One of the most dangerous and widespread forms of animal abuse in our nation today is the presence of puppy mills.
The ASPCA defines a Puppy Mill as "a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Unlike responsible breeders, who place the utmost importance on producing the healthiest puppies possible, breeding at puppy mills is performed without consideration of genetic quality. This results in generations of dogs with unchecked hereditary defects. Some puppy mill puppies are sold to pet shops—usually through a broker, or middleman—and marketed as young as eight weeks of age. The lineage records of puppy mill dogs are often falsified. Other puppy mill puppies are sold directly to the public, including over the Internet, through newspaper ads, and at swap meets and flea markets."
How many puppy mills exist in the United States is difficult to measure. While USDA records indicate licensed mass-breeders can range from 2,000 - 3,000, this does not account for unlicensed breeders operating illegally. The ASPCA estimates there could be as many as 10,000 puppy mills in U.S., each with anywhere from 10 to 1,000 breeding dogs.
The health and behavior ramifications of puppy mills is sickening. Many dogs are kept in wire cages or crates which cause damage to their paws, limbs, and belly. Some never see the light of day. Often, crates can be stacked vertically with fecal matter and urine raining down on those below. Some puppy mills leave their breeding dogs outside - exposed to the elements - with little or no shelter. Puppy factories do not give their animals proper veterinary care, and as a result painful conditions like mange and infection run rampant. Female dogs are bred repeatedly until they can no longer reproduce, at which point they are either auctioned off for profit or euthanized.
Many national animal advocacy groups including the ASPCA, the American Humane Society, and PETA have worked arduously to increase regulation over this horrific industry. PETA's undercover investigations have exposed horrific conditions. You may read more about this here, although please take caution if you are sensitive to animal cruelty literature.
What can you do to help? Spread the word. Adopt a survivor. Educate your family. Do not purchase pet products from stores that sell puppy mill puppies. Join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, where you'll receive alerts that make it easy to fight for laws that protect dogs in puppy mills.