors that didn’t issue violations where the emancipated boxer was & didn’t seize her & the pups & shut that place down, needs to be fired! For not doing their job. The boxer needs medical attention immediately, not within 2 days. She’s obliviously starving & still nursing. This level of cruelty is unbelievable, I can’t imagine the horrific pain she is suffering. The USDA inspectors allowing this to continue are just as bad as the breeders. Any breeder that has neglect violations needs to be shut down. Getting violations year after year is totally unacceptable. Every breeder on the most horrible list needs to be shut down, get a huge fine & a goto prison. There needs to be stricter laws, & stricter enforcement. No more tiny cages, no more breeding over & over. No more disgusting facilities, without any outside access. No more puppy mills at all!

    • John J Pippin says:

      Sandy Miles, the inspectors have no authority to administer penalties. They make their reports and recommendations to APHIS, which often downgrades or ignores the recommendations. Thus, breeders who should be shut down have no fear of APHIS.

    • Viola bender says:

      I totally agree I feel there isn’t enough being done here you all know what these dogs are going through they don’t deserve this kink of care or Abuse. I want someone to explain to me why they are left in these conditions they can shut them down remove all the dogs and it will be over if they get more shut them down again so so inhumane…. they should loose there job for not doing there job right. Makes me sick!!

    • MARION v. H. KOBER says:

      Shut those Breeders down and charge them huge fines…if nothing works put them behind bars…

    • Barbara Coast says:

      Exactly. We are all responsible for a system of oversight that protects & provides humane treatment of animals that enrich our lives in so many ways. How can we as a civilized society ensure those entrusted with the duty to prevent such atrocities do their job?
      Much less allow it to go on for years?
      The ‘oversight system’ in place reflects poorly on everyone. It is clearly failing and needs a replacement.

  3. lou says:

    What are the root causes of this? Why are these puppy mills protected by the USDA, the AKC, and state officials? Why the lax enforcement? I do not mean to demonize any group, but I hear that many of the these breeders are Amish, and hold the belief that dogs do not have souls, so it doesn’t matter how they are treated.

    Or is this just resistance to any regulation? Extremist anti-government people? I do know that Republicans as well as Democrats can be animal lovers, and stand ready to campaign against cruelty. My guess is that this all goes back to money, and that people with no moral core or empathy will perpetrate any cruelty to get it.

    • Barb Powell says:

      The cause? Greed. Look at the Legislative Report Card and you will easily see who votes for animal protection laws and who votes AGAINST them! Vote them out and put in people that have hearts!! Make them accountable!

    • Ceecee says:

      The Amish are not the only group that believe that animals do not have a soul. Catholics teach this too. The truth is that animals ARE souls, just like humans. Their lives matter.

  4. Alicia Kozlek says:

    I have a puppy mill mama from Missouri. 7 years in a cage drinking out of a rabbit bottle, no name, no medical care. We’ve had her almost 2 years and she still coughs when she drinks from a bowl and is still scared of people. A rescue was able to get her out by paying for puppies he couldn’t sell (before he killed them), and requiring an adult for every 2 puppies AFTER he got them vaccinated. The veterinarian was culpable. Not only did he know what the breeder was doing, he represented my mama’s as a puppy on her records and he saw the condition she was in without reporting any of it. It took the rescue 3 baths to get all the dirt and feces out of her fur. Again, this was after the vet saw her. Others could not be more correct – follow the money. There are many enablers that should also be punished.

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