Pet Shops and “Puppy Mills”

Making a decision to obtain a pet is an important one — our companion animals share our lives and can live with us for decades.  Make sure you understand where your next animal comes from to help make the best decision for you, your family and the animals.

What are “puppy mills”?

“Puppy mill” is a term that is frequently used to describe a large scale commercial breeding facility where dogs are kept in conditions that the public would not consider humane and where dogs are repeatedly bred to generate as many puppies as possible for the retail and online pet market.

What is wrong with puppy mills?

Generally, dogs are crowded together and receive minimal veterinary care. Adult dogs who come from puppy mills often must learn the simplest things, as they have never experienced life outside of a cage. Puppies are also more likely to have genetic disorders due to the inbreeding that often occurs in puppy mills. These genetic deficiencies often lead to health issues and poor temperament, which can be difficult to treat and heartbreaking for dogs and their families. In May 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General conducted an audit of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Animal Care (AC) unit and focused on problematic dealers. This most recent audit report can be found at


What is the relationship between pet shops and puppy mills?

These large scale breeders may supply pet stores with puppies. If you purchase a pet over the internet, from a puppy broker, or at a pet store, the dog likely came from a puppy mill. No responsible breeder would sell a dog or cat to a pet store, a broker, or over the internet. Responsible breeders care about the well-being of their animals and want to place them in loving and carefully selected homes. Responsible breeders also keep track of the health of animals they sell in order to catch any possible genetic conditions they need to know about when making breeding decisions in the future. Consumers also need to be careful about large scale breeders posing as “rescues.”  More information about making informed choices when choosing a new animal can be found here.

Are puppy mills legal?

Commercial breeding facilities are legal and are regulated at the federal level by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires all wholesale breeders and brokers (those who sell to pet shops and brokers) to be licensed and inspected by the USDA. The AWA also sets minimum standards of care for these facilities (visit the USDA’s website for more information on the AWA). Unfortunately, USDA inspectors cannot inspect frequently or thoroughly, allowing some facilities to fall through the cracks and get away with conditions that should be violations. This ineffective enforcement was detailed in the 2010 Audit (mentioned above).

For specific AWA language, click here. Many states also have laws that regulate commercial dog breeding. Click here to find out what laws are in place in Massachusetts and in other states.

Are pet shops in Massachusetts regulated?

Yes, pet shops are regulated by the state. Massachusetts Pet Shop Regulations can be found on the Department of Agricultural Resources’ website.

Who can I call if I want to make a complaint about a pet shop?

If the pet shop regulations have been violated, you can contact the MSPCA’s law enforcement department at 1-800-628-5808, the Animal Rescue League of Boston at (617) 426-9170, or the Division of Animal Health within the Department of Agricultural Resources at (617) 626-1795. You can also ask about past citations and inspections of a pet shop.

How can I find out about past complaints on a particular pet shop?

Typically government records like citation and inspections are public records. To request information, call the Department at (617) 626-1795. Below we have also listed recent articles appearing in local newspapers that list citations and past complaints from the public about Massachusetts and nearby area pet stores.

What can I do if I purchase a sick dog or cat?

Massachusetts has a pet “lemon law”. The pet shop that sells you the dog or cat must give you a 14-day warranty, which entitles you to a full refund or replacement if a veterinarian determines that the animal is diseased or has a congenital disorder.  You may also file a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources by calling (617) 626-1795. See 330 CMR 12.05(3). The MSPCA is working to improve the pet “lemon law.” Read more about this pending legislation.

How Can I Help?

#1: Do not buy pet supplies from a store that sells dogs, cats, or other animals from intensive breeding facilities or other unethical suppliers.

The key to ending dogs being bred in these conditions is to decrease consumer demand. Animals in pet shops or available over the internet often come from “puppy mills.” Animals in newspaper classified ads and sold through brokers can also come from “puppy mills”. By buying an animal from one of these venues, you support the conditions at large scale breeding facilities.

By adopting an animal from a shelter, rescue organization or animal control facility you are helping to save a life. There are many wonderful animals waiting for a person and place to call home. If you are looking for a purebred animal, there are many rescue groups that focus on a specific breed of dog or cat. Also, studies have shown that over 25% of pets available for adoption at shelters are purebred. Visit one of the MSPCA’s Adoption Centers or find a breed rescue or adoption center near you at Learn to be puppy-source savvy at Pupquest. By responsibly adding a companion animal to your life, you ensure your next pet does not come from a puppy mill. If you only purchase pet supplies from pet stores that do not sell animals, you can ensure that your dollars are not supporting the commercial pet-breeding industry. Make sure you ask about the sources of animals if you are considering purchasing supplies in a store that sells animals – of any type.

#2: Spread the word.

Educate your friends, family, and co-workers about large scale breeders and how the decision to buy an animal from a pet store supports these operations. Ask your friends to take the pledge not to support puppy mills. Inexpensive educational materials are also available online for you to order and distribute. Click here to learn more.

#3: Write a Letter to the Editor.

Write a letter to the editor of your local paper(s) to educate your entire community, and your elected officials, about the issueClick here to learn more. 

#4: Encourage legislative protections on the federal level.

Contact the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency that is charged with inspecting commercial breeding facilities, to encourage stricter enforcement and stronger laws. You may also wish to contact your U.S. Senators and Congressperson about your concerns. In Massachusetts, if you do not know who represents you, visit and look for two U.S. Senators (under Statewide Office Holders) and Congressional (under District Representatives).

#5: Encourage legislative protections on the state level.

You can join the MSPCA’s Animal Action Team and we will let you know about pending Massachusetts legislative and regulatory proposals on this issue and others.

You may also wish to contact your state legislators and express your opinion and concerns regarding puppy mills and pet shops. If you do not know who represents you, you can find out at and after entering your address, scroll down to find the name next to “Rep in General Court” and “Senator in General Court”.  Click here for current pending bills.

You can also contact the Department of Agricultural Resources’ Division of Animal Health and request to be put on their mailing list for notification of any future public hearings regarding the pet shop regulations. Their contact information is: Department of Agricultural Resources, Division of Animal Health, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 500, Boston, MA 02114; Phone (617) 626-1794.

California and Maryland have both passed laws banning retail pet store puppy sales. Read about puppy mill laws in other states.

#6: Encourage legislative protections on the local level.

Boston, Cambridge, Stoneham, and over 320 other municipalities across the country have banned retail pet store puppy sales. Passing a local ordinance or bylaw may be less complicated and timely than trying to pass a state-wide law. While local ordinances or bylaws would only impact animals in a city or town, their reach is often far greater. Local ordinances provide a model for other cities and towns to follow and local legislation oftentimes can gain enough momentum to bring the issue to the state level. The no smoking ordinances in Massachusetts are a great example; the ordinance caught on in municipalities and is now a state law. Learn more about passing a local ordinance or bylaw.

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