Last week, in New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a “Puppy Mill Bill,” which will enable local governments to regulate puppy mills and pet dealers. The bill will strengthen oversight of breeders and sellers across the state, and will allow localities to require that animals sold in pet shops not come from puppy mills.

“Inadequate state resources previously made it impossible to detect unlicensed dog breeders who intentionally avoid regulation by quickly selling dogs online and through private sales,” state Sen. Mark Grisanti (R), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Buffalo News.

“This is a victory for animals, and for everyone who loves them and fought long and hard to see this bill finally become law,” Assembly member Linda Rosenthal (D), another sponsor of the bill, said in a press release. “This is a good step in the giant undertaking of getting rid of puppy mills, which only produce suffering,” she told the NY Daily News.

According to a 2011 study published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, dogs in canine commercial breeding establishments or “puppy mills” often spend their entire reproductive lives housed “in cages or runs, and provided with minimal to no positive human interaction or other forms of environmental enrichment.” In the United States, there are approximately 176,088 dogs kept solely for breeding purposes in USDA-licensed facilities that breed over a million puppies each year.

The study demonstrates that “dogs maintained in these environments develop extreme and persistent fears and phobias… and often show difficulty in coping successfully with normal existence.” It finds that the conditions in puppy mills “are injurious to the mental health and physical welfare of dogs.”

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that 2.15 million puppies that originated from both USDA-licensed and non-USDA licensed puppy mills are sold each year in the US.

Dogs living in puppy mills often suffer painful problems due to overcrowded and unsanitary conditions as well as a lack of veterinary care. A common method known as “cage stacking” involves placing dogs in cages (with wire or slatted floors) and stacking those cages to fit more dogs, creating sanitation problems, stress, and disease. Urine and feces can leak from cages stacked on top of others and dogs are often stacked so high that they are not easily accessible.

In many cases, a lack of sanitary living conditions, no access to clean food and water, and a lack of veterinary care as well as a lack of basic cleaning and grooming exposes puppy mill dogs to parasites and infectious diseases, which can lead to temporary and permanent conditions such as eye diseases, skin conditions, and dental diseases.

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Cases in Point:

Kennewick, Washington 2009: More than 400 dogs, including 3 newborn puppies we removed from a puppy mill in Washington. According to the Associated Press, “Dogs were found living in wooden crates, shopping carts and other makeshift kennels caked with feces and soaked with urine.” Some of the rescued animals were malnourished. Some had urine burns. The local Sheriff, Larry Taylor, described the conditions there as “shocking” and “heartbreaking.”

Hertford, North Carolina 2011: Approximately 80 dogs were rescued from a North Carolina Puppy mill. Over 50 percent had parasites, 23 percent suffered from ear infections, and 15 percent suffered from various eye disorders. All of the animals older than 18 months showed evidence of periodontal disease, some so severe that it caused erosion of their jaw bones.

New Sharon, Iowa 2013: For years a puppy mill in Iowa racked up USDA violations but was allowed to remain in operation. When it was finally shut down in 2013, rescuers reported decaying carcasses sticking out of the ground, dogs with skin infections covered in sores, dogs with ear infections, tail infections, and eye ulcers. “The ammonia stench was so bad the experienced rescuers were vomiting and had to leave the kennel,” a staff member of the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue said at the time.

Colbert County, Alabama 2013: In Alabama, 122 dogs that were being kept outside in cages in freezing temperatures were rescued after authorities received an anonymous tip. The Pomeranians and Yorkshire Terriers were wet, shivering, and had ice in their fur, according to reports from country officials. Two dogs were found dead, frozen to their wire cages.

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And the problems don’t stop with breeders. HSUS has conducted investigations into breeders and sellers of puppy mill dogs in several states including Texas, Chicago, New York, Missouri, and Maryland. Findings revealed mistreated puppies who suffered from health issues, stores violating consumer disclosure laws, which require sellers to document the city, state origin of dogs, unlicensed puppy sellers, and animals placed in extreme conditions.

In 2008, an HSUS investigation into the national pet store chain, Petland, exposed the store as the biggest national chain selling puppy mill dogs. The investigation revealed that the store sold unhealthy dogs bred in large-scale puppy mills, including dogs with spinal conditions, internal parasites, cancer, and genetic disorders.

The 8-month investigation was the largest-ever puppy mill investigation. HSUS examined 21 Petland stores across the country, including stores in Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, and Nevada, and traced the origins of approximately 17,000 puppies that were shipped to Petland stores. According to HSUS president Wayne Pacelle:

We discovered that many of the “breeders” who sell to the Petland stores investigated are actually puppy mills, where hundreds of dogs are kept in cages their entire lives, churning out puppies for the pet trade. At many of these facilities our investigators saw appalling conditions: dogs and puppies living in filthy, barren wire cages reeking of urine, with no socialization or adequate care.

In 2009, a follow-up investigation revealed Petland’s continued support of puppy mills. Public animal transport records from multiple states showed that more than 95 percent of the retailer’s stores purchased dogs from puppy mills, “including some of the most notorious and abusive puppy mills in the country.” The second investigation found that nearly half of Petland’s breeders had been cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act at least once.

Some of the USDA breeders’ documented violations included: puppies caged outside in freezing weather; sick or injured dogs who hadn’t been seen by a vet; puppies caged on wire flooring with spaces wide enough for their legs to pass through the wire and become entrapped; inadequate sanitation, rusty cages in disrepair; severely matted or underweight dogs; improper medications on hand to treat or prevent disease; and outdoor runs without shelters large enough for the dogs to escape the sun, wind, or rain.

In 14 states in the US, including Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, Utah, and Wyoming, no specific laws exist to address puppy mills. Nineteen states require licensing and inspections, and 16 states plus the District of Columbia require some licensing but no mandatory inspections.

Earlier this month, a puppy farm in Sprakers, New York became the center of an online protest over animal welfare. Flat Creek Border Collies has been accused of housing puppies and dogs outside in a snow-covered area surrounded by electric fences with only open-ended plastic barrels for shelter.

Local authorities found nothing illegal after visiting the mill, according to the International Business Times; however, animal advocates continue to post comments and pictures – which show dogs and puppies living outdoors in the snow without adequate shelter – on a Facebook page “seeking justice for the frozen and neglected animals at Flat Creek Kennel puppy mill.”

See The Humane Society of the United States’ “A Horrible Hundred” list of puppy mills in the US.

Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.