Puppy millers move from malls to web sites

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2012:

WASHINGTON D.C.,  NEW YORK,  LOS ANGELES–A concerted effort by humane organizations to discourage mall sales of puppy mill pups appears to be succeeding at possible cost of driving the traffic to web sites and social media. Mobilizing in response through web sites and social media, the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American SPCA on December 29, 2011 jointly announced that the USDA “plans to improve oversight of commercial dog breeders by issuing rules to regulate those breeders who sell over the Internet.”

The HSUS/ASPCA  media release summarized an official White House response to a petition the organizations submitted,  bearing more than 32,000 signatures.

More than 50,000 people meanwhile signed an ASPCA online petition asking signees to boycott pet stores and web sites that sell puppies,  ASPCA senior anti-puppy mills campaign director Cori Menkin told Sue Manning of Associated Press.

“We are not just saying ‘Don’t buy a puppy,’  but ‘Don’t buy anything in a pet store that sells puppies,'”  Menkin said.  “If pet stores are not able to turn a profit,  they will stop selling puppies.”

Menkin estimated that pet stores and online media sell about two million puppies from commercial breeders per year.

The boycott message was reinforced during December 2011 by billboards placed in major cities–40 in Los Angeles alone,  Manning reported. The ASPCA also posted an online database of stores under boycott at nopetstorepuppies.com.

While the New York City-based ASPCA most prominently targeted stores in Los Angeles,  HSUS senior vice president for investigations Jonathan Lovvon in November 2011 denounced pet stores in New York City suburbs for “pushing dogs from huge Midwest puppy mills with some of the worst federal Animal Welfare Act violations imaginable.”

White Plains Journal News reporter Ernie Garcia listed ten examples in Rockland and Westchester counties.

Macerich,  a Santa Monica-based firm that owns 71 upscale malls nationwide,  put further clout behind the boycott of stores that sell puppy mill pups by advising lessees that it will not renew leases to stores that sell pets.  Instead,  Macerich asked stores to follow the example of Adopt & Shop,  of Lakewood,  California,  run by the Found Animals Foundation.  “Adopt & Shop opened in mid-April of 2011 and has been averaging 65-70 adoptions a month since.  We finished 2011 with 585 adoptions from the store and hope to open two new locations in 2012,”  Found Animals Foundation executive director Aimee Gilbreath told ANIMAL PEOPLE.

Westcor,  a Macerich subsidiary holding 18 malls in the Southwest,  also “will not renew leases to pet stores,”  but “will offer the spaces to rescues and shelters,”  wrote ANIMAL PEOPLE correspondent Debra J. White from Tempe,  Arizona.

Jack’s Pets,  a mall-based chain operating 27 stores in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana,  in October 2011 announced that it would switch from selling animals from breeders to offering animals for adoption from shelters–a trend pioneered since 1968 by the 1,075-store Petco chain,  and since 1987 by the 1,192-store PetSmart chain, the leaders in the “big box” pet supply industry.

State law enforcement

The combination of more effective pet adoption marketing and more stringent legislation governing pet breeders in several of the states with the largest breeding industries has cut the number of USDA-licensed commercial dog breeders almost in half,  from 3,486 in 2009,  to 2,904 in 2010,  and 2,205 in 2011,  USDA spokesperson Dave Sacks said.

“Licenses in Missouri,  with three times more breeders than any other state, dropped from 1,221 in 2009 to 745 this year,” reported Manning of Associated Press.  The crash reflected the November 2010 passage of the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act,  an initiative approved by Missouri voters.  Though substantially weakened and renamed the Dog Breeders Cruelty Prevention Act by the Missouri legislature in April,  2011,  the amended law retained requirements that dogs in large breeding kennels must receive veterinary care,  continuous access to clean water,  feedings twice daily,  and expanded exercise space.  This appears to have been enough to scare at least 476 breeders out of business–or at least into trying to evade the law by operating without permits.

States with 100 to 300 licensed breeders include Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas,  Arkansas,  Ohio and Indiana.
Oklahoma also passed strong anti-puppy mill legislation in 2010,  then weakened it in 2011.  Attempted enforcement of even the weaker standards got off to an inauspicious start when breeder Colene Fisher,  of Fisher Mountain Puppies in Spero,  allegedly ordered two inspectors to leave her property,  then contested a November 4,  2011 citation for failure to cooperate and operating a commercial pet breeding operation without a license.

“They never asked to look at my dogs,”  Fisher told Tulsa World writer Wayne Greene.  “They never asked how many dogs I owned, how many dogs were intact,  whether they were male or female,  and they never asked to look at my records. So they don’t have any idea whether I met the requirements or not.”  Oklahoma assistant attorney general Jon Dutton on November 14,  2011 e-mailed to Fisher’s attorney,  Misti Fields,  that the case would be dropped,  Greene reported,  adding that “Citations against three other breeders whom Fields represents also were dropped.”
Pennsylvania had more than 300 puppy breeders as recently as 2008,  but more than 80% “failed to meet requirements for such provisions as outdoor runs and larger cages,  and have closed,” reported Lancaster Sunday News staff writer Jon Rutter in November 2011.

The new requirements were introduced by former Governor Ed Rendell and enforced by Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement attorney Jessie Smith–but current Governor Tom Corbett,  elected in November 2010, transferred Smith from the Office of Attorney General,  which prosecuted dog law violations,  to the state Department of Agriculture,  which licenses breeding kennels but does not do law enforcement.  Corbett also renamed the agency the Dog Law Enforcement Office,  and put it under Lynn Diehl,  a former banker with no humane law enforcement experience.  “There has been no meeting of the Dog Law Advisory Board” since Corbett took office,  board member Marsha Perelman told Rutter.

Allegedly lax enforcement under Corbett drew protest after the Department of Agriculture issued an operating permit to Nancy Zimmerman of Golden Acres Kennels–wife of John Zimmerman,  operating from the same premises formerly called Silver Hill Kennels.

“District Judge Rodney H. Hartman found John Zimmerman guilty in June 2010 of two summary charges of animal cruelty,”  recalled Lancaster Intelligencer Journal staff writer Tom Murse.  “Zimmerman was fined $150 for each charge and forfeited two dogs to the Humane League of Lancaster County.”  Zimmerman later won an appeal of one of the charges.  Agriculture department spokesperson Samantha Kreps told Murse that a condition of licensing ensures that John Zimmerman will “not have any interest and/or involvement in the ownership, possession and/or maintenance of any kind of kennel,”  including “employment and/or volunteering” at the kennel now licensed in his wife’s name.

“I am returning to the Office of Attorney General as of January 9,  2012,”  .Jessie Smith e-mailed to colleagues at the Department of Agriculture,  but she told ANIMAL PEOPLE that her new job would not involve dog law enforcement.

The feds

Historically,  law enforcement against alleged puppy mills has been done chiefly by the USDA Animal & Plant Inspection Service, invoking the Animal Welfare Act of 1971 under federal authority to regulate interstate commerce.
As 2011 closed,  Humane Society Legislative fund president Mike Markarian lauded the USDA for moving “to permanently revoke the licenses of two of the worst known puppy mill operators in the country,  Marsha Cox of Mar-Don Kennels in Missouri,  and Kathy Jo Bauck of Puppies on Wheels in Minnesota.  Both operators had amassed page after page of Animal Welfare Act violations for issues such as filthy conditions,  dogs in below-freezing temperatures without adequate protection from the bitter cold,  and sickly or underweight dogs who had not been treated by a veterinarian,”  Markarian recounted.  “Bauck had been told to stop performing botched surgeries on dogs without a veterinary license in 2006,  and was convicted of animal cruelty and torture in 2009.”

Congress then reprogrammed $4 million in already appropriated USDA funding to reinforce puppy mill oversight,  and added another $5 million to the USDA budget to improve Animal Welfare Act enforcement “at about 12,000 sites,  including puppy mills,  laboratories,  zoos, circuses,  and other facilities,”  Markarian said.

Markarian attributed the appropriations,  amid steep Congressional budget cuts in other areas of regulatory enforcement, to concern roused by a May 2011 audit by USDA’s Office of Inspector General,  which emphasized failures to put problematic dog breeders and dealers out of business.

Markarian cited as a priority for 2012 seeking passage of the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act,  “to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act by requiring that large commercial breeders who sell 50 or more puppies per year directly to consumers,  via the Internet or other means,  be licensed and inspected,”  and to require that dogs used for breeding be provided the opportunity to exercise daily.   Versions of the PUPS Act entered 2012 with 192 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 32 in the Senate.

Illustrating the need for the PUPS Act,  HSUS in early December 2011 released findings from a three-month investigation of Purebred Breeders LLC,   believed to be the largest online puppy vendor in the U.S. and perhaps the world.

“HSUS found that Purebred Breeders owns nearly 800 Web domains designed to mislead consumers into believing that they are dealing with local breeders when they shop online for a puppy,” charged HSUS spokesperson Jordan Crump.  “Whistleblowers working for the company told HSUS investigators that the company sells approximately 20,000 puppies every year,  using hard-sell deceptive tactics encouraged by company executives.

Puppies purchased through Purebred Breeders are never seen by sales personnel,”  Crump alleged, “even though they routinely guarantee the health of these animals, who are often flown long distances directly from the breeding facility to the consumer.

“Undercover HSUS investigators obtained photographs and video footage of several large-scale commercial puppy mills that supply dogs to Purebred Breeders for re-sale,”  Crump said.  “This footage reveals dogs in stacked wire cages, empty water bowls,  excessive build-up of feces under cages,  and other unsanitary conditions typical of puppy mills.”

Attorney Ted Leopold,  of Palm Beach Gardens,  Florida, filed a lawsuit against Purebred Breeders and owner Jason Halberg on behalf of HSUS and 11 named plaintiffs who say they bought unhealthy puppies from the company.  “We’re going to do everything we can to shut them down,”  Leopold told Palm Beach Post staff writer Jane Musgrave.

U.S. law enforcement agencies at all levels cumulatively impounded 4,607 animals from alleged puppy mills in 2011,  according to case reports collected by ANIMAL PEOPLE.   This was about 400 more than were known to have been impounded in 2010.  Impoundments in breeder neglect cases topped 4,500 for the first time in 2005, dropped to 3,000 just two years later,  then soared to 8,000 in 2008 and 10,000 in 2009.

Impoundments of dogs and cats from failed shelters and rescues rose from 2,159 in 2005 to nearly 5,000 in 2010,  exceeding the number impounded from puppy mills for the first time,  but dropped back to 3,165 in 2011.
2011 also brought the largest-ever impoundment from an alleged puppy mill in Canada,  closing Paws R Us,  located on a former pig farm in Clarendon Township,  Quebec,  near Campbell’s Bay, east of Pembroke and northwest of Ottawa.  Seven years after the Montreal-based Canadian SPCA began making frequent inspections and recommending improvements,  and five years after the Quebec government transferred responsibility for humane law enforcement to a newly created agency called Anima Quebec,  inspectors on September 16,  2011 impounded approximately 500 dogs from owners Charlene Labombard and her daughter Nicole.  Some of the dogs later birthed about 90 puppies.

On November 24,  2011,  reported CBC Ottawa,  the Labombards pleaded guilty to all 17 cruelty and neglect charges against them, and surrendered the dogs,  in exchange for waiver of having to pay the costs of holding the dogs pending disposition of the case, estimated at about $10,000.  The dogs were kept by Humane Society International Canada,  an HSUS subsidiary,  at kennels near LaChute. The settlement allowed HSI Canada to offer the dogs for adoption.

The settlement vindicated online critic Lorie Gordon,  of Brockville,  Ontario,  who in July 2009 was ordered by Ontario Superior Court deputy judge Michael Galligan to pay $10,000 in damages to Nicole Labombard and two members of her family,  plus $4,000 in court costs of the Ontario Superior Court,  for web postings made in 2004 and 2005 which “attempted to portray Paws R Us as a puppy mill,”  summarized 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.” –Merritt Clifton

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