NEW YORK (FOX 5 NEWS) - Toast, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, is a social media star with hundreds of thousands of followers who even has her own book about summering in the Hamptons. But she and her Insta-famous doggy siblings Muppet and Underpants all come from humble and scary beginnings.
"All three of my dogs were breeding dogs which means they were bred every single time that they're able to until they're no longer able to breed and then they're discarded," said owner Katie Sturino.
Toast's floppy tongue has become her trademark, but Sturino explains, it's also a reminder of the deplorable conditions in which she was once kept.
"Because they didn't get any health care, vets, any of that, and they're fed like really poor quality food... her teeth were all rotted by the time she was 5," Sturino explained.
Rotten teeth is just one of dozens of health problems that come with puppy mill breeding, says John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
"A puppy mill is a facility that is breeding and selling dogs for profits where the dogs are kept in inhumane conditions, where they can't exhibit normal behavior or the conditions are filthy," said Goodwin.
The HSUS estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills in the country, both licensed and unlicensed, and those puppy mills keep hundreds of thousands of dogs solely for breeding purposes.
Georgina Bloomberg, the daughter of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has witnessed the horrors of puppy mills first hand.
As a founding member of Friends of Finn, a committee of the HSUS, she has gone along on puppy mill raids.
"It's a heartbreaking experience," Bloomberg said. "In the back of the house there's dogs kept in cages, being bred repeatedly, not receiving medical care, proper food or any outdoor time."
The dogs bred in puppy mills wind up in pet shops, which is why a major goal of groups like Friends of Finn and the HSUS is to stop pet stores from selling animals.
"We're not against pet stores, but what we are against is pet stores selling puppies," Bloomberg said.
While many states already have laws on the books regulating the sale of puppy mill dogs to pet shops, New Jersey legislators are considering a unique bill that would prohibit all unlicensed pet dealers and licensed dealers with multiple violations from selling animals to pet shops.
Until that becomes a reality, advocates like Bloomberg, Sturino and her dogs are working to get the word out about puppy mills.