Madonna of the Mills: Puppy Mill Exposé on HBO

Mark your calendar for Wednesday August 24th so you can watch the HBO documentary, Madonna of the Mills. I was able to preview the film and liked what I saw. The movie documents the passion of Laura Amato (the Madonna) on her forays into Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her sole purpose for traveling into the heart of Amish country is the rescue of puppy mill dogs, specifically those who are “used up” (no longer capable of breeding) and slated to be destroyed.

Laura is an intriguing main character. Her composure remains completely passive as she interacts with puppy mill breeders. She is therefore allowed access into the kennels and, on occasion the camera is allowed to follow. When this happens, what we see is predictably gruesome. One wonders how Laura can remain so emotionally detached while in the midst of such inhumanity. Clearly, she understands that such passivity is required if she is to accomplish the task at hand, namely the rescue of innocent victims, one at a time. The movie credits state that Laura has rescued more than two thousand dogs.

For those who are familiar with puppy mills, there’s really nothing new revealed here. The kennel conditions are beyond horrific, the dogs are physically and psychologically traumatized beings, it is clear that legislation is needed to make things better, and there are some happy endings thanks to generous, kind-hearted, patient people.

One could argue that, through her actions, the Madonna is enabling puppy mills to thrive. It wasn’t clear to me if Laura actually purchases the dogs she rescues. What was clear was that that none of her actions would deter the puppy mill trade. Laura is clearly a prisoner of her passion. One senses she would give up anything and everything in her life before surrendering her rescue missions. In a brief moment of emotional vulnerability she talks about the enormity of the puppy mill situation while seemingly trying to convince herself that by rescuing one dog at a time, she is making a difference.

Whether or not you agree with what Laura is doing, the beauty of this documentary is that it will educate the public about puppy mills. Someone contemplating purchasing a pup from a pet store just might be dissuaded from doing so after watching this movie. By the way, I wish the movie had more strongly emphasized that pups purchased on line (site and sight unseen) are also likely to be puppy mill progeny. Nonetheless, kudos to those responsible for making this documentary. Have a look and tell me what you think. Have you already heard more than enough about puppy mills or do you think there’s room for more?  By the way, you may want to have a box of Kleenex close at hand, and perhaps something to soothe your nerves while viewing the graphic scenes.

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

16 Responses to “Madonna of the Mills: Puppy Mill Exposé on HBO”

  1. Rachel Charles Says:

    We can never hear too much about puppy mills. Continuing to document the horrors of them and share such stories with the public is the only way to bring to the forefront of society that awful places such as puppy mills do exist. Sadly, it’s far too easy for the tv viewer to simply change the channel when something as heartwrenching as a puppymill documentary airs. People enjoy living in denial. They don’t want to believe that humans are capable of the horrors that occur at mills on a daily basis.

    Until one personally experiences firsthand the effects of puppymills, they can never truly appreciate the atrocities that happen in mills. My Grace is a former mill breeder. She spent 5 years in a mill and the psychological effects of it are unbelievable – never have I seen such a damaged dog. And she also experiences the physical effects as well. I wouldn’t trade having Grace in my life for anything in the world – she has opened my eyes to the pain that humans can and do inflict on helpless animals.

  2. Kyla Duffy Says:

    I’m glad someone did a documentary on puppy mills. People need to see what these dogs go through. If anyone would like to learn more on the topic, we have a free eBook download at .

    Also, while my first choice is, of course, to encourage people to adopt from a rescue, the fact is that not everyone is willing. Therefore, we’ve (Up For Pups) also provided a free resource on how to locate a good breeder and avoid getting scammed by a miller: .

    Hope that helps!

  3. Polly Bichon Says:

    Can’t find any reference in our paper’s scheduled HBO shows here in Richmond, VA – any help from TV fans?

  4. Erich Riesenberg Says:

    I don’t know how a person would go about finding a good breeder. By definition, I think, breeding requires focusing on breed standards. Agility competitions seem worthwhile but the conformation standards seem designed to please humans, not to have any benefit for the health of the dogs. Quite the opposite, I keep reading the phrase “genetic nightmare” when it comes to pure breeds.

    One big part of the solution is to make the process of getting a pet from a shelter or rescue more pleasant. I will e-mail a rescue and not really expect a response. Groups often have huge mistrust of the public while providng minimal infomation to the public. People saving pets need to trust the public a bit more, or there really is no hope for all the cats and dogs who need homes.

  5. jill breitner Says:

    This is a story that can and should be told over and over again until we make puppy mills extinct. In my job as a trainer I come across countless dogs from puppy mills/pet stores or bought online and these dogs have so many issues both physically and mentally and it’s not only the dog who suffers. The owners who have these dogs are also traumatized and doing everything in their power to help these pups grow up to be healthy and well adjusted dogs. I have a PMU horse form a Premarin Farm in Canada. We the advocates for these animals will make the difference in stopping these mills or farms as we continue our efforts to expose and shut them down.

    Thank you Nancy and thank you everyone for passing the word about this documentary to everyone you know and asking them to do the same.

    aka Shewhisperer

  6. Miriam Yarden, B.Sc.,MS,APDT Says:

    I am 82 years old and always had pets. You can imagine how many in all those years, and NOT ONE came from a breeder, shelter, pet store or newspaper ad. Every one was scooped up from the streets, I took them off freeways and many were tossed out of moving cars. They ere all the very best companions I ever had (4 at this writing).

    In my book, breeders (professional or other) are so low that they can walk under a snake with an open umbrella. Puppy mills are no different from any breeding business except for the deplorable and unbelievable conditions. Of course, there are the “hobby breeders” – and of course, if it really were a hobby, they would give the pups away free to appropiate homes rather than sell them. Then is becomes a business.

    The AKC supports puppy mills by omission. There again is money involved. They cater to and encourage inflated egos, substitute owners’ insecurities and a chance to brag. They also support shows where many dogs are shown with hidden medical conditions, internal genetic issues (i.e., not visible), mutilated ears and tails, and then those animals are also bred carrying the condition further.

    Why breed and sell when millions of animals are available for adoption? Just so that the owner can brag about the “pure bred” German Shepherd (with possible dysplasia), Dalmatian (with frequent renal failure) – the list goes on and on.

    Bless the Madonna for what she is doing. Of course she can’t save them all, but as to the question “does saving one make a difference?” the answer is “it secrtainly did to that one!”

    We must not give up! Educate, persuade and if necessary, legislate. This is a huge battle and a war we have to win. Until then, smaller, individual battles will have to be fought.

  7. Jane Eagle Says:

    I hate the AKC: if they did not issue papers to these mills, giving their poor dogs a bona fide “pedigree”, the puppy mills would all go out of business. But registering puppies makes lots of cash for the AKC, so they will not put an end to that, or require genetic tests, or anything else that might diminish their income. The AKC makes its living off the misery of these dogs. They are as bad as the puppymillers.

    Yes, I have already heard more than enough about puppy mills; and as long as they exist, EVERYONE needs to hear more. And as far as saving the dogs, what Laura is doing is akin to those who saved Jews in Nazi Germany: being carefully neutral, and doing as much as you can.
    When I found out that outside Missouri (Puppymill capital of the World) the Amish lead in cruelty, I lost all respect for them. In fact, one commentator said that to the Amish, dogs are like chickens; this opens the whole Pandora’s box of what animals it is acceptable to treat cruelly.
    I have a dog I adopted when she was 10, used for breeding all her life. I started fostering her; we thought she needed a quiet place to die. But with good nutrition and medical care, she got all better. She had such a miserable life, and she is so happy here, I just couldn’t make her go to another situation. Now she runs down the beach with the rest of the pack and barks at seagulls 🙂

    Re: finding a reputable breeder: first, their dogs come with a genetic guarantee; second they will take any dog back for any reason (lost your home when your pup was 12? A good breeder will take her back). When I purchased my only PB pup, he came with such a guarantee; I pointed out to the breeder that by the time I found any problems, he would be a family member, and no way was he going back. So he offered that in case of genetic problems, I could keep the dog and get a 50% refund. (Pomo made it to 15; he was the greatest dog ever, and I still correspond with his breeder).

    And, yes, the show dogs are bred for looks. If I were going to buy another pup from someone else, I would look for a kennel that also uses their dogs for the purpose they were bred for. I.E., my favorite breed is Siberian Huskies; they were created to pull sleds long distances. So, I would look for a “working” kennel, one who races or tours with their dogs. If I were looking for a Border Collie (or any herding breed) I would look for a kennel that also has their dogs herd. Or check out real ranches where livestock is raised, and ask if they use dogs…be creative in finding a working dog!

    I did go to the AKC National Specialty for Siberians when they were in my area. I could not pass up the chance to see over 100 Siberians in one place! There were lots of fluffy, pretty dogs, but most wouldn’t have lasted an hour in front of a sled. The winners were 2 of the prettiest, fluffiest dogs (who did sprint races: short races with a light sled). There were a couple of real sled dogs in that competition, who came in last. They completely knocked my socks off: they were incredibly beautiful, and had a special air about them that said “I can do anything!” In my opinion, the other dogs didn’t hold a candle to them. The joke in the sled dog world is that we’d like to see the judges dropped off in the middle of Antarctica with the winner, a sled, and some food!
    If you can’t find a working kennel, look online for people who do whatever that breed is supposed to do, and contact them for info. Best of all, adopt a rescue dog! There are so many thousands literally dying for homes.
    Although rescues don’t come with a guarantee, most will tell you anything they know about problems. And have some patience. Most rescues, like the one I volunteer with, are “staffed” by volunteers who have jobs, families, dogs, foster dogs, and other responsibilities as well. No one gets paid, and everyone is awfully busy! If necessary, keep trying; and/or try another rescue. And something like 65% of dogs in shelters are purebreds!

  8. Jean McGee Says:

    During the 80s recession, many Amish and Mennonite people sold land in Lancaster and moved to the Kentucky & Tennessee areas. I was always under the impression they are kind of heart & gentle until I saw the abuse to their horses and saw them taking horses and buggies filled with little children riding in the back on our highways. Many accidents occurred and sometimes the children were killed along with parents, but always the horses was killed. I talked with my state Senator about laws to keep them off the roads but he said I would be fighting a losing battle and wasting my time. One of my Vet friends told me he had to quit working for them because of the abuse to their animals was more than he could stand. I was very distressed because the adults could make a decision about what they did but the horses and those little children had no say in the matter and were put in danger on a daily basis.
    And now we learn they are also abusing dogs and are among the puppy mill owners. We can complain all we want and rescue all we possible can, but until everyone in the US gets up in arms and state by state passes laws to stop the puppy mill abuses and close them down completely, this will never stop. It is obvious our Congress cannot get along enough, nor do most care enough, about animal rights to pass necessary laws, so it is up to us, the Animal societies and individual states to do it NOW. Please call your State Representatives & Senators and ask them to sponsor bills to save animals.

  9. Michele Kasten Says:

    To those who “hate” the AKC, please know that AKC is the ONLY registry that does over 5000 inspections per year of any volume breeder throughout the US. The Amish largely do not register with AKC and if any of the breeding facilities were found to be lacking the AKC cooperates with local authorities to have them shut down.

    Many of the poor commercial breeders left AKC years ago to form their own registries (32 different ones and counting) when AKC started requiring breeders to prove parentage by DNA testing and doing inspections. If they don’t register puppies with AKC then AKC has no legal right to inspect their facilities. AKC has seen a steady decline in registries as they increased their requirements for well cared for dogs.

    AKC and AKC show breeders are some of the most vigilant and progressive people around. They support canine health research and cures through the Canine Health Foundation that benefits ALL dogs, even the mixed breeds which are no more or less healthy than a purebred.

    I have been living and loving dogs for over 50 years and to bash AKC or all breeders is contradictory. Are there bad AKC breeders, of course, but the vast majority of them are great people producing healthy, lifetime guaranteed dogs.

    For the person who says if you sell a dog it is not a hobby, then you need to apply that same logic to all shelters. They do not give their dogs away either so should they lose their non profit status?

    I am very proud to be a responsible AKC Breeder of Merit and the co-founder of Midwest Schipperke Rescue. I have been rescuing dogs of all breeds for over 30 years and showing dogs for 27 years. I have rescued fifty times as many schipperkes than I have ever bred. And NONE of these schips came from one of our responsible AKC breeders!

  10. DogsRGr8 Says:

    First Oprah and now another sensational show featuring “puppy mills”. I’ll say what I said when Oprah aired her show. Why are these people who go into these substandard kennels not reporting them to the authorities? We have plenty of laws that make such abusive treatment of dogs illegal. The current laws need to be enforced. We certainly do not need any more laws. From reading some of the comments it is clear that ALL breeders are viewed with disdain and there are people out there who feel they have the right to dictate to others what they can and can’t do with their dogs. It’s fast becoming a fascist nation.

  11. Nancy Arluna Says:

    My Japanese Chin Yoshi was an Amish pupply mill rescue.
    He is now happily adjusted but it took two years for him to become socialized and not be afraid of strangers and to play with my other chin.
    He is the sweetest most grateful boy and is a joy to have.
    I never would have believed the Amish would treat thier animals like merchandise but after adopting Yoshi I now know how horrible they are.
    He still chewes his own toenails, most likely a habit he learned from his year and a half in an amish mill hell.
    Thank God he was rescued and is now my sweet boy.

  12. Mitch Labuda Says:

    While this is expose is on HBO, the big movie houses make movies with dogs and puppies in the movies and there is an almost immediate response from the big screen movies, an explosion of breeding of the dogs or puppies in the movies, while many die in shelters each and every day. The shelters are not too blame, we are.

  13. Jane Eagle Says:

    To DogsRGr8:
    “We have plenty of laws that make such abusive treatment of dogs illegal.”

    “there are people out there who feel they have the right to dictate to others what they can and can’t do with their dogs.”


    It’s fast becoming a fascist nation.

  14. Rae Says:

    @DogsRGr8, backyard breeders and puppy mills produce litter after litter, the ones that can’t be sold are dumped into the already overloaded shelter systems. Our taxdollars pay to kill millions of unwanted animals every year. Not to mention, most are breeding animals who’s genetic makeup is less than desirable, all to make a dollar. These animals are not socialized, not loved, not given proper medical care, abused and often killed with far less than humane methods. No one has the right to abuse and neglect an animal. Animals should NEVER be USED!
    As far as laws? No, do some research and educate yourself. If breeding is done on a “farm”, they are considered livestock. There are few companion animal laws, and no laws to protect these animals in mills. I find the idea that you support such atrocities makes you just as inhumane as these sub-humans, possibly more so!

  15. Noelle ciancio Says:

    In the early 70’s my mother and her woman’s club tried to stop some puppy mills in east Tn. I would like to think that her and her fierce band of women scared a few breeders away. But thenproblem remains the same…no one in the senate or state government wanted to get involved. They may miss a vote or two for standing behind the “bleeding hearts”

  16. Mary Glavaz Says:

    What about the poor dogs they are selling? What is to become of them? If they are not sold or rescued they will go back to the mills. Who is caring about them. If that problem were solved no mill could exist.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: