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Dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Lexington, Neb., at the Omaha Humane Society in Omaha, Neb., last week. A short time after the May 16 rescue of 171 dogs from the property of a Dawson County man, the Nebraska Legislature passed a law that increases the number of state kennel inspectors from one to four and requires new operations to be inspected before opening.
AP photo Nati Harnik
Dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Lexington, Neb., at the Omaha Humane Society in Omaha, Neb., last week. A short time after the May 16 rescue of 171 dogs from the property of a Dawson County man, the Nebraska Legislature passed a law that increases the number of state kennel inspectors from one to four and requires new operations to be inspected before opening.

Puppy-mill purgatory
Lawmakers seek to crack down on unscrupulous dog breeders

By Eric Olson
Associated Press Writer

OMAHA, Neb. — Bob Baker has seen the worst of the worst in his 27 years as an animal cruelty investigator.

There was the Missouri breeder who would skimp on food by skinning dead dogs and feeding them to other dogs in his kennel. There was the South Dakota breeder who used a handsaw to amputate the leg of a pregnant Rottweiler, injured in an attack by another dog, in hopes that the Rottweiler would survive long enough to give birth to another litter.

Baker says such cases are the exception, but adds that mistreatment of dogs in large-scale breeding operations remains common and troubling.

“Most breeders learn how to keep their standards just above violating cruelty statutes, but the conditions are still unacceptable,” said Baker, a St. Louis-based national investigator for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “It’s difficult dealing with these people. We file charges on the most egregious ones.”

State legislators across the nation are attempting to crack down on rogue breeding operations and pet sellers.

The week after the May 16 rescue of 173 dogs from the property of a Dawson County man, the Nebraska Legislature passed a law that increased the number of state kennel inspectors from one to four and requires new operations to be inspected before opening.

Puppy lemon laws, which let buyers get their money back if health or genetic defects are discovered within a set time, are on the books in 16 states and were introduced in four others this year.

California lawmakers are studying a bill that would require cats and dogs over 4 months old to be spayed or neutered, unless the person caring for them obtains a breeding license.

Laws that would tighten the regulation of retail pet shops are pending in Oregon, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and bills establishing standards for breeding operations were introduced in Minnesota and Ohio.

Hot-button issue

Mass breeding has been a hot-button issue for decades with animal welfare activists, who use the term “puppy mills” to describe the most unsavory of operations, which are usually situated in rural areas.

The Humane Society of the United States has long identified Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania as the major puppy-mill states, said outreach director Stephanie Shain.

Of the 7 million to 9 million dogs brought into U.S. families each year, Shain said, an estimated 2 million to 4 million are products of puppy mills.

The demand for popular breeds, and the high prices people are willing to pay, keep breeding operations churning, Shain said. A quick Internet search showed many puppies with four-figure sale prices, and some breeds, including bulldogs and Belgian Malinois, with top prices exceeding $3,000.

Many dog breeders chafe at the term “puppy mill,” saying it is inflammatory and lumps conscientious commercial dog breeders together with the unscrupulous.

Clem Disterhaupt, president of the Nebraska Dog Breeders Association, said most commercial breeders have the animals’ best interest at heart.

“We don’t associate ourselves with puppy mills, but sometimes people are under the impression that if you have a lot of dogs, you must be a puppy mill,” Disterhaupt said.

Disterhaupt said reputable breeders are licensed with state or federal agencies and provide adequate space, cleanliness, heat and air conditioning and ventilation.

“That’s not a puppy mill,” he said. “People need to distinguish the difference.”

Daisy Okas, assistant vice president of communications for the American Kennel Club, said breeders, kennel operators and pet stores register all types of breeds with her organization. The AKC has 15 inspectors who visit about 5,000 places a year where significant numbers of dogs are registered.

Shain, however, said people who want a puppy should avoid pet stores and instead buy from a hobby breeder or adopt from a shelter.

Puppy mills, Shain said, damage dogs emotionally and physically because the animals are confined in tight, unsanitary quarters with little or no socialization with humans or veterinary care. Females are bred repeatedly, some when they’re as young as 6 months.

The overbreeding, combined with the dismal environment, results in sickly puppies that have genetic defects and temperament problems, she said. The dogs are sold in pet stores or on the Internet to unsuspecting buyers.

Investigators such as Baker inspect breeding operations after receiving complaints. Breeders usually cooperate, but when they don’t, he said, he gathers information by interviewing neighbors and observing the facility from afar.

How to find a good dog breeder

The Humane Society of the United States offers these tips to people choosing a dog breeder.

Look for breeders who:

  • Keep dogs in the home as part of the family, not outside in kennel runs.
  • Have dogs who appear happy and healthy, are excited to meet new people and don’t shy away from visitors.
  • Show you where the dogs spend most of their time.
  • Encourage you to spend time with the puppy’s parents or, at a minimum, the puppy’s mother.
  • Only breeds one or two types of dogs and is knowledgeable about what are called “breed standards.” Breed standards are the desired characteristics of the breed, such as size, proportion, coat, color and temperament.
  • Has a strong relationship with a local veterinarian, shows you records of veterinary visits for the puppies and explains the puppies’ medical history and necessary vaccinations.
  • Explains potential genetic problems inherent in the breed and provides documentation that the puppy’s parents and grandparents have been tested to ensure that they are free of these genetic problems.
  • Offers guidance for caring for and training your puppy and is available for assistance after you take your puppy home.
  • Provides references from other families.

  • Feeds high-quality pet food.
  • Doesn’t always have puppies available but rather will keep a list of interested people for the next available litter.
  • Is actively involved with local, state and national clubs that specialize in the specific breeds.
  • Encourages multiple visits and wants your entire family to meet the puppy.
  • Provides you with a written contract and health guarantee and allows plenty of time for you to read it thoroughly.

    The Associated Press

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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