Big puppy mill raids “barked up the right tree” for mass media

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2007:

WASHINGTON D.C.–Raids on alleged puppy mills in at least
five states closely followed the November 1, 2007 launch of a Humane
Society of the U.S. pre-holiday media blitz against lax regulation of
dog breeders.
A five-month HSUS investigation found more than 900 active
dog breeders in Virgina, of whom only 16 held USDA permits to breed
dogs for sale across state lines, summarized HSUS publicist Leslie
“To sell puppies to pet stores, breeders with more than
three breeding females are required by federal law to have a
license,” Porter said. “The HSUS investigation found that many
breeders are violating this law,” often by selling directly to the
public through web sites.
An HSUS undercover team “documented puppy mills throughout
the state,” Porter said, “including in Hillsville, Jewel Ridge,
Atkins, Ferrum, Staunton, and Lynchburg, and pet stores who buy
those dogs, including in Fredericksburg, Ashland, Midlothian and
Waynesboro. The HSUS found dogs being harmed and abused; laws being
ignored, and consumers being duped over and over again.”

U.S. humane societies have issued pre-Christmas warnings
against buying puppies from puppy mills for at least 75 years,
ANIMAL PEOPLE recently found through searching
<> and the back editions of the National
Humane Review for the origin of the term “puppy mill.”
“Puppy mill” appears to have crossed from humane jargon into
general usage in 1953.
The latest HSUS findings were accordingly treated as old news
and drew little attention from most mass media, until about 24 hours
after the release was e-mailed.
Then, responding to a tip from Virginia Partnership for
Animal Welfare and Support, of New River Valley, Carroll County
animal control officers and a veterinarian visited Horton’s Pups,
operated by Junior Horton of Hillsville. Licensed to keep as many as
500 dogs, Horton had about 1,100 dogs on the premises.
“Apparently, HSUS was barking up the right tree,”
acknowledged Donna Alvis-Banks of the Roanoke Times. “Horton, who
advertises his small-breed puppies on the Internet via the
Continental Kennel Club Web site, agreed to surrender most of his
dogs after talking with the officials, according to Carroll County
administrator Gary Larrowe.”
Horton advertised Yorkshire terriers, poodles, Maltese,
Shih Tzus, Lhasa apsos, and other small dogs, at prices usually
ranging from $250 to $500 apiece.
The Horton case was the third breeder raid of note in the
southern U.S. within two weeks, but was magnitudes larger than the
October 17 seizure of 13 small dogs from the premises of Ted and
Maria Rushing in Madison County, Arkansas, where 37 dogs were found
in all, and the October 19, 2007 seizure of 106 dogs, including 80
toy poodles, from the home of Janie Conyers in Raleigh, North
Both of the earlier cases included seizures of other animals,
as well as dogs. Captain Robert Boyd of the Madison County
sheriff’s office told Ginny Laroe of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
that four dogs found on the Rushing property were seriously injured.
One had a broken back, one had been shot, and two dogs were
returned to people who identified them as stolen.
More cases of alleged mass neglect by dog breeders came to
light in three other states during the next three weeks.
Serving a search warrant in a reportedly unrelated child
pornography investigation, police detectives in Salem, Oregon on
November 16, 2007 found four children and 25 poodles in allegedly
unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Audra L. Kelley was arrested on
two counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment, Salem Police
Lieutenant Jim Anglemier told Dennis Thompson and Ruth Liao of the
Salem Statesman Journal. Two other residents of the house, Kevin
Lee Deal, 45, and Sarah Marie Deal, 40, were charged with offenses
pertaining to child and animal neglect.
“The house was considered unfit for human habitation by
Marion County officials,” wrote Thompson and Liao. “The Deals’ two
children, Kelley’s two children, and the 25 poodles were removed
from the home.”
The Colorado Department of Agriculture on November 19, 2007
confirmed that it has opened an investigation of Colorow Kennels in
Olathe, reported Beverley Corbell of the Grand Junction Daily
Sentinel. Citizens for Animal Welfare & Shelter president Vendla
Stockdale of Crawford, Colorado, disclosed the investigation in a
November 10 e-mail to the Daily Sentinel.
“In her e-mail,” said Corbell, “Stockdale wrote that HSUS
helped build a case against Colorow Kennels,” but the details were
withheld because of an agreement Stockdale claimed to have to provide
an exclusive to a Denver television station.
Colorow Kennels owner Nita Smith apparently started the
business in 1980, after previously operating as Nita’s Dog Patch.
“I have actively been raising puppies since 1959,” Smith told
The Humane Society of the Black Hills on November 21, 2007
seized 24 malamutes and found the remains of 11 other dogs at the
home of Chad and Soteria Cooper in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Alaskan Malamute Assistance League president Dan Anderson of
Bellville, Texas, alerted malamute fanciers throughout the west to
try to find homes for the dogs whenever they can be released from
impoundment, after initially being held as evidence.
The raids on alleged puppy millers lent momentum to proposals
to increase regulation of dog breeding and sale, including in
Oklahoma, where state representative Lee Denny, DVM, on November 6
promised to introduce a bill drafted by the Oklahoma Veterinary
“The issue is animal welfare and public health,” Oklahoma
Veterinary Association legislative task force chair Billy Clay told
Ron Jenkins of Associated Press.
“Clay said Oklahoma is second only to Missouri in the
commercial production of household pets. He said there are 645
breeders registered with the USDA and at least three times that many
who are not registered and have no oversight whatsoever,” wrote
Jenkins. “The draft plan presented by the task force would require
regulation of breeders who have 25 or more dogs, cats, kittens, or
The puppy mill raids underscored the point that neglect of
animals by breeders appears to be growing throughout the U.S.,
parallel to the growing demand for puppies and declining availability
of puppies from shelters. After more than 20 years of slumping
sales, while shelters raised their share of the pet acquisition
market from about 14% to more than 21%, breeders have taken
advantage of a recent shortage of small dogs and puppies in shelters,
pushing their sales up from an estimated low of barely two million
puppies per year to more than four million.
But puppy millers are scarcely alone in neglecting large
numbers of animals. The October and November 2007 mass seizures of
allegedly maltreated pups and breeding dogs brought the 2007
statistics on alleged breeder neglect and alleged neglect of animals
by rescuers into approximate parallel.
ANIMAL PEOPLE during the first 11 months of 2007 received
information about the seizure of 2,798 allegedly neglected dogs and
cats from 33 breeders, other than suspected breeders of fighting
dogs, for an average of 85 allegedly neglected animals per case.
ANIMAL PEOPLE during the first 11 months of 2007 also
received information about the seizure of 3,323 allegedly neglected
dogs and cats from 38 rescuers who had web sites, had established
cooperative relationships with incorporated nonprofit animal rescue
organizations, and often held IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status
themselves. These cases involved an average of 88 allegedly
neglected animals per case.
Humane literature has argued for more than 70 years that
puppy mill neglect results from the attitude that animals are
commodities. Breeders have responded that keeping animals healthy is
in the interest of any breeder who hopes to stay in business.
For decades, while relatively few people became involved in
rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting out animals from shelters,
neglect cases involving recognized rescuers were rare. During the
first 15 years that the editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE tracked data on mass
neglect cases, 1982-1998, only 156 rescuers who had established
cooperative relationships with animal shelters were charged with
neglect–but then, after the advent of the Internet made rescue for
adoption much easier and more popular, the numbers of rescuer
neglect cases soared. In 2005, 37 rescuers were charged with
neglect, in cases involving an average of 71 animals apiece.
The data suggests that regardless of the motive a person has
for acquiring large numbers of animals, the same problems tend to
occur, typically associated with other problems in the person’s
life, such as the death of a family member, a personal health
crisis, loss of a job, abuse of drugs or alcohol, or other factors
linked to chronic depression.

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