The difficult task of spotting puppy mills in disguise

  • Animal welfare experts believe that nearly two-thirds of the dogs sold online come from puppy mills.
  • The problem is especially prevalent in the US and Ireland, home to many of the world’s puppy mills.
  • Just how profitable fake rescue organisations have become is unclear. In the US alone, people spent an estimated $53 billion on their pets last year.
  • Passing laws isn’t always enough to stop the problem, said Cori Menkin, senior director with the ASPCA’s puppy mills campaign in New York City. In Ohio, for instance, more factory dog farms are claiming to be rescue organisations in order to skirt an anti-puppy mill law that took effect in February.
  • Fake rescue groups like the one run by Lacewell in Kentucky have gone so far as to create nonprofits and collect donations — so it’s not always enough to see if a group is registered as a charity.
  • “Unfortunately public awareness of conditions within puppy farms is low, and many pups are sold online to unsuspecting members of the public,”
  • “Anybody can put up pictures of puppies frolicking in grass, but it doesn’t mean that’s where they are being kept,”

Check the news

It pays to do an online search on the kennel, rescue group or breeder to make sure they haven’t been on the wrong side of a raid. Animal welfare groups have begun keeping databases of notorious breeders, and a quick search on Google could turn up photos of some deplorable conditions at your local “rescue.”

Also do an online search for the name of the person running the site from which you plan to adopt. You can also check with local law enforcement websites to search for criminal convictions in some jurisdictions.

Operating out of the site of a former animal shelter in Wingo, Kentucky, owner Shannon Lacewell claimed to have rescued the animals. She said many came from puppy mills, the factory-style breeders that raise dogs in tiny cages and often sell sick and malnourished animals to pet shops for sale to the public.

But when the Graves County Sheriff’s Department raided the property on 14 February 2012, they found about one hundred dogs sharing small cages. Underfed and thirsty, many were sick. Others were dead and some corpses shared cages with live dogs. Lacewell, who couldn’t be reached for comment, faced 94 counts of animal cruelty.

Two months after the Kentucky kennel was raided, Lacewell agreed to plead guilty to 50 charges of animal cruelty. Under the deal, she agreed to own no more than one dog for the next two years.  Lacewell served no jail time. And in April 2014, she can legally begin selling dogs again.


The bottom line: don’t be fooled by fancy advertisements or slick marketing.