Iowa Puppy Mills Filling Pet Store Cages Across the US

It is no secret that Iowa is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to the number of puppy mills. We have over 220 puppy mills and we export over 100,000 puppies across state lines annually. These puppies go to other brokers (person who makes a living buying puppies and selling them at a higher price) or the puppies go straight to pet stores. The Hunte Corporation is the biggest broker in the United States, they supply  approximately 80% of pet stores with their puppies (around 85,000 sold in one year alone). The Hunte Corp is simply a company of puppy buyers, and then they resell them for a profit. In the most recent issue of the Iowa Pet Breeders Association directory, the Hunte Corporation had an advertisement that said they would give you a free bag of dog food for every puppy sold. While the Hunte Corporation is located in Missouri, their puppies supply pet stores world wide. 

Not all brokers are as big as the Hunte Corporation, and several of them are breeders as well. This is a side of the puppy mill world that the public never sees. In fact, pet stores go to great lengths in order to keep the public from ever finding out where the puppies really come from. In the latest article coming to you from Bailing Out Benji, we want to highlight some of the Iowa breeders that are filling the cages of pet stores near you. We desperately need more people to realize that Iowa puppy mills truly are a national problem. Thanks to the ASPCA and the USDA, all of the information in this article was very easy to find and organize to make easy for our readers. Please note that all hyperlinked words (blue and underlined) either lead to the facebook page or website of the breeder (for easy commenting!) or to the ASPCA site for more photos and information. Don’t hesitate to click around! 

Taken from one of the pet store’s websites. Just sickening.


Cathy Speer-  Milton, Iowa. License No. 42A1238

Supplies Petland #250 in Crystal Lake, IL and Petland #78 Rockford, IL

The puppies have to travel over 4 hours to get to the store… In a semi? In crowded vans? 

Cathy Speer has been cited repeatedly in the past for excessive waste, outdoor housing without wind or rain breaks, lack of vet care, and incomplete vet records. To read more in-depth violations and more photos from this breeder, click here. Both of these pet stores tell their customers that their puppies come from small, local breeders when in all reality the puppies are from five hours away. Sadly, the latest inspection reports show 26 adult dogs- but Cathy can’t bother to take adequate care of the animals in her care. I wonder what their customers would say if they actually saw where the puppies come from. 



Michael Knudtson, Lake Mills, Iowa.

USDA license No. 42A1149

Supplies: Petland in Joliet, Illinois

For only having 26 adult dogs on his property, Michael Knudtson is extremely neglectful to them. Years and years of inspection reports show a long list of violations. His most recent violations show dogs with open wounds, inadequate heating (36 degrees in the kennels with water bowls frozen over) Once provided water, dogs drank for almost 2 minutes. But, Petland Joliet insists they sell puppies from reputable breeders…. We know the truth now, don’t we?



CW’s Quaint Critters: Connie and Harold Johnson  Melvin, Iowa. License No. 42B0226

These poor, not even 8 week old puppies travel over 21 hours just to sit in a pet store cage. 

Supplies The Dog House in Manchester, Connecticut

The Johnsons have had several violations in the past, including not having shelter in their outdoor facilities, not having cages that are easily cleaned, buildup of filth in cages, and one of the male beagles was seen straining to defecate and passed a thick red matter. Recent inspection reports show that this breeder currently has 121 adult dogs. To see more of these photos and violations, click here:  Right on the website of “The Dog House” they say that they only work with accredited breeders to ensure that each puppy they sell will be healthy and well adjusted. They also claim to have the largest selection of breeds in the area. Check out the photos below and in the link, it is clear that they are not being honest to their customers. 



Gale and Judy Dorothy: Stockport, Iowa License No. 42A0933

Supplies Shake-A-Paw in Hicksville, New York. 

The cages at the Dorothy puppy mill have been called into question several times in recent history. Several wires can be seen poking into the cages, which poses a danger to the animals, the water can be seen as a grimy green color, and the food bowls are metal with jagged edges. (see more here). However, the pet store claims that they have established relationships with the most respected breeders across the country. Does this look very respectable? How would those customers feel if they knew that these animals weren’t being taken care of? Judy Dorothy, per the latest inspection report, shows that she only has 24 dogs and repeatedly fails to care for them. 

These puppies travel over 17 hours, just to sit in cages and wait for someone to buy them. 



Ben and June Paxton: Greenfield, Iowa. License No. 42A0238

Supplies Animal Kingdom in Bismark, North Dakota, those pet store puppies have to sit in a van or semi for over 10 hours. 

As you can see in this link and from the pictures below, the dogs live their entire lives on these wires cages. This can cause deformities in their feet and legs. You can also see that their food bowls are excessively chewed. Ben and June have 102 adult dogs that will live in these cages all day, every day for the rest of their lives. 



Brule Creek Kennel; James and Cynthia Hayes, Akron, Iowa

 USDA license # 46-B-033  (licensed in South Dakota)

Supplies: Spectrum Pets, Irvine CA; Puppy World, Greenfield WI; Best Pets, Pacifica CA; Family Pet Center, Chesapeake VA; The Pet Shop, Newark NJ; Petland, Fort Meyers FL; PetWorld Inc, Rochester NY; Bob’s Tropical Pets, Ridge NY; Pups & Pets, Santee CA; Vilaggio Family Pets, Temecula CA; The Pet Shop, Bethleham PA; Petland, Largo FL; Petland, Rome GA; Oh My Dog, Kearney GA; Russo Pets; Newport Beach CA; Petland, Dallas TX

Wow. That’s all I can say…. On puppy mill supplying over 16 pet stores with puppies. Can you imagine how many litters the parent dogs must have? And when the breeder uses photos like the ones below ON THEIR OWN WEBSITE! You know that they have zero shame in what they are doing. 


Black Diamond Kennel; Gary Felts, Kingsley, Iowa

USDA License No. 42A0757

Supplies: Petland Kennesaw, Georgia

As always, Petland claims to use “reputable breeders”… Sadly, in the case of Petland Kennesaw, they chose one of the HSUS Horrible 100 worst puppy mills in the United States. Not even just one of the worst mills in Iowa. Nope, Gary Felts operates one of the worst puppy mills in the entire country. With years and years of violations, his dogs live their entire lives in the worst conditions without ever knowing proper vet care or the kindness of a human. After being born and raised in cruelty and filth, the puppies must travel over 15 hours just to sit in cages in the pet store. 



High Point Country Kennel: Noah and Lashell Thomas, Garden Grove, IA License No. 42A1454

Supplies Petland in Hollywood, Florida 

The photos below and the photos that the ASPCA received from the USDA inspection reports show that several of their dogs have excessively long nails, which hinders their ability to walk correctly. As you can see, these dogs are also forced to live on these wire floors their entire lives which, as we said before, can cause permanent injury to their feet and legs. The latest USDA reports are showing that they have 58 adult dogs on their property.  The store won’t ever admit that they chose a breeder like this, instead they claim on their website that “Petland puppies must meet standards before they can become Petland puppies.” 

After leaving one of the worst puppy mills in Iowa, the puppies have to endure a 22 hour trip, only to sit in a pet store cage. 



Northwest Kennel- Leonard Stover: Sheldon, Iowa. License No. 42B0186

Supplies Pet Ranch AKA Four Paws and a Tail in Minneapolis, Minnesota (A three hour trip for the puppies) 

If you haven’t yet, I implore you to click on this link and see all of the matted dogs. Leonard Stover has been sited several times for not grooming his animals. If you are unaware, mats can be very painful, dirty and can hide wounds. The pet store claims that the customers can be sure that they are receiving puppies “from a quality location”, these photos tell another story. Not only does he breed cats, he has over 114 adult dogs on his property. 



Mary Yoder: Bloomfield, Iowa. License No. 42B0283

Supplies:  American Breeders in Mohegan Lake, NY,  Laughlin Kennels in Oxford, MA,  NY Pet Club in Flushing, NY, U.S. Pets in Astoria, NY (At least an 18 hour trip for the puppies) 

Mary Yoder’s kennels are spotless, in fact they look almost sterile. She has over 400 adult dogs living in these cages all day, every day for the rest of their lives. This is where we run into problems with the definition of puppy mills. Some people will look at this breeder and think that spotless equals reputable. Others look at these kennels and see a very bleak life for the dogs. Yes, the cages appear clean, but is that the trade of for affection and exercise? Here is the link to the ASPCA site. 

Yoder has supplied puppies to  Petland Kennesaw. While they claim to use reputable breeders, Yoder has been cited over the years for various animal welfare violations. Her most recent inspection this year noted lack of protection from the elements (it was judged to be 14 degrees Fahrenheit that night) and a beagle and Boston terrier were noted to be shivering and lacking bedding. It was also noted that there was a lack of appropriate record keeping of USDA records on the dogs. Time and time again, these pet stores and puppy mill owners are failing the dogs… Why? Because the money is just too sweet to care about the well-being of animals. 




Brad Grotewold: in Lake Mills, Iowa. License No. 42A0119

Supplies:  Steve’s Wonderful World of Pets in Buffalo, NY, Petland #199 in Saint Paul, MN, Petland Robinson in Pittsburgh, PA, Alsip Nursery in Frankfort, IL, Petland in Las Vegas NV, Petland Kennesaw GA and The Perfect Pup inc. in Saint Charles, IL

Brad Grotewold sells to at least five pet stores, all of them claim to sell the best puppies. Steve’s Wonderful World of Pets goes as far to claim to have the “only source of screened quality bred puppies in WNY”. As you can see below and in this link, Brad has had numerous violations that were directly affecting the welfare of his animals. Excessive feces, rusty cages and feeders, excessive accumulation of feces, and cages with dirt build up. On the Petland website it states that they “start that process by selecting only the highest quality, healthy pets for our stores”. I wonder if their customers would agree with that statement? The Petland Robinson in Pittsburgh claims to help homeless animals, all while supporting this breeder. The Kicker? Brad Grotewold has over 369 adult breeding adults trapped in his facility. 

After leaving one of the worst puppy mills in Iowa, many of the puppies won’t survive their 18+ hour drive to the pet store. 



Laura Groeneweg: Rock Valley, IA. License No. 42A1296

Supplies: A Place for Pets in Seattle Washington

Laura Groeneweg’s puppies travel over 1700 miles to get to this Seattle based pet store. The store stands behind their puppies in saying that, “Our puppies come from good, caring, reliable people. The parents and puppies are well taken care of.” Sadly, the inspection reports beg to differ. According to this link and past inspection reports their breeder has been in trouble for using expired medications on their adult dogs, the adult dogs are in cages that do not meet space requirements, the puppies feet are too small and pass through the wire flooring, and there is an excessive build-up of feces. If only the customers could really see the hell that these dogs are going through on a daily basis, maybe then they wouldn’t buy the “cute” puppy in the pet store. With all of these violations, Laura only has 34 adult breeding dogs on her property. 



Nick and Tiffany Menne: Lime Springs, Iowa. License No. 42A1398

Supplies:  American Breeders in Danbury, CT and Puppy Experience – LI Puppy in Riverhead, NY

The Pet Store in Danbury, American Breeders states  that their “breeders have been personally selected to provide you with the best registered purebred and hybrid puppies you can find.” As you can see below and in this link,  this is one of the breeders that they personally selected. Nick and Tiffany Menne in Lime Springs, Iowa have had numerous USDA violations including excessive accumulation of dog waste (pictured below), dogs in outdoor enclosures with no shelter (pictured below), and several dogs with excessively long toe nails. You can see more photos and violations here. I wonder if American Breeders would proudly show these photos in their store, next to their guarantee of “personally selected breeders” or if The LI Puppy Experience would showcase this side of the “BEST BREEDERS WHICH OUR REPUTATION RELIES ON (taken from their website)”

.  Instead, these 209 adult breeding dogs get to eat, sleep and walk around in their own feces day after day for the rest of their lives. 



Jan Budden: Maurice, Iowa. License No. 42A1413

Supplies: We Love Pets, Media, Pennsylvania

With recent inspection reports showing over 66 adult dogs and a LONG list of violations (including use of expired medications, cages having excessive feces, cages have build up of dark brown liquid and previous violations including:  dogs requiring immediate vet care and use of expired medications), it makes us wonder why a pet store would purchase puppies from a place like this. It is clear that the adult dogs are not being cared for. Sadly, profit is the only thing that matters. So the puppies endure a 19+ hour ride, only to be sold to the first person who whips out their credit card. 



As you can see, there is a huge problem with the breeders that these pet stores are choosing to get their puppies from. There are several pet stores in Iowa that choose to get their puppies from places just like these (you can read about Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe and the mill that has 150 dogs trapped here and Critter nation and how they get their dogs from two huge puppy mills here). Also, Petland in Iowa City and Pet’s Playhouse in Cedar Rapids are knowingly purchasing puppies from Iowa puppy mills. Remember, Pet store puppies ARE puppy mill puppies– don’t buy the lies. 

Either these pet stores don’t know (highly unlikely) or they don’t care because business is booming. When are they going to be held accountable for the lies they are pushing on the public? We will add to this list as we come across more pet store/puppy mill connections. To read more about Iowa puppy mills by the numbers, please click here! 

Thank you for reading our Article, and please head over to our Facebook page and “like” us! 

** UPDATE*** Since this article published, a few pet stores have chosen to go HUMANE and only offer rescued animals– Alsip Nursery in Illinois (both of their locations!!) and A Place for Pets in Washington!

Bailing Out Benji Presents Iowa’s FIRST State-wide Puppy Mill Awareness Event

Iowa’s first ever state-wide 



Iowa has over 230 USDA licensed “puppy mills”, with over 23,000 adult dogs trapped in cages for the entirety of their lives! (This number doesn’t include the unlicensed mills that we often hear about in the news!) Iowa, alone, sells  over 100,000 puppies to pet stores and through internet sales… After seeing a lack of knowledge among Iowans about this topic, it was clear that something more widespread needed to be done. I decided to reach out to many shelters across Iowa, and many of them jumped at the opportunity to help spread awareness about puppy mills in their area! Although puppy mill awareness day is September 15, that isn’t stopping these guys from making puppy mill awareness a MONTH LONG EVENT! Please head over to our facebook page and leave your thoughts, don’t forget to like us 🙂 

 Below is a partial list of participating groups that wanted to join in for a great cause! These groups deserve a huge thanks from all of us, as they are the heroes in our state! Please consider attending one (or all!) of these events and help those that are truly trying to save lives and remember to stop by their facebook pages and thank them for all that they do! If the event is gray, it has already passed- but you can go to our facebook page and read about how the event turned out! 

SIOUX CITY, Iowa– September 1st and 2nd, 2012. Please join Noah’s hope animal rescue at ArtSplash in Grandview Park, Sioux City from 10-6 on Sat. and 10-4 on Sun. Parents, bring your children to work on fun crafts, as you are educated about puppy mills! This free event  is open to all and promises to be fun and educational for those that attend! Don’t forget to stop by their facebook page and thank them for their participation in this campaign!

DECORAH, Iowa- September 8th, 2012. The Humane Society of Northeast Iowa (formerly known as PAWS) will be hosting an “Adopt, Don’t Shop” event at Critters and Such Pet Care 2339 179th Ave, Decorah from 11am to 1pm. It is up to you to free the HSNEI youth from their cages with donations for keys! This amazing group of volunteers really took this idea and ran with it! Please consider attending this fun and informative event!  For more information, “like” their facebook page and stay up to date on the latest news in your area!


MASON CITY, Iowa– September 15, 2012…. Please visit the Humane Society of North Iowa at their facility to check out their new puppy mill awareness display! They will have a booth set up with information for a few weeks in hopes of spreading the word! Don’t forget to “like” their facebook page.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa–  September 15, 2012… Please join the Last Hope Rescue of Iowa as they educate the Downtown Farmers Market at the Green Square Park from  7:30am – Noon! Browse through (and purchase) their dog treats, blankets, and other dog accessories, as well as hear some educational information about puppy mills! 

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- September 15, 2012… After hitting up the farmers market, please hit up Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids   10am – 2pm, where Last Hope Rescue of Iowa will ALSO be educating citizens about puppy mills, as well as selling some more items for their rescue. This amazing rescue will have brochures and other information to take with you about puppy mills! Don’t forget to stop by their facebook page and tell them thanks for spreading the word! 

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- September 15th, 2012. Please join the Cedar Rapids Weim Club at the Cedar Rapids Dog Park (heyenne Park, 1650 Cedar Bend Lane SW), as they host a meet and greet! The club will have information to share with all of the dog owners about puppy mills! And what better day to host such an event, that puppy mill awareness day itself! Please head over to their facebook page and “like” this amazing group!

JEFFERSON, Iowa- September 15th, 2012. Please join PAWS of Greene County from 9am to 4pm as they host their own kind of puppy mill awareness event at the Red Barn Craft Show, which is held at the Greene County Fairgrounds. Please stop by their tent to check out the adorable adoptables and hear some very important information about puppy mills! More information about their adoptable animals can be found on their website. 

SIOUX CITY, Iowa September 15th and 16th. Join Noah’s Hope Animal Rescue at PetSmart (5001 Sergeant Rd) as they educate the customers about puppy mills and why you should adopt, instead of shop for pets! In attendance will be many of their adorable adoptables, who are all fully vetted and microchipped before adoption! Spread the word far and wide, because any attention to this topic in Woodbury County is great! Go to Noah’s Hope Animal Rescue’s facebook page and thank them for standing up for the puppy mill dogs! 

DES MOINES, Iowa- September 16th, 2012. Please join Illinois Bulldog Rescue at PetSmart (5050 Southeast 14th Street), as they show of some of their bulldog rescues. We will have a table there with information on IEBR, puppy mills and knowledgeable volunteers to answer any questions that you might have! IEBR rescues many dogs from puppy mills, and we are so proud to have them as a part of this education event! Please go to their facebook page and give them a huge thanks for all that they do! 

AMES, Iowa–  September 18th, 2012. Please join the student group Students Helping Rescue Animals on campus at Iowa State University from 12 pm- 2pm as they hand out information about puppy mills! This is an amazing event, as these students are trying to educate the target audience of many pet stores/puppy mills. 

DAVENPORT, Iowa- Friday, September 21st, 7pm – 10pm K9 Kindness Rescue will be hosting Trivia Night at the Knight’s of Columbus 1111 W. 35th Street Davenport. This fun event does cost $10 per person or $80 per table, but it is a fun-filled night that is sure to entertain and educate you! Call 563.391.1908 to make reservations – tables fill up quickly! They are non-profit and all of the proceeds will go to animals! Please like them on facebook and stay updated on this event and more! 

AMANA, Iowa- September 23rd, 2012. Safe Haven of Iowa County is hosting their “Walking Fur All Fours” annual dog walk from 2-4 pm at the Amana Pavillion, and will be highlighting puppy mills!  What a better way to educate dog lovers than to have a dog walk ! Join this great cause on facebook!

EPWORTH, Iowa- Oct. 5, 2012 from 6:30-7:30. Please join the Canine Connection LLC as they host a free educational meeting about common dog problems, dog training and puppy mills! This will be held at the Dubuque County Library, Epworth branch. A donation jar will be set out help Homeward Bownd Siberian Husky rescue! Please like both of these amazing groups on facebook, and stay up to date on the training do’s and don’t’s with Canine Connection! 

ASBURY, Iowa- October 12, 2012 from 1-2pm. Please join the Canine Connection LLC as they host a free educational meeting about common dog problems, dog training and puppy mills! This will be held at the Asbury Eagles’ club, .5900 Saratoga Plaza, Suite 10.  A donation jar will be set out help Homeward Bownd Siberian Husky rescue! Please like both of these amazing groups on facebook, and stay up to date on the training do’s and don’t’s with Canine Connection! 

FORT DODGE, IOWA– October 14th, 2012. Almost Home of North Central Iowa will be hosting their Family Flashback days at…. This fun family event will include races, pie throwing, other games, as well as events that will educate the visitors about puppy mills. Head on over to their facebook page  and stay updated on the latest news from Almost Home! 

DAVENPORT, Iowa October 14th, 2012.  The Humane Society of Scott County will be hosting their annual Fall Fur-stival at their facility 2802 West Central Park Avenue, Davenport from 2-4pm. Lots of fun, games and education is to be had at the Tail-gating PAW-tay… Top Tail-Gaters choose a theme with games and recipes to share but no alcoholic beverages, please! Earn the most Visitors’ Choice votes for your PAW-tay and win a Best of the Lot prize! Want to show your team spirit? Pet parents- dress your pet  up to show your team spirit and  YOU could win the Top Prize vote from a celebrity judge! Please visit their facebook page for more info. 


Here are a few of our out-of-state participants. 

DAMARISCOTTA, Maine– September 8th, 2012. The Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills are attending WOOF STOCK at Round Top Farm in Damariscotta, Maine from 10 am til 4pm. Over 23 rescues will be in attendance as well as the H.S.U.S, Maine Friends of Animal. Our partners, The Maine Citizens Against Puppy mills will be having an educational table there, educating many of the consumers on the dangers of shopping for pets! This event will also have an all breed dog show, agility demo’s, obedience demo’s, a yard sale and all around dog fun all day long! Please consider attending this fun event and don’t forget to like” them on facebook! 

WOODBURY, Minnesota- September 9th, 2012. Peke N Chin Midwest Rescue will again be participating in the Open House held at All Breed Obedience in Woodbury from 10 am to 2 pm.  This is a terrific event focused on what families can do with their adopted canines for fun once they bring them home, such as rehabilitation, therapy work, search and rescue training, obedience classes, etc… All members of the public who attend are encouraged to bring cat and dog food that is donated to the participating rescue groups at the end of the open house! Please consider attending this event   and please give this rescue the thanks that they deserve! Head over to their facebook page and give them a shout out! 

OMAHA, Nebraska- September 16th, 2012. The Pug Partners of Nebraska are hosting a Car &Dog wash at the  The Green Spot Omaha – 72nd and Pacific (1110 South 71st Street Bay K Omaha, NE 68106).  They will working fundraise and raise awareness about puppy mills! The prices are $10 for a car wash/$10 dog wash/ $10 dog nail trim, or all of the above! Click here for the event on facebook and don’t forget to “like” this amazing rescue on facebook. They work hard to rescue many pugs from puppy mills! 

SALEM, Massachusetts– September 22, 2012 from 12 – 5 PM. Please join PMAD as they help to spread the word about puppy mills in their area! Not only will they be spreading awareness about puppy mills, they will also be having a pooch parade, doggy kissing booths and many more activities! Join them on facebook and check out their event page for more info! 

CHICAGO, Illinois- September 30, 2012 12:00 pm. Join The Puppy Mill Project as they march down Michigan Avenue in honor of Puppy Mill Awareness Day. Route Begins at Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River. Help them show Chicago and the world that dogs are still man’s best friend! Register for the event here.

AUSTIN, Texas- September, 30, 2012. Hosted by Last Chance for Animals at the Fiesta Gardens. This special event includes an art auction, complete with works from actual puppy mill survivors, a silent auction, and the chance to meet Shannon Elizabeth, Victoria Stillwell, and Rikki Rockett! Consider going to this amazing event and show that you are against puppy mills! Learn more about the event here

St. Paul, Minnesota– October 6th, 2012. Peke N Chin Midwest Rescue will be attending the The Great Minnesota Pet Together  at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds International Bazaar from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They will be taking this opportunity to not only adopt out some of their adorable rescues, but educating many about puppy mills and the effect they have on homeless animals in shelters and rescues across the nation. Please consider attending this event and showing your support to Peke N Chin Midwest, as they have rescued many dogs from puppy mills! Don’t forget to head over to their facebook page!


(This article will be continuously updated as I receive more event info. Some groups are still putting the finishing touches on their event info.) If your group would like to be included in this event, please send us an email at …. Join the rest of the state in standing up against puppy mills! 

If you are interested in brochures about puppy mills, please send me an email as well and I will send you the file!


And AS ALWAYS, please “like” Bailing Out Benji on facebook 🙂  And don’t forget to share this article, to give these events the publicity that they deserve! 

I would like to send out a special thanks to Happy Medium,  who worked very hard on flyers for these events! They were efficient, hard-working and I would recommend them to anyone that needs marketing of any kind!

**I also want to note that Bailing Out Benji never asks for donations. All of the work we do is simply because we love animals.**

Animal Welfare Act and the USDA


Updated 2020 © Bailing Out Benji

Actual USDA licensed and inspected breeder from Iowa 

So many people have questions about USDA licensed breeders, the people who inspect them, and why certain licensed breeders are allowed to get away with many violations without any consequence- not to mention the many problems we have with small town zoos.   The Animal Welfare Act can be difficult to interpret, and it is subjective to each inspector. 

It’s important to note exactly what inspectors are looking for when they arrive at a USDA licensed kennel. Their job is to make sure breeders are adhering to the minimum standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), but that is it. They can look at a facility with hundreds of dogs in small cages, desperate for human attention, and note no violations. In fact, in recent years the USDA has moved towards sharing “teachable moments” with their licensees; where they share concerns verbally and write nothing down on an official report. NOTE: Currently, when a USDA inspector utilizes the “teachable moment” policy, or ignores violations in accord with self-reporting or other recently changed policies, the inspector makes the following notation on the official inspection report: “No non-compliant items.” Then the inspector documents, either on a separate “teachable moment” document, or in his/her field notes, the specific non-compliant items discovered during the inspection. (source: MAAL) 

That’s because the AWA does nothing to ensure dogs are happy, or live a quality life. It’s not written into the regulations, and therefore is not something the USDA enforces. Here are some quick facts about the minimum standards set forth by the USDA:

-Inspections are “Risk-based,” meaning that facilities that meet a certain criteria are inspected “as seldom as once every 2 to 3 years.”
-Cage size: must be 6 inches larger than the size of the dog, on all sides
-Up to 12 dogs can be housed in one cage
-Dogs never have to be let out of their cages. Breeders only need to have an exercise plan
-There is no limit to the number dogs a breeder can have—many have over 1,000 . ( Please note: A dog breeding limit can be set on the state level and has been in Washington, Oregon, Virginia and Louisiana ) . 
-There is no age limit for breeding dogs. If a dog is able to produce puppies for ten years, that’s how long they could be in the facility.

Animals covered under this act are: Dogs, Cats, Monkeys (other nonhuman primate mammals), guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and other warm-blooded animals that is intended for use in research, testing, or exhibition. 

Not all animals are covered by this act. Excluded animals include: Birds, Cold Blooded Animals, Fish, Rats and Mice, Amphibians, and livestock (cows, horses, pigs). 

Certain facilities are covered by the AWA, which means that these types of facilities must be USDA licensed. These include facilities that: Breed animals for commercial sale (such as puppy mills), Use animals used in research, Transport animals commercially, or Publically exhibit animals (such as zoos, aquariums)

Facilities not covered by the AWA include pet stores, farms and hobby breeders. 

Taken from the USDA website. Their calculations showing dogs only need 6 inches of space around their bodies

As noted above, the AWA does nothing to address boredom, emotional well- being or quality of life. A dog spinning in circles in a tiny cage 24-7 would not trigger a USDA violation as long as that dog appears outwardly healthy and the cage is at least 6 inches taller that the dogs’ head and 6 inches wider and longer than the dog measures from nosetip to tail BASE. This is an example of why the AWA needs to be rewritten. Emotional torture is every bit as damaging as physical torture for these dogs. The AWA requires that basic standards of care and  treatment be provided for certain animals bred and sold  for use as pets, used in biomedical research, transported  commercially, or exhibited to the public. Individuals  who operate facilities in these categories must provide  their animals with adequate care and treatment in the  areas of housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water,  veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather  and temperatures. Sadly, the word adequate doesn’t meet many of OUR standards.

Most commercial breeders use wire flooring on their cages so the feces and urine are able to fall through the openings. This set up is another cruel part of the industry. When people started getting smart and complaining that the wire flooring was causing further injury and deformity to the dogs, the breeders asked that the USDA refer to it as “mesh”. After many people spoke up, the USDA required the wire to be coated, as opposed to making the wire thicker. Any attempts at making changes to these regulations has been met with much resistance.  

Although Federal requirements  establish basic standards, regulated businesses are encouraged to exceed these standards. (AWA website.Most do not. Unfortunately, many USDA licensees not only have a history of violations, but they have many repeat violations with no follow-up or enforcement by the USDA. In fact, every year the Humane Society of the United States creates a “Horrible Hundred” puppy mill list, and many of the violators are repeat offenders. 

-Recent updates with the USDA 2019- 

It is also important to note that in February of 2017, the USDA removed all of their public access to USDA inspection reports in a shocking and sudden move, leaving countless animal welfare organizations in the dark on what is going on within these facilities. Several organizations are in ongoing litigation to fight for our right to obtain the records in their full, un-redacted state. This made our work a lot harder. 

Since the records have been redacted before being released for public viewing, we have seen a dramatic difference in what inspectors are reporting. In fact, the Washington Post uncovered that  the USDA’s enforcement of the AWA had virtually stopped in 2018. See photo obtained from the Washington Post Below. 

Provided by the Washington Post

In 2019, the Washington Post also provided additional research showing that “USDA inspectors documented 60 percent fewer violations at animal facilities in 2018 from the previous year.” You can view their full article here. See the photo obtained from them below. 

Obtained by the Washington Post

This is why there is a huge need for organizations like Bailing Out Benji to exist. We not only research the puppy mill industry, but we connect them to the pet stores they sell to and we have volunteers working to end this cruel industry every day. This is where we need your help! Keep talking about puppy mills and help us educate; go to your city, state and federal leaders to strengthen enforcement on a local level; and don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to get more involved with our small nonprofit! You can also view our pet store research here. 


-Recent updates with the USDA 2020- 

On the orders of Congress, the USDA was recently forced to reinstate all of their records back on the USDA website. 


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Sources are the AWA website, MAAL,  Washington Post,