Exploited for profit; how to spot a puppy farm

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

In memory of Lily who passed away on 9/7/23

Puppy farms – or puppy mills – are arguably one of Australia’s largest causes of animal cruelty.

Lily was rescued more than a decade ago yet still carries the physical and mental scars from beginning her life in one of these hidden ‘farms’– where dogs are intensively bred so puppies can be sold online or to pet shops.

Read our article on tips for spotting fake online animal rescue videos

Lily’s story

In 2008, police were called to a property in regional NSW for an unrelated matter, but it didn’t long for the officers to realise the property was being used as a puppy farm, and there were serious concerns about the conditions of the animals being kept there.

Inside, this ‘breeder’, had hundreds of dogs living in putrid conditions.

The stench was vile and some of the animals were in such poor condition, their breed was not initially known.

Lily the puppy farm survivor
Lily was immediately a great edition to our family

The police notified an animal welfare organisation and, in the coming days, almost 200 dogs were seized from the property and taken to shelters for rehabilitation.

The NSW puppy farm and the hundreds of dogs rescued was reported on by media at the time (warning, some of the content of the article and the images are distressing)

One of those dogs was Lily.

It became apparent that a man at the property was intensively breeding the dogs in order to sell the puppies to pet shops and online.

To him, these animals were nothing but breeding machines.

They were confined to concrete walls and floors, which were covered in faeces and rotting food.

The females, mainly shihtzus, were forced to endure multiple pregnancies with no veterinary care. Many of the animals were extremely ill, and very scared.

Small brown dog rescued from puppy farm
Small dog on a puppy farm (credit: Oscar’s Law)

What are puppy farms?

These animals are fed and given water. Apart from that, they are denied even the most basic animal-welfare right.

While the conditions and veterinary care may vary at different puppy farms, the reason for them is the same, to intensively breed dogs.

This is how pet shops and online vendors get their puppies; they purchase them at a cheap price from the breeder, then increase the cost significantly to the public.

Read our article on getting and bringing home a new puppy

The welfare of the animal is put last – a long way behind litter numbers and potential profits.

These animals are fed and given water. Apart from that, they are denied even the most basic animal-welfare right.

It’s not uncommon for puppy farms to contain hundreds of dogs at any one time, all living in squalor.

Puppies bred in these conditions are the ones that end up being surrendered at shelters later in life.

They also end up costing exorbitant amounts of money, because they are bred with multiple veterinary and behavioural issues.

Puppy farm dogs
Dogs on an Australian puppy farm (image supplied by Oscar’s Law)

The mental and physical scars from the puppy farm

In the months following the dogs’ seizure, Lily fell into the ‘not quite ready’ category.

While she had recovered, physically, from her pregnancies, mentally was a different story.

She was an extremely cute and friendly girl, but also extremely timid and petrified of everything.

My family adopted Lily and today, even 13 years later, she is still scarred from her experience.

It took her a long time to be ok with walking on grass; all she’d ever known was a concrete slab, so her feet were overly sensitive.

She still won’t allow anyone to touch her feet; she flinches every time and it breaks my heart.

Because of the in-breeding, Lily has some physical abnormalities.

She was born with a cleft pallet and has had numerous mouth and dental issues since.

She recently had to undergo surgery to remove all her teeth, leaving her tongue now permanently drooping from her mouth.

Puppy farm rescue dog Lily with Pink!
Lily even got to meet Pink! during a promotional campaign to fight animal cruelty in 2009. (Image: supplied)

The grim future of puppy farm dogs

Lily is one of the lucky ones.

Despite the horror she experienced in her first years, she has been given a new life.

Most of the ‘mothers’ in puppy farms don’t ever see the outside.

They are killed once they are deemed unsuitable for further breeding; until then, their lives are a misery.

Sadly, puppy farms continue to thrive in Australia and globally.

They are so hidden that many people aren’t even aware of their existence.

For every cute puppy for sale online, there is a Lily and hundreds just like her.

These dogs are suffering horrifically in order for consumers to purchase an ‘adorable’ crossbreed puppy.

Animal welfare organisations say an animal shelter or a registered breeder are the only humane places to purchase a puppy.

You will avoid the cruelty as well as the physical and behavioural problems that are common in intensively-bred dogs.

Dogs are beautiful, intelligent creatures, but the choices we make are allowing hundreds of thousands to suffer.

Tips for how you can help put an end to puppy farms

Research is the key. If you are thinking about getting a dog, make sure you do your homework.

Buy from a registered breeder. These dogs are not over-bred, they are treated well, and you will most likely save in veterinary fees in the future!

Adopt from your local shelter. Older dogs need homes too, and they can be the perfect companion to a household. In some instances, older dogs are much more appropriate for a family than a new puppy.

It’s simple, do not buy a puppy online if they aren’t a registered breeder, or from a pet shop.

Advocate for the better treatment of these animals by writing to your local member to support laws regulating the sale and breeding of puppies.

If you see dogs advertised online, contact the relevant authorities and report it. 

If you’re searching for a new pooch, head to the RSPCA website to learn more about the ethical purchase of dogs, as well as find your local shelter https://www.rspca.org.au/

/ by Michelle Minehan

Michelle is the founder and editor of Animal Friendly Life.