Puppy mill is a term that defines the inhumane treatment of dogs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture only requires that the dog be given food and water and have enough room in the cage to turn around. The dog need never be let out of the cage to be considered meeting the "legal" standard. Dogs are also supposed to be provided veterinary care. Any normal, feeling human being would say that the USDA standards are far from humane, and there is no association between a USDA license and/or inspection and humane treatment. Also, there are simply not enough USDA inspectors to have any integrity in the inspection system.
I have witnessed too many dogs from USDA licensed and inspected kennels passing the inspection with major trauma — a perforated eyeball, a hole in the face with broken teeth, eyes so infected they are glued shut. See a pictorial of USDA inspected kennels. They are also horribly emotionally damaged from subsisting in a cage and lack of human contact. That is something you can't show in pictures, but anybody who has fostered or adopted one of these USDA breeding dogs could cry you a river.
So, societal values are what defines the term puppy mill. The vast majority of puppy buyers would be sickened, disgusted and appalled to learn that the mother and father of their "Fluffy" was kept in a cage its entire life. They buy a dog to be a member of the family for 10-15 years. A dog is a living creature, not a slab of USDA-inspected beef. This is what the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners "breeder" organization doesn't want anybody to know. Thus their desire to keep their inhumane breeding practices under wraps.
Yes, those breeders who aren't licensed are at the bottom of the barrel, but those who are licensed are far from what one would consider "reputable."
Tracey Fulmer is a volunteer rescue coordinator for the Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation.