A puppy mill (or puppy farm, as we more commonly call it here in NZ) is, by definition, the following:
'an establishment that breeds puppies for sale, typically on an intensive basis and in conditions regarded as inhumane.'
When you think of puppy farms you might think of a massive commercial operation. However an irresponsible breeder could just as easily be the local lady who also advertises puppies on your local buy-and-sell group, or any number of the 'breeders' on TradeMe.
As long as people keep buying puppies from these irresponsible breeders, they will just keep going. Dogs will continue to end up in shelters and euthanised due to health conditions, ending up with the wrong family, and from being over-bred again and again.
Here are some red flags that will help you determine if the breeder you're looking at purchasing your puppy from is breeding irresponsibly:
Multiple litters in a short space of time.
Ridiculous prices - it's common to see mixed breeds (often 'designer' mixes such as Spoodles and Labradoodles) sell for upwards of $1000. Think about what you're paying for and remember that many reputable breeders don't make lots of money - most is spent on the appropriate health testing and healthcare costs associated with breeding a litter of puppies.
The breeder won't allow you to pick up from their premises or to visit the pups before making payment. Be suspicious they have something to hide.
Multiple past listings on trade me or social media selling groups could mean they breed a lot purely for financial gain and maybe even frequently from the same dog.
Some steps you can take to help make sure you're buying from a responsible breeder:
The easiest way is to check the NZKC register. Registered breeders are required by NZKC to follow proper requirements for animal welfare, so you can be sure that these breeders have been vetted.
Arrange with the breeder to meet the puppies before making payment. If the breeder doesn't allow you to, be very suspicious. If they do allow you to visit, check the following:
Living conditions are comfortable and sanitary. Puppies should have a separate area for feeding, sleeping and toiletting. There should be no faeces left around and water bowls should be full and clean.
The mother is with the pups and appears to be in good health and condition. If buying a curly coated breed, such as a poodle mix, check for severe matting of the coat which is a sign of neglect and doesn't happen overnight.
Ask for results of health testing from both parents, and also for details of the vet who carried out these tests. Make sure to research in advance for any genetic conditions your breed is prone to (for example hip dysplasia is common in labradors and retrievers, so a responsible breeder would have had both the mother and father x-rayed for hip scores before breeding, and will be able to produce these results).
Check that worming and first vaccines have been done according to the proper schedule. Worms and illness can be fatal to a vulnerable puppy.
Ask about previous litters - how many has the mother had, how many has the breeder had etc. Again, bear in mind the frequency for birthing a litter shouldn't be more than once every 18-24 months.
Trust your gut feeling - if something seems off, you're better to be too cautious than to take a risk that could cause not only a significant financial loss, but also a huge upset to your family if it turns out you've brought home a sick puppy.
What to do if you suspect somebody is running a puppy mill/farm, or breeding irresponsibly:
Report to SPCA as soon as possible.
Report to the council. Most councils require breeders, or those with multiple dogs in the household, to have a special permit.
Report to the site where you saw the listing. TradeMe and Facebook both claim to have animal welfare policies.
Please know that we are not saying you must only buy a pedigree dog - we love mixed breeds! We're not even saying you should only adopt from shelters and not buy puppies from breeders (although we think adoption is important too and if you want to find out more we have another blog about that here). What we are saying is that there are a lot of unscrupulous people out their who simply put their own financial greed before animal welfare. This post is about those people, not about those who are responsible breeders. By buying from these irresponsible breeders you are allowing them to continue their mistreatment of animals. It's that simple.