‘Horrible Hundred’ Report Uncovers Problem Puppy Mill Breeders

Humane Society of U.S. hopes to raise awareness and make change.

Caged breeding dogs at puppy mill in Pocahontas, Arkansas
Caged breeding dogs at puppy mill in Pocahontas, Arkansas.


There was a breeder in Ohio who performed DIY dental work on a dog instead of taking her to a vet. She didn’t survive. Inspectors in Missouri found dogs in rundown cages where one dog was sticking their head through a rusty hole. And in Kansas, a kennel owner had more than 400 dogs on her property along with a trough full of feces spilling out on the ground.

These are just a few of the examples highlighted in the newly released Horrible Hundred 2021 report from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The report lists some of the problem puppy sellers throughout the country.

And although the stories are shocking, the list does not purport to be the “worst” breeders or puppy mills.

What is a Puppy Mill?

A puppy mill is a dog-breeding facility with the primary goal of making money. To maximize profits, some breeders make dogs suffer in deplorable conditions. 

“It’s not surprising that people would think these are the worst because the Horrible Hundred is filled with horrific stories,” John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ Stop Puppy Mills campaign, tells Treehugger.

“We’re only able to document where there is some sort of documentation about what is going on, when some agency is going in and reporting things," he says. "That means there are other puppy mills where no one is documenting anything and things could be worse than this.”

There are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in the country, according to the HSUS. But many puppy mills aren’t licensed or inspected at all. They often have unsanitary and unsafe conditions, tight living situations where they can barely move in cages, little protection from heat or cold, and sometimes limited veterinary care.

Puppy breeding facilities are supposed to be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But enforcement and inspections declined sharply during the last administration, says Goodwin with two-thirds fewer citations.

The pandemic also became a double-edged sword. There were even fewer inspections performed during the lockdown. However, more people were interested in fostering, adopting, and buying pets. So breeders ramped up production with even less oversight, Goodwin says.

The State-to-State Difference

State inspectors found rusted cages with holes and sharp edges at a Missouri facility.
State inspectors found rusted cages with holes and sharp edges at a Missouri facility. MO Department of Agriculture

According to the report’s findings, Missouri has the greatest number of puppy mills for the ninth year in a row with 21 places on the list. It’s followed by Ohio (16), Iowa (11), and Nebraska and Pennsylvania (eight each).

These numbers can be somewhat misleading, Goodwin points out. Some states with few or no puppy mills or the list don’t share inspection records with the public or they don’t enforce their inspection laws. States that have transparent inspection programs, or that do a better job of enforcing inspection laws, may have more dealers in the report just because they have more records available.

“Some of the worst puppy mills are believed to be in Arkansas but they only have two dealers on the list,” Goodwin says. That’s because they don’t inspect facilities. Ohio, on the other hand, has more robust laws and makes records available and that’s why 16 dealers showed up on the list.

There are two purposes for the list publication: public awareness and making change. About a dozen dealers in last year’s report were either sued by the attorney general in their state, shut down, or otherwise sanctioned, Goodwin says.

Puppy mill puppies typically end up being sold in pet stores or via ads on the internet. More than 300 cities and counties throughout the U.S. have passed laws banning pet stores from selling puppies (and sometimes kittens and bunnies). California passed statewide legislation in 2017 and Maryland doing the same in 2018. The New York State Senate passed a bill last week banning pet shops from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits. The bill now must be approved in the Assembly.

To make sure you aren’t getting a pet from a puppy mill, the HSUS recommends adopting from a shelter or rescue. If you want a purebred dog from a breeder, Goodwin says be sure to meet the breeder, meet the mother dog, and be sure to see where the mother dog lives. Don’t agree to meet in a parking lot somewhere.

“That’s the only way you know you’re not dealing with a puppy mill,” he says. “And never buy a puppy from a pet store or over the internet sight unseen.”

View Article Sources
  1. "The Horrible Hundred 2021." The Humane Society, 2021.

  2. "States with Retail Pet Sale Bans." Save Them All.

  3. https://www.aspca.org/animal-protection/public-policy/ending-retail-puppy-sales-standing-against-puppy-mill-cruelty