Take a good, hard look at our latest Horrible Hundred report – which is based on our research team scouring federal and state inspection reports of large-scale dog-breeding operations throughout the United States and giving a red card to some of the worst operators.
It may be the last time you read a report like this.
Because two weeks after the Trump administration took office, the U.S Department of Agriculture took down all of this data from its website, along with other inspection reports and violation notices dealing with federally regulated animal enterprises. The reason? Purported “privacy” concerns raised by federally regulated animal industries.
But it was Congress that passed the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act and that funds inspection activities to the tune of millions of dollars every year. If these federally licensed and registered breeders, exhibitors, research facilities, and horse show operators wanted an absolute right to privacy covering all records related to their operations, then they shouldn’t have chosen to do business in a regulated industry.
People who choose to do business in state or federally licensed industries — be they coal mines, restaurants, nursing homes, firearms dealers, or any of hundreds of other closely regulated business ventures — do so knowing that a small class of documents concerning their operations are not going to be private, most notably, federal and state inspection records and citations. No other business would argue that records of workplace safety violations, health code violations, patient deaths, or gun sales that led to mass shootings should be “private.” That would be an absurdity.
But puppy millers, horse abusers, and other bad actors aren’t asking for fair treatment; they are asking for special treatment no other regulated industry enjoys, which is shielding all of their inspection reports and violation citations from consumers, state and local enforcement authorities, the media, and non-governmental organizations such as The HSUS.
If commercial breeders want to sell dogs to the public, they should be inspected. That’s what Congress said. No federal court has countermanded Congress’s affirmative action to protect animals and to provide some level of transparency. And it logically follows that those inspection reports should be available to the public. And, yes, on the Internet, since that’s the way information is consumed in the Information Age.
This is not an abstraction. There’s something very real at work here.
Our latest Horrible Hundred report, the fifth in a series of annual reports that is primarily grounded on federal and state inspection reports of commercial breeders, gives us a picture of what’s happening at some of the most retrograde puppy mills in the nation.
It is cruelty that hits you between the legs with a bullhook: a puppy miller in Missouri who admitted to twisting the tails off puppies instead of having them docked by a veterinarian; a puppy miller in Kansas with more than 600 dogs living in filthy conditions, some with only barrels for shelter; another facility in Missouri, this one with matted and neglected dogs, including one dog with maggots eating away at his ulcerated skin.
These are just three of a hundred grisly details about the state of puppy mills in America. It’s not that the government is doing too much, as the puppy mill operators suggest. It’s that it’s doing too little. And the cover-up is not only about hiding the ball when it comes to the worst operators, it’s also about the government’s inaction and lax enforcement. Why are people who do such terrible things allowed to continue to operate a commercial enterprise in a nation that abhors these terrible practices? Why are they showing up again and again on our report? Won’t somebody stop them?
The only reason we were able to compile this report is due to the tenacity of our puppy mills research team, which had already saved many reports from the USDA website before it went dark. They also gathered local inspection reports from many states that inspect puppy mills, consumer complaints, and court records to come up with this list.
For the fifth year in a row, Missouri tops the Horrible Hundred with the greatest number of problem dealers — 19. In second place we have a three-way tie between Kansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, each with 12 problem dealers.
Fifty-five of the dealers who make an appearance in this year’s report are repeat offenders – operators who have appeared in our previous reports. It’s important to note that USDA regulations were never best practices; they are mere canine survival standards even for those dealers who comply with them. Even legal and licensed puppy mills that typically keep hundreds of dogs in small, stacked cages for their entire lives, with little or no exercise, enrichment or human attention, are considered compliant as long as the dogs are provided with basic provisions such as food, water, and rudimentary shelter. Our report shows that many of them don’t even do that.
We have included in this year’s report not just breeders but a few dog dealers and one transporter closely tied to the puppy mill industry and entrusted with the care of animals.
Here are just a few more examples detailed in the report:
- A breeder who has been convicted of 47 counts of animal cruelty in the past, and who continues to advertise under various aliases on PuppyFind.com despite numerous complaints about puppies sold that were underweight, sick, or had mange (Tabitha Doyle and Sandra Webb, Mercer, Tennessee);
- A transporter that had 53 puppies die after being left on an overheated vehicle; the operator did not call the vet until eight hours after the tragedy (RDR Transport, Unionville, Missouri);
- A puppy miller who has been found with at least 41 dogs in need of veterinary care over the past two years, including limping dogs, dogs with oozing eyes, and several dogs with large, open wounds. In December 2015, he was even suspended for throwing a bag containing two dead puppies at a USDA inspector, yet he’s still in business (Steve Kruse, Stonehenge Kennel, West Point, Iowa).
The report includes puppy mills from 20 states, but consumers across the United States need to be vigilant because most of the dealers sell online or to pet stores, and their puppies could be sold in all 50 states and beyond. Our researchers found at least nine dealers selling on PuppyFind.com, a website that has been repeatedly linked to problem puppy mills listed in our Horrible Hundred reports over the years.
More than 200 lawmakers in Congress have called for the USDA to restore the data to its website. This cover-up needs to end. All of the evidence of why it’s so important is right here.