Judge issues hefty fine on Chelsea Kennel Club for selling sick animals, new report shows Nebraska Department of Agriculture routinely ignores puppy mill suffering

By on October 20, 2020 with 48 Comments

A Manhattan Supreme Court judge has imposed a remarkable $3.9 million in fines on the now-closed Chelsea Kennel Club and its former owner, found liable for pushing sick puppies upon an unsuspecting public, and ordered them to set up a restitution fund for the consumers the pet store betrayed. This penalty without precedent is a direct outcome of the HSUS investigation at the New York City store in 2017.

In the meantime, we continue to bring the heat on puppy mills throughout the country, and a new investigative report released this month by the Nebraska Ombudsman’s Office suggests that there’s more work to be done in that state.

Five years ago, our annual Horrible Hundred report on problem puppy mills identified 14 Nebraska breeders. In 2020, the same report listed just three puppy millers from the state. One might assume that the state has done a great job of bringing greater pressure to bear against puppy mill cruelty, but the opposite is true. Nebraska doesn’t appear to have many problem puppy mills because it’s failing to enforce the law and issue citations to scofflaws.

Deputy Ombudsman Carl Eskridge’s detailed report presented the results of a 20-month-long investigation sparked by a complaint from a whistleblower employed by Nebraska’s Department of Agriculture. The employee claimed the department routinely ignored violations of the state’s Commercial Dog and Cat Operator Inspection Act, leaving animals to suffer in cruel conditions, and often failed to refer complaints of abuse and neglect to county authorities for possible criminal prosecution.

The employee, Rick Herchenbach, a Nebraska animal inspector for nearly forty years, also claims the department took retaliatory action against him.

The 120-page report lists a number of examples of violations by puppy mills and a number of entities casting themselves as “rescue” operations. The Omaha World-Herald described a “particularly difficult inspection attempt” the whistleblowing employee conducted involving multiple complaints over the course of a year of an unlicensed operator, Trifecta Bullies Kennel.

Herchenbach told investigators that he got little support from his agency on that inspection and felt traumatized by the incident because the owners were belligerent and angry and blocked his attempt to leave, with law enforcement officials having to intervene. Some months later, after the owners had ostensibly vacated the property after eviction (but may have been temporarily continuing to use it), Herchenbach reported that he found “deplorable” conditions, including “piles of fresh feces, indicating that dogs were recently inside the garage.” On the basis of what he observed there, urine-soaked floors, a foul odor, piles of trash and clutter, and evidence of mice and rats, Herchenbach concluded that the dogs had not been treated humanely and were still at risk. By then, the owners were moving with “dogs and puppies from motel to motel in violation of regulations. Inspectors had difficulty observing the dogs, and what they did see were bad conditions.”

The neglect of their duties by those charged with protecting animals under the authority of a government agency, wherever and whenever it occurs, is a failure in the systems of oversight and protection we are building to make this world a better one for animals. Right now, it’s a big problem at the state and federal levels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has seen a dramatic decline in enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act since 2016; in fact, the agency hasn’t revoked a single dog breeder license, or levied a significant fine on a dog breeder, for years. In 2016, the USDA documented 2,451 separate violations at pet breeder facilities. By the end of 2019, that number had dropped to just 896 documented violations—more than a third of which were violations for failure to let inspectors onto the premises at all.

Until we can be sure that dogs and cats raised for the pet trade are safe and living in well-regulated, clean and comfortable conditions, we will continue to advise dog lovers never to buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site, because cruel puppy mills are too often the source of supply. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s failure to enforce breeder and rescue standards currently in place is an alarming demonstration of the problem, and the ombudsman’s rebuke is an encouraging development. The department needs to enforce Nebraska’s applicable laws, which have been on the books for two decades, to address and correct problems it identifies, and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the referral and prosecution of criminal complaints where warranted.

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  1. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Esto ya tiene que parar, no es posible que la gente siga lucrando con los animalitos y en general todos los animalitos solo para enriquecerse de verdad esto tiene que acabar

    • Elda Hubbard says:

      Desafortunadamente, hay personas que únicamente quieren esos cachorritos bonitos que ven en las vidrieras, a la vez que hay mas de 2 millones de animales sacrificados en los EU por falta de hogar todos los años. Hay que educar al pueblo y dejarles saber la realidad. Detrás de cada uno de esos cachorritos en la vidriera hay una mamá y un papá encerrado y descuidado en una jaula año tras año, 24 horas al día, sin cuidado medico, o siquiera tener la oportunidad de conocer lo que es pisar un pasto. Triste, pero quiénes compran en estos establecimientos son los que continúan apoyando esta injusticia. ¡Muy triste!

  2. Frances Leard says:

    It’s about time the judge is cracking down on these filthy disgusting places that continue to harm innocent animals with their cruelty. These people need to spend years behind bars to stop this insane treatment.

  3. Kathryn Dakin says:

    We need to stop any store from selling puppies/dogs/cats – so many in shelters and rescue groups now

  4. Maria B. says:

    Yes!!! Shut down all stores like it! And all puppy mills! Thank you for your work to end this and other useless suffering of animals brought on by humans. It’s so needless, it’s painful to think about. Thank you again!!

  5. GINA M SOTELO says:

    Thank you God!!!
    I hope this is the beginning to an end.!!
    This needs to STOP!!!
    It is wrong, and these people need to be charged and heavy fined.
    This is disgusting!!!

  6. Wendy Lacy says:

    Without the human speaking out for the animals, this problem will continue.
    Please EVERYONE never be afraid to turn in ppl you know or see is harming the furbabies.

  7. Loretta Reilly says:

    It’s about time the penalties are high. Maybe now they’ll think twice about how they treat innocent animals. Thank you for all you do.

  8. linda horsfield says:

    Great action on the part of the judge! I hope more judges follow his example and stop the horrific scourge of puppy mills.

  9. Carol Anderson says:

    It’s all just for and about money and poor helpless animals are suffering for it. All those puppy mills need to be out of business and so do the pet stores. Animals do not deserve this kind of abuse and.

    • Janet Poirier says:

      There are ways to breed and raise animals humanely. The government had regulated animals raised for consumption so the same inspectors can used to train others specifically for pet management

  10. Randy Mayes says:

    granted, there are bad puppy mills and no one should waste time defending them, but most ‘puppy farms’ are run like a business by people who love animals and want to offer a good or even superior product at a reasonable price. This is how they make their livbing and they are serious about running a highly regarded business. Don’t assume all puppy farms are evil. Some are but most are not. The photos on walls of good puppy farms show happy customers and dogs enjoying their ‘forever home. For every failure there are many success stories. Blame where you must but also give credit where it is due. Most puppy farms are good or better and run by people who love animals. Please tell both sides of the story.

  11. Jan Flores says:

    There is a horrific picture on the first page of this report. What in God’s name is that woman doing shaking that little animal (it looks like a puppy, but it’s hard to tell because she’s shaking it so hard and so fast). Whatever is her intent, it can’t be beneficial. I hope that someone will stop her, or better yet, arrest her for animal cruelty.

  12. rochelle says:

    I remember going and protesting at this store right after this video was released! I am so beyond happy to see they are paying for their actions. What a disgusting place filled with horrible people.

    There is no excuse to be buying puppy mill dogs, this is the kind of behavior that is endorsed every time an animal is purchased like this.

  13. Theresa Pearson says:

    This just disgusts me. Knowing that anyone could treat animals this way. It breaks my heart. Im glad to see punishments, but I really wish we could do more to stop this. I could go on and on about how I feel, but what good would that do?

  14. Lauri Sartor says:

    Thanks to the extensive & informative work of the HSUS to bring to light the challenges individuals continue to face when they uncover & report brutal conditions for innocent animals & try to find support to remedy the matters. Collaborating with other animal rights organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, ASPCA, etc will have a tremendous positive impact to righting these wrongs.

    • Linda Emerson says:

      The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow. So unfortunate for those who can’t speak for themselves. We need to keep on informing and educating people about the atrocities of puppy mills. We who care are their only hope.

  15. Afsaneh Rahmani says:

    Thank you so much dear Judge! It is a great win for the poor animals.It should be stoped nationwide.

  16. Patti says:

    Thank you to the Whistleblowers on this. Without your work and passion we cannot catch these horrific conditions for innocent animals. All of these criminals need to brought justice immediately.

  17. Mary kathleen brittian says:

    I am a senior and sadly have seen way too much of this because too many dont care. I was a monthly donor but stopped because there is not enought laws or penalty s for those who get caught. I am still caring for animals because of this. I love all animals but not humans.

  18. Mary Etherington says:

    These people who abuse innocent animals should be prosecuted for felonies! I can’t stand to think of those poor dogs and puppies being so mistreated and the Midwest is a hotbed of puppy mills!

  19. Cris says:

    So wrong to have any animal in the care of a pet store. They have no clue what to do. Put our pets in a good providing animal shelter that DOES NOT put them down.

  20. Robert Bumgardner says:

    They need some prison time.

  21. Clara the Lady Wolf says:

    What is that kennel worker doing to that little dog?
    Yes, it is long overdue that these “pet stores” and their breeding sources be shut down and hit with huge fines.

  22. Gloria fredricey says:

    My heart goes out to these innocent animals glad there working on it it’s just greed a way to make money to pay there bills jerks

  23. Tallia Fierro says:

    Should also fine the people purchasing puppy mill dogs.

  24. Linda Arnett says:

    I pray someday we will begin to adequately punish animal abusers. First take their money. Then take their freedom. Then make them pay for their cruelty for many many years to come. Restrict them from ever owning any animal or having anything to do with animals and make it punishable by prison time if they do.

  25. Debra Goldstein-Lustig says:

    Not only fine that pet store,but prosecute all those involved in animal abuse and cruelty and shut down that horrific pet store.

  26. CG says:

    What happen with the dog on the video?

  27. Vicky Knoedler says:

    I think the puppy mills should be closed without exceptions , l know is business but they can sell pots and pans or whatever they wish but animals ! Animals are not things they are souls …….

  28. Catherine Watson says:

    It’s sickening to think that so many innocent, helpless puppies suffered at the hands of these monsters, then went to new owners who never suspected the dogs were sick and abused. The guilty parties should have received long prison terms, including that repulsive woman in the video who’s baby-shaking the small puppy.

  29. Joode Weinhold says:

    This is great that at last something is starting to be done about puppy farming. It will be difficult to crack down on while people are prepared to pay huge sums of money for small puppies. In the UK there are so many breeds that are now costing in excess of $3000/$4000 and upwards for a puppy. This, in turn, has increased dog theft which is at an alarming increase. The perpetrators of these crimes in the UK get very low prison sentences as the animals are not considered sentient beings so of no worth.
    The same applies to factory farm animals in the USA. They too are not considered sentient beings and have no rights hence they are kept in unbelievable conditions. Please think about this when you buy your meat. Find out how cows, pigs, and chickens are kept in your country. Compassion in World Farming is a good place to find out information about this.
    Let us all work towards all States banning puppy farms and encouraging people not to buy expensive puppies from unknown sources.
    I am married to an American and we live some weeks of the year in Oregon. I am not trying to be an interfering Brit!

  30. Lascinda Goetschius says:

    Did the Puppy live and is the puppy in a safe place now

  31. Ana Seda says:

    As some may say there are good breeders selling healthy puppies as a way of making a living, I say Stop! Some people buy these healthy puppies bc they are cute and the right color for their decor. Then the novelty wears out and these healthy puppies get neglected, or abused bc they accidentally pooped on the rug. They will end up in a shelter or worse, thrown away like garbage. We all read these horror stories. These breeders should not be allowed to breed so many puppies…they should be regulated carefully or just make them stop. It’s just as cruel.

  32. tara Turkey says:


  33. Lori Kendrick says:

    I wish HSUS would investigate Iowa City Petland. I have testimonials from customers who bought sick puppies, and former employees describing in store neglect and abuse.


  34. Pamela Bettcher says:

    What happened with the dog in the video that was being shaken by that employee and why did those other employees walk right by without saying anything to her and making her stop doing that. The expression on her face says that she was not playing with the dog, at all.

  35. Viktoriya says:

    What happened to those ppl who are responsible for this disgusting treatment of innocent fur babies? What about workers who treated them like garbage. Are they all without jobs? Will their records forever be exposed so they will never find any job ever again? We need to punish these people properly so others will learn. I cant stand to see how these animals suffer and the humans who do this to them walk freely.

  36. mamaligadoc says:

    With respect !!!

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