In December 2015, a U. S. Department of Agriculture inspector came upon a macabre scene in a cluttered shed at C & L Puppies, a puppy mill in Weldon, Iowa. A large, plastic table was sitting on blocks in the center of the room – used to perform cesarean sections on dogs and other major surgical procedures. Nearly the entire top of the table, the inspector noted, was dirty and covered and stained with dried blood. Half of the table had surgical equipment, multiple bottles of medications, and a small tub of dog food scattered atop it. Some of the medications stored in the “operating room” had expired in 2003 and 2006, and, in one of the other buildings housing dogs, there was an odor of urine so strong that it gave one of the inspectors a burning sensation in the eyes. As the inspector noted, this was “not an appropriate facility/area for conducting major surgical procedures.”
There were other violations found at this puppy mill — one of the 100 such facilities listed in our annual Horrible Hundred report that takes a close look at problem puppy mills in the United States. This is a critical annual overview that highlights some of the most troubling problems in the industry, and it’s a focus for our 10th annual Puppy Mill Action Week, which precedes Mother’s Day and draws attention to the plight of dogs. These puppy mill moms are typically treated as nothing more than breeding machines.
The final report highlights problem mills in 16 states, but our researchers looked at federal and state inspection reports for many more states, including some with very poor or no licensing and reporting requirements that have the effect of keeping problem puppy mills hidden from public scrutiny. Our findings included underweight dogs, injured dogs who had not been taken to a veterinarian, puppies left outside to freeze in frigid temperatures, animals living in filthy conditions with feces in their food bowls and fur, and unlicensed dealers offering to ship puppies sight unseen on websites like PuppyFind.com without the required USDA license.
In part because of our successful anti-puppy-mill ballot measure triggering much stronger reporting of the treatment of dogs of licensed operations, we know more of the grim details about Missouri. That’s one explanation why Missouri again topped the list with the greatest number of problem dealers, with 30 of the 100 problem puppy mills listed in the report. Iowa has the unfortunate distinction of climbing from fourth to second place, with the second largest number of dealers (15). It is followed by Kansas (14), Ohio (9) and Nebraska and Pennsylvania (5 each). Because of the many states with no inspection programs, these violations we know of are perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. And the USDA only inspects breeders who sell wholesale or sight unseen.
Just a few of the violations we found in the federal inspection reports include:
- Three mastiffs at a puppy mill with “protruding hip bones, with all ribs showing and concave appearance in the muscle on the hind quarters, and bony shoulder bones.” (Kevin Wittmer, Loogootee, Indiana).
- Twenty-six dogs found outdoors at a puppy mill with “little or no bedding material” in the bitter cold. The temperature at the time of inspection was 17 degrees Fahrenheit and it had been as low as minus two degrees the previous night. The owners had been warned about the same issue just a few months prior. (Doug and Wendie Dettbarn, Purple Heart Kennel, Strawberry Point, Iowa).
- A nursing shih tzu found lying in her enclosure at a mill with four two-week-old puppies. The USDA inspector noted the mother dog was “very thin with a pronounced backbone and hip bones and was extremely lethargic and depressed.” (Bob and Leslie Loutsch, Remsen, Iowa).
- Many severely matted dogs, two dogs with abnormal eye conditions, and a dog who appeared to have a prolapsed rectum were found at one kennel. The latter dog had “a large pink mass of moist tissue protruding from the rectal area.” The mass had “bumps and folds over the entire surface area,” according to the inspection report. (Pamela L. Baldwin, Samples Creek Kennel, Edgar Springs, Missouri).
Just over half of the dealers in the report are repeat offenders. These dealers have appeared in one of our previous reports, yet have continued to be found in violation of basic animal care standards. Fifteen of the dealers are in the report for the third time, and 11 are in the report for the fourth time. One of the dealers, a broker that was found purchasing more than 100 puppies from unlicensed puppy mills, is a primary supplier of many pet stores.
The USDA enforces only the minimum care standards required under the Animal Welfare Act regulations for puppy mills—these standards are barely enough to ensure survival standards for the dogs, and licensed puppy dealers can still legally keep hundreds of dogs in small, stacked cages for their entire lives, with little or no exercise, enrichment, or human attention, as long as they are given the basics, like food, water, and rudimentary shelter. In fact, 75 of the 100 dealers identified in the report are USDA licensed.
In September 2015, The HSUS and partner groups filed a legal petition with the USDA, urging the agency to improve its minimal care standards by requiring more space for dogs, regular exercise, better veterinary care, and the removal of harmful wire flooring in dog cages, among other improvements. The USDA has yet to take action on the petition.
The HSUS fights puppy mills on many fronts: we work with states to pass laws to regulate these breeding operations, we work with local governments to pass ordinances cracking down on the sales of puppy mill dogs at pet stores, and we conduct public education efforts against puppy mills and Internet sellers of animals. We also conduct law enforcement trainings to teach officers about puppy mill regulations in their state, how to handle such large-scale cases, and about the practices that often go hand-in-hand with these operations, including crimes against humans, tax evasion, and water pollution. And we work to educate consumers and drive the market toward shelter and rescue groups and responsible breeders.
More than two dozen of the problem puppy mills identified in our last few Horrible Hundred reports have closed their doors. You can add your strength to the fight against puppy mills by not buying puppies from pet stores or online, and spreading the word about the scourge of these mills.