Busting puppy mills vs. busted budgets
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2009:
LANSING, MI; WASHINGTON D.C.– Impoundments of dogs from
alleged puppy mills are coming at a pace, entering the last quarter
of 2009, that could top 10,000 for the year–up from about 8,000 in
2008 and 3,000, then the most on record, in 2007.
Many of the seizures are enabled by the passage of new
legislation regulating conditions at dog breeding facilities, at pet
stores, and in transit. The impoundments are in turn attracting the
attention of lawmakers, bringing further regulatory reinforcement.
Among the last acts of the 2009 California legislature was
sending to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger “The Responsible Breeder
Act of 2009, ” limiting the number of dogs and cats an individual or
business may keep to breed for the pet market.
“Arizona, Indiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington passed
legislation [earlier] this year to address puppy mills. In 2008,
Virginia, Louisiana and Pennsylvania passed similar laws,”
recounted Humane Society Legislative Fund president Mike Markarian,
celebrating the passage of a second round of legislation in
“The Pennsylvania bill to prohibit large-scale puppy mill
operators from crudely performing certain surgeries on dogs without
anesthesia-such as ear cropping, tail docking, debarking, and
Caesarean births-was the 107th new animal protection law passed by
state legislatures in 2009,” Markarian said. “It helped to shatter
last year’s record of 93 new state laws” passed on behalf of animals.
But the busts cost money. Donors and volunteers typically
help animal shelters cope with the sudden influx of animals from a
puppy mill raid, many of the them in urgent need of special care.
The cost of inspections, criminal investigations, prosecutions,
fighting appeals of convictions, and enforcing penalities, however,
falls mostly on state taxpayers. Many states are in economic
trouble, due to declining property values and unemployment cutting
into their revenue.
That means less money for law enforcement, including humane
law enforcement. Hard times appear to have encouraged more people
than ever to jump into dog breeding, in hopes of turning a quick
buck with relatively little cash outlay, with often catastrophic
consequences for the animals. Yet, despite the new legislation and
recent busts, the resources available to detect and deal with
neglectful animal breeders and dealers are in jeopardy in many of the
states most affected by the past two years of recession.
Michigan was first to drop the ax.
“The Michigan Department of Agriculture is no longer
regulating pet stores and riding stables, a move that saves the
state about $150,000 a year,” Detroit Free Press staff writer John
Wisely revealed on August 20, 2009. “Earlier this month, the state
ended a 40-year system of licensing and inspecting Michigan’s 250 or
so pet shops, the latest retreat from regulation of the sale of
pets. In recent years,” also for budgetary reasons, “the state
stopped random inspections of stores and stables to save money, and
only inspected before a license was issued or in response to a
complaint. Now, it won’t even do that.”
Pet store inspection is often seen as the most cost-efficient
way to monitor puppy mills, since puppies from hundreds of kennels
may move through stores that are much more conveniently located and
easier to visit than the breeders’ premises. If unhealthy pups from
a particular breeding kennel repeatedly turn up in stores, follow-up
investigation may target that kennel. Meanwhile, an inspector who
might be able to visit two kennels in a day’s work can often
spot-check a dozen or more pet shops in the same time, with a lot
Said assistant Michigan state veterinarian Nancy Frank, “I
think pet store inspection is valuable, and we’re not excited about
having to discontinue it. But most pet stores do care about the
animals and the law. The public does a very good job of looking
after the animals,” Frank told Wisely.
Frank “urges patrons to call police or animal control
officers to report abuse or neglect,” Wisely wrote.
Countered American SPCA senior vice president Laura Maloney,
“It is unfortunate that they are eliminating the only way that you
can go behind the scenes at a pet shop.”
Explained Wisely, “Police would need search warrants to
enter non-public parts of a store,” whereas the Department of
Agriculture inspectors operate under enabling legislation that allows
them to go wherever they need to.
Of further concern is that disease rather than symptoms of
overt animal abuse is most often the first issue to indicate that
animals are coming from a puppy mill. Diseased puppies may be
indicative of criminal neglect, but most often are merely indicative
of an outbreak that needs to be treated and controlled. Because
disease treatment and control is not a criminal matter, police and
animal control officers have little relevant training or
jurisdiction. Public health inspectors may respond to cases
involving zoonotic disease, meaning animal diseases which can pass
to humans, but recognizing and responding to signs of puppy mill
origins is not part of their training and jurisdiction either.
Store owner John Stottle also told Wisely that he hated to
see Michigan Department of Agriculture store inspections end–because
they help to protect his business from the problems that result when
sick puppies arrive and infect others at his four Family of Pets
outlets in metro Detroit.
“If it’s for $150,000, that breaks my heart,” Stottle said.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture pet store inspection
program has been effective. Five state veterinarians investigated
113 complaints about pet shops and four complaints about riding
stables in 2008, spokesperson Jennifer Holten told Wisely. They
detected 19 punishable violations of state law, resulting in fines
The relative handful of detected violations and low revenue
from fines may have convinced higher-ups that the pet store
inspections were unnecessary. But that same kind of thinking about
automotive quality control helped to get the Detroit car makers in
trouble, producing the Michigan economic crisis.
Civilian efforts to enforce pet store and breeding kennel
standards have had mixed results in three recent court cases.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell on August 7, 2009 ruled
that a class action lawsuit filed in March 2009 against the 200-store
Petland chain failed to demonstrate that the plaintiffs were direct
victims of fraud. Representing the Humane Society of the U.S. and
six individual plaintiffs, respectively, attorneys Jonathorn
Lovvorn and Simon Paris pledged to file an amended lawsuit later,
based on more specific allegations.
The original case, summarized the Dayton Business Journal,
“alleged that while Petland purports to deal only with quality
breeders, it actually buys from ‘massive commercial breeders’ in the
Midwest where dogs are packed into cages in substandard conditions,”
and “also questioned the chain’s assurances that it buys from
breeders licensed by the USDA. In reviewing USDA records for more
than 100 Petland-linked breeders, more than 60% were found to have
‘serious’ violations of animal care regulations.”
Los Angeles County Judge John P. Shook on August 4, 2009
awarded a $4.8 million default class action judgement against Pets of
Bel Air, a trendy and now defunct store “where customers reportedly
included such celebrities as Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Demi Moore
and Denise Richards,” reported Bill Hetherman for NBC-Los Angeles.
“The complaint alleged that Pets of Bel Air ‘sold puppies for a
premium price and thereby duped California consumers out of millions
Shook approved the default judgment, Hetherman said, “after
the defendants ignored court orders to turn over business documents
to the plaintiffs and respond to motions in the case.”
About 800 customers who bought puppies at the store between
December 28, 2003 and October 7, 2008 “will be joined as plaintiffs
once they are identified and notified,” Hetherman added.
Like the failed Petland case, “The lawsuit, originally
brought by attorney Wayne S. Kreger, stated that Pets of Bel Air got
much of its stock from Midwest puppy mills, all the while claiming
the animals were from private breeders,” Hetherman summarized.
Deputy Judge Michael Galligan of the Ontario Superior Court,
Small Claims division, on July 22, 2009 ruled against Lorie Gordon,
of Brockville, Ontario, in a case brought by Paws R Us Kennel owner
Nicole Labombard in response to comments Gordon posted between July
2004 and April 2005 at two web sites for petkeepers. The case was
viewed by some Canadian web discussion sites in entirely unrelated
fields as a test of online freedom of expression.
U.S. web libel cases have usually not held individual web
commenters to the same standards of factual accuracy that apply to
web site owners, journalists, and others who may be presumed to
speak with recognized authority. The standard of accuracy expected
of individuals has tended to fall somewhere between private
opinionated conversation, in which almost anything may be alleged,
and the standard required of letters-to-the-editor, in which
opinionated statements must be clearly differentiated from claims of
“Testimony put forward by Gordon and several other witnesses,
including representatives from the Montreal SPCA, attempted to
portray Paws R Us as a puppy mill,” summarzied plaintiff’s attorney
Luc Barrick to Cheryl Cornacchia of the Montreal Gazette. “They are
trying to say a commercial breeder is a puppy mill and they are not,”
Barrick said. “There are puppy mills out there, but my client is not
one of them.”
Gordon was ordered to pay $10,000 in damages to Nicole
Labombard and two members of her family, plus $4,000 in court costs.