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story.lead_photo.caption Donna Ponder holds her chihuahua Scooter Oct. 20, 2018, while walking her other two poodles, Gracie and Casper, at Westside Veterinary Clinic in Jefferson City. Ponder obtained all three of her dogs from animal shelters. Photo by Jenna Kieser / Fulton Sun.

That puppy in the window might come at the cost of supporting bad breeding practices and sick dogs.

That's the message of the Humane Society of the United State's Horrible Hundred report. Each year, the HSUS combs through data from the United States Department of Agriculture's reports on breeder inspections to find the U.S.'s worst known puppy mills, then publishes the list in an attempt to raise public awareness and urge government oversight agencies to take action.

"For the seventh year in row, Missouri tops the list, home to 22 of the problem puppy mills highlighted in the 2019 Horrible Hundred Report," said Kirsten Peek, an HSUS public relations specialist.

No Callaway County breeding operations were listed.

"There is a difference between a backyard breeder and a puppy mill," said Sandy Corbet of the Callaway County Humane Society.

The HSUS defines a puppy mill as a dog breeding and selling operation "in which the physical, psychological and/or behavior needs of all or some dogs are not being consistently fulfilled." Dogs in a puppy mill operation may be bred too often, kept in unsanitary conditions, not taken to see vets when needed, fed too little, kept outside in bad weather and so on.

The Humane Society also notes its list doesn't include every single puppy mill in the U.S. — or even all the worst ones. Some states don't require dog breeding kennels to be inspected, so poorly run operations in those states may fly under the radar.

In Missouri, two main government entities oversee dog breeders: the USDA and Missouri's Animal Care Program. The USDA inspects wholesale breeders and dealers who supply animals to pet stores, brokers or research facilities. The ACP inspects commercial breeders, which are breeders who sell animals and have more than three intact females.

The Horrible Hundred report is full of horror stories. Closest to Callaway County is Wagtime Puppies, a breeding operation located in Hannibal. Several USDA inspections in 2018 found a shih tzu with "reddened, oozing skin," matted dogs and feces smeared everywhere, the HSUS reported.

At other operations, breeders were caught breeding dogs with fatal genetic conditions, making up false rescue groups to sell dogs, and leaving seriously ill dogs dogs without veterinary care. The full report can be viewed here:

Spotting mills

Puppy mill dogs come with serious problems, according to Sandy Corbet of the Callaway County Humane Society.

"On the Humane Society end, we'll have people who say, 'I got this puppy; it's very shy and unsocialized. It's just terrified,'" she said. "Those puppies are born in little pens and they're never socialized."

They may also prove hard to housebreak. While dogs instinctively avoid defecating in their living space, a dog who grows up in a tiny crate eventually suppresses that instinct.

A puppy who doesn't get proper veterinary care may already be infected with a deadly disease like parvovirus by the time it goes home with you, and may spread that disease to other pets.

Additionally, many purebred dog breeds are vulnerable to particular health conditions that may prove fatal or expensive to treat later in life. For example, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are vulnerable to myxomatous valve disease, a deadly heart condition. Golden retrievers are prone to joint problems.

A responsible breeder will be familiar with their breed's common pitfalls and will screen breeding dogs in order to avoid passing on those inherited conditions. A puppy mill's owner likely won't care, leading to heartbreak for owners.

Luckily, there are many ways to spot both responsible and irresponsible breeders.

The HSUS warns against purchasing a non-rescue dog from a pet store or through a website like PuppyFind, as many of those dogs are supplied by puppy mills.

"The first red flag is if they say, 'I'll met you at McDonald's,'" Corbet said. "They won't let you out to their house; you don't get to see the parents or the facility."

A good breeder will be happy to let you tour the facility and meet the parent dogs and puppies. They'll be able to tell you about how the puppies are kept and socialized.

"The other thing a lot of breeders will do: They'll have several breeds — Yorkiepoos, cockapoos, chihuahuas," Corbet said. "There's not a reputable breeder that breeds four or five kinds of mixed-breed dogs."

Most reputable breeders focus in on a single dog breed. They'll have ties to breed-focused clubs and be able to talk about their puppies' bloodlines. Their puppies will be registered with a kennel club.

"They're generally breeding a breed to better the breed," Corbet said. "They probably show them, possibly in the (American Kennel Club)."

A good breeder will also be willing to show you their puppies' veterinarian paperwork. They'll be familiar with what diseases and disorders are prevalent in their breed and will be able to show genetic screening records.

"They're being responsible. They'll take them for the first shots and deworming, and they'll show you the paperwork," Corbet said.

The puppies' age can also be a sign.

"A lot of times puppy mills will let puppies go way too young, at six weeks," Corbet said.

Eight weeks is widely considered the minimum for the puppies' welfare.

Lastly, do your research on pricing for the breed you're interested in. According to the HSUS, if a deal's too good to be true, it probably is.

Corbet said she's not vilifying all backyard breeders; a pup from a neighbor's accidental litter may make a fine family dog. But it's worth doing the extra research before splashing out for an expensive purebred or fancy "designer" dog.

"You can find a lot of purebred dogs in shelters if you look around on Petfinder, and there are many breed-specific rescues too," she added.

For more info, see

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