Pets & Animals

This puppy mill just got busted — and 117 animals now have hope

The windowless metal building was filled with small wire cages containing filthy dogs, there to be bred and sold. Investigators didn't even have to get inside before the overwhelming smell of urine and feces made them gag.

There were Shih Tzus, Pomeranians, Yorkies, Maltipoos and other designer breeds there to be bred and sold. Puppies were going for $700-$1,200 each, with smaller dogs fetching the higher prices.

SPCA of Texas
On Sept. 25, 117 animals were taken from a suspected puppy mill in North Texas.

Ninety-three adult dogs, 22 puppies and two cats were rescued from this suspected puppy mill in north Texas at the end of September. The bust was a joint effort by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas and the Hunt County Sheriff's Office.

On Monday, the animals' owner surrendered legal custody to the SPCA of Texas — they are finally receiving medical care and affection at the organization's facility in Dallas.

SPCA of Texas

"We are starting to get to know their personalities. Some are more outgoing, others are still shy and warming up to people," spokesperson Victoria Albrecht told TODAY in an email.

SPCA of Texas
A moment of kindness for one of the 117 animals rescued from a suspected Texas mill

The term "puppy mill" generally refers to a large-scale commercial dog-breeding operation. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills in the United States, producing what's thought to be about 2 million puppies every year.

SPCA of Texas
This is the windowless metal building where these dogs lived in stacked cages until their rescue.

The federal and state laws regulating commercial pet breeders are often criticized by advocates for being too weak: insufficient to protect the animals' welfare, and also poorly enforced. (Read TODAY's previous puppy mill coverage.)

SPCA of Texas
Inside the cramped quarters of the windowless building
SPCA of Texas
Puppies were being sold for $700-$1,200 each.

Here are some red flags to look out for that may indicate a breeder is operating a puppy mill.

  • He or she won't let you see where the dogs live.
  • Prospective buyers aren't allowed to meet a puppy's mother.
  • The animal is sold online. As the ASPCA puts it: "Responsible breeders would never sell to someone they haven't met because they want to screen potential buyers to ensure the puppies are going to good homes."
  • You're shopping at a flea market, or at a pet store that is still selling commercially bred animals and hasn't switched over to working with shelters and rescue groups.

SPCA of Texas
The days of being kept in small cages for breeding are over for these dogs.

"Puppy mill owners are deceptive. They pose as caring breeders with just a few puppies to sell," said Albrecht. "The best way to add a four-legged friend to your family is to adopt from a shelter or a rescue group."

SPCA of Texas
One of the dogs rescued from the Texas puppy mill gets some love at the SPCA of Texas.

Indeed, if all goes well that'll soon be an option with this bunch.

These dogs came to the SPCA of Texas covered in matted fur and urine. They have problems with their skin, ears, eyes, nails and teeth after being subjected to cruel treatment. "Our medical staff is caring for the animals and attending to their needs," said Albrecht.

SPCA of Texas
The dogs and cats are being evaluated individually for their health and behavior, and will go up for adoption when they are ready.

As they get well, and after they are spayed and neutered, the rescued dogs and cats will go up for adoption. (Stay tuned on the SPCA of Texas Facebook page.)

It'll be high time for them to enjoy the next great stage of their lives as thoroughly spoiled pets rather than commodities.

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