How did you find your best friend? Now, fewer and fewer people purchase puppies from pet stores because they know the pups are most likely from a puppy mill. Some kindhearted people want to save the pup in the window. I do as well, which is why I try to never even walk by the store. I know that a purchase will put more money in the pockets of irresponsible breeders in Pennsylvania, Kansas and other Midwest states. Many of us have seen the horrifying videos of neglected breeder dogs that never get out of their cages during their lifetime. Nobody wants to fuel that industry. Even so, many of us do so unwittingly.

Puppy mill pups are sold on the Internet all the time. I’m 99 percent sure my sister-in-law has two mill pups because she wanted a goldendoodle, looked them up online and had them shipped. She thought she was purchasing from a reputable breeder, but she knew nothing about the kennel. The Internet is the perfect vehicle for puppy mill purveyors. The client never sees the facility before making a purchase online. The conditions the parents are raised in are unknown to the customer. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” We don’t see deplorable conditions and don’t want to think about their existence when looking for a puppy. The puppy mills take huge advantage of that.

If you ask about the parents, a mill can show you pictures of any two dogs and tell you they are the parents of the pups. You are always better off if you can see the parents of the pups at the breeder’s house. That can happen in person or maybe by Skype. In person you can hopefully sense if there is something fishy going on.

Puppy mill pups are also sold as litters to middlemen who then market the pups out of their houses. Customers assume or are led to believe that the seller has bred the parents of the pups because the buyers are choosing from a litter in the seller’s home. The pups usually look quite healthy. Always ask to meet the mother and ask for details about the father if he is not present. Ask about his name, age, location, if you can speak to his owner, and how many litters he has sired. A good breeder will be very picky and give you tons of information about the parents and instructions about how to care for the pup. A good breeder will practically interview you to make sure you are worthy of her pups.

If you think you can’t be duped, then let me tell you how I purchased a mill puppy. Our beloved chocolate Labrador, Cody, had passed away in her sleep at the age of 12. I called breeders but found I would have to wait six to eight months for breeding and whelping to happen. The kids, my husband and I were heartbroken. I missed having a dog messing up my garden by digging holes, burying toys and rooting out plants. We missed all the dog snuffles and snuggles that the kids would get before going off to school or bed. A hug with a dog was such a source of comfort and happiness for all of us.

I looked in the back of the Boston Globe and found a kennel selling Labradors out of Oxford. I called the kennel and they told me they had two chocolate Labradors left. I brought my children, Ben and Rebecca, who, at the time, were ages 10 and 7, respectively, to Oxford to look at the pups. That was my first mistake. If you think you may want to come home without a pup, do not bring the kids. When we arrived, we were told there was only one to see. They told us the other pup had conjunctivitis. We met the pup and of course fell in love. He had a white spot on his chest, which is a big flaw to breed purists, but we did not care. The physical exam that I gave him on the spot was good. Milo came home with us.

While at the kennel, I heard lots of dogs barking in kennels behind the building but did not ask for a tour. That was a big mistake. Always ask for a tour. Milo had giardia in his fecal exam and was treated for it. Since it spreads easily between dogs and to humans, I called the kennel to alert them that this parasite was most likely active there. The woman who answered the phone clearly did not care. That is when I knew something was not right. A few years later, I read in the Boston Globe that a truck bound for that kennel was stopped and the puppies inside were found in deplorable conditions. This kennel is still in business.

Another time was when I responded to a house call at a small storefront in Lynn. A friendly couple ran the storefront. They had two floors and three litters of pups and it was very clean. They wanted the pups to receive physical exams and vaccinations before selling them to people. I went to the storefront several times and saw several different litters of pups. The pups were clean, well taken care of and healthy. The couple was friendly and told me they were getting the pups and driving them up from Pennsylvania. Still, I did not think they were getting the dogs from puppy mills. I didn’t figure it out until an officer with the MSPCA called and asked if I had medical records on the puppies. I had records on every single one, so they knew how many puppies the couple had sold. The officer said to me they had sold $250,000 worth of puppies in a few months. They had no business license. They were shut down based on that. The officer could not do much more than make sure they were fined for running a business without a license. A couple years later, a client came into the practice with a puppy she had purchased in Sherborn. When she stated the name of the sellers she had purchased from, I recognized the couple’s names. They had just moved to another location and started up again.

Before you purchase or adopt a pup, schedule a consultation with the veterinarian you expect to be using. Your vet may have suggestions about a good place to get a pup. We always suggest the all-breed rescue website,, which lists all the breed rescue groups. There are tons of purebred dogs that need to be rescued. You can find all sorts of amazing breed mixtures at the local shelter and through fantastic local rescue organizations. Some organizations may not have a bricks-and-mortar facility, but they have networks of foster homes with big-hearted volunteers where the rescued dog can live until adopted. If you have what it takes, you can be trained as a foster mom or dad by one of these organizations. There is no better way to fight the puppy mill problem.


Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem. Email your pet questions to Please title your email “Vet Connection.”

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