The Big Picture: How Small Korean Teacup Dogs End Up in the U.S.

Teacup puppies are cute and irresistible, and their claim to fame is being small enough to fit in tea cups. Yet, people are so obsessed with their small size that they are missing the big picture.

A teacup Maltese puppy named Tinkerbell landed in a New York vet’s office. She was in really poor condition. The tiny 3-month-old puppy was fighting diarrhea, parasites, an eye infection and the dreaded kennel cough. It was a miracle that the small Maltese, who had mats from sitting in urine, was alive.

While there are reputable domestic teacup dog breeders, many adorable teacup puppies have a horrid beginning abroad. Here’s the journey of some of the dogs that are born into between 3,000 and 4,000 South Korean puppy mills and wind up in the United States.

Whats a Teacup Dog?

According to Teacups Puppies and Boutique, ‘teacup’ describes a dog that weighs less than four pounds as an adult. It’s an adjective that isn’t limited to one breed.

Teacups, or micro-dogs, are often the result of questionable (and, that’s being generous) practices. Terribly Terrier describes their development as “intentionally breeding two undersized dogs.” The mother’s own small size means that she’s susceptible to labor complications.

Other horrendous practices include breeding close relatives to create the perfect size. Some puppies are even starved to “stunt” their development. Naturally, bad practices creates bad health. The Tooth Vet documents seven common tooth problems in micro-dogs ranging from persistent deciduous teeth to malocclusions. The conditions that some of the dogs are subjected to so early can also create serious behavioral or psychological  issues.

The Suffering Behind the Teacup

Tinkerbell’s story, like many teacup puppies, began in Seoul, South Korea. While the United States has some sort of regulations, none of these exist in places like South Korea. Borami Seo, a campaign manager from Korean Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), told the Global Post, that the dogs are born in “unkempt, inhumane kennels” and then sent via trucks across the country; most puppies bred in South Korea stay in the country.

There definitely is a high price for such small dogs. The estimated 4,000 puppy mills can hold 100 to 800 dogs at a time. The forgotten victims are the mothers of the dogs. As the Global Post reports, KARA’s investigative undercover work reveals that the exhausted mothers are packed into small cages “until their bodies wear out” from giving birth to litter after litter.

Their puppies are taken from them way too soon. There’s no time for bonding or proper nourishment in this business. It is extremely stressful for both. The small dogs are held in unsanitary conditions and then moved to various locations where they are vulnerable to infections and diseases like Tinkerbell.

Once their bodies are no longer useful, the mothers are often “auctioned to meat dealers” who will beat them or, worse, electrocute them.

The U.S. and South Korea Teacup Trade

Even if the mothers survive, they will likely never see their puppies. Some of their premature pups will cross the thousands of miles to American soil. A team of veterinarians at the Los Angeles International Airport discovered that 40 percent of shipments with large amounts of puppies have falsified paperwork, including misleading or fake rabies vaccine certificates.

As reported in the Global Post, one South Korean breeder was against selling teacups to Americans because per his estimates, “one in every three dogs dies during shipping or within a month of their arrival.” Many puppies will have a “broker” that will resell the imported dogs at expensive and elite prices. Per the Global Post, Tinkerbell’s broker, Ashley Anderson, has has a “48-hour health guarantee.” Treating dogs like objects, her company will “replace” a dog “should the first one suffer from untreatable, life-threatening and congenital conditions found within two days of arrival.”

Take Action!

The obsession to getting teacup puppies to fit in absurd things like teacups can be detrimental to their welfare. The big picture is: there’s nothing natural about being small enough to fit in a teacup. It’s a gimmick that is dangerous for the exhausted mothers used and reused for their wombs, the puppies that will never get the chance to be normal dogs, and the general public with the prevalence of false documents. Please sign and share this petition to enforce animal protection laws.

Photo Credit: Mike Nelson

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for the article.

Irene S.
Irene S.6 months ago

The article is nearly a year old and the petition is closed!

Past Member 8 months ago

I had already signed the petition, but I hope everyone else who has not will find the link at the end of the article and do so.

Adriana A.
Adriana A.10 months ago

You can also start doing something about the puppy mills you have in your own country, and it is exactly the same story you have mentioned, there are so many mills in California and Texas using the same terrible conditions for the puppies and their mothers. Houndred of american regular puppies are sold to the world everyday, arriving to different countries in dying conditions. Hope you can do some research and inform about it.

Fi T.
Fi T.11 months ago

Don't forget they're precious like you and me

Mark Donners
Mark Donnersabout a year ago

South Korea is far worse than North Korea. They eat dogs there and put them through torture before killing them. They are also one of the notorious Asian countries responsible for global poaching of wildlife.. one of the Axis of evildoers which includes China, Vietnam and Japan. Asia has no culture, and they give nothing of value to world. Modern Asia is a horror story of greedy environmental destruction.

Manuela C.
Manuela C.about a year ago

Petition signed!

Marie Van der Ryst
Marie Van der Rystabout a year ago

Signed. Puppy mills is just horrible

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harperabout a year ago


uma J
uma Jabout a year ago

I have signed the petition. I am wondering why well developed country like America import these pups. becoz of that only Korea is exporting.