Some animal activists are "radical and fanatical and want to put me out of business," he said. "I obey the law. So do my breeders and the kennels I deal with," Larsen said.
Larsen says that when you are selling 100 puppies a month, there will occasionally be a case of kennel cough or a parasite, and every once in a while, something more serious. But he believes if his dogs were continually getting sick, word would spread and he'd be out of business.
About 2 million puppies are sold online and in U.S. pet stores every year, said Menkin.
The ASPCA and other animal welfare groups have popularized a negative image of commercial dog breeders in recent years, claiming that poor breeding practices and substandard conditions leave some animals with chronic physical ailments, genetic defects or fear of humans.
Whether it's the impact of bad publicity or the recession cutting into purebred dog sales, the number of commercial dog breeders licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is declining, from 3,486 in 2009, to 2,904 in 2010 and 2,205 in 2011, according to USDA spokesman Dave Sacks said.
Licenses in Missouri, with three times more breeders than any other state, dropped from 1,221 in 2009 to 745 this year, Sacks said. Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Ohio and Indiana have between 100 and 300 licensed breeders. Sixteen states have none. Sacks says the USDA protects animals by making unannounced inspections of breeding facilities and by regulating food, care and housing for the animals.
Serina Brant believes her golden retriever, Ali, was a puppy mill dog. When Brant bought the 4-month-old pup 10 years ago from Perfect Pets for $400, Ali's papers had numbers instead of names listed for parents. Her first trip to the vet cost $800 to treat giardia, fleas and eye infections, said Brant, of Littleton, Colo.
Two years later, the dog started limping. X-rays showed hip dysplasia. Surgery, at $12,000 for both hips, was an option but came without guarantees, so Brant chose to medicate the dog instead. Then Ali got arthritis.
For the last six years, Ali has to stop every 50 feet to rest. Because of the medication, "we don't think she's in pain," said Brant. But over the years, the medicine has totaled $8,600.
"I am not going to put a dog down just because she's defective. We have the money to provide for her so we will," she said.
But next time she gets a dog, Brant says, she'll adopt one from a shelter.