Horrible Hundred identifies problem puppy mills, calls on USDA to enforce penalties

dvm360dvm360 September 2019
Volume 50
Issue 9

After a routine veterinary check, the Humane Society has released their latest report, listing puppy mills and dog sellers for consumers to be wary of and government agencies to act on.

puppies in a cage

Photo by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, courtesy of humanesociety.org

Cedar Ridge Australians, also known as AussieDoodleWoods, located in Alton, Missouri, is one of several repeat offenders on the Horrible Hundred list.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recently published a list of one hundred problem puppy mills and dog sellers. Dubbed ‘The Horrible Hundred,' this report is published annually to warn consumers about common problems associated with puppy mills and to urge government oversight agencies, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and some local departments of agriculture, to live up to their enforcement obligations. The USDA is responsible for inspecting dog breeding kennels in every state if they have five or more breeding females and sell sight-unseen, such as through pet stores or online.

Since last year, some of the dealers listed in the 2018 report appear to have closed their doors, while others have been penalized by the state, but appear to still be operating. “A few of the dealers listed have been shut down by local authorities or were urged to close voluntarily, due to ongoing and uncorrected violations,” says Kitty Block, president and CEO of the HSUS, in an interview with dvm360. “A few others have cleaned up their facilities to acceptable levels due to the increased scrutiny.”

Violations include dogs found shivering in the cold, dogs with only frozen water buckets available or no water at all, dogs with untreated wounds, sick puppies who had not been treated by a veterinarian and underweight dogs with their ribs and spines showing. Twenty-seven of the dealers in the 2019 report are repeat offenders.

“Private practice veterinary professionals often see the devastating impact of sick puppies brought home by unsuspecting consumers,” Block says in the interview. “Many did not know their puppy came from a puppy mill, but they quickly learned the truth when faced with middle-of-the-night emergency veterinary visits, and hundreds or even thousands of dollars in veterinary bills. It can put veterinarians in the position of having to explain to an owner that the dog they purchased isn't as healthy as they were told, or worse, that the dog isn't able to be saved. In a field already fraught with compassion fatigue, circumstances like this only exacerbate the situation.”

Missouri has the largest number of puppy mills in the Horrible Hundred for the seventh year in a row, followed by Iowa, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It's important to note, however, that HSUS researchers are unable to get local inspection records from states that don't have kennel inspection laws, so states that have solid kennel inspection programs often have more dealers in the report. In contrast, states such as Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee don't inspect dog breeding kennels at all, and therefore have few to no dealers in the report simply because documentation is scant.

Over the past two years, there appears to have been a steep decline in mill enforcement by the USDA. The Washington Post reported in February that USDA inspectors documented 60 percent fewer violations at licensed facilities in 2018 than in 2017. It was also reported last October that the USDA issued only 39 written warnings in the first three quarters of 2018, and it settled only one complaint against a puppy mill operator. In contrast, two years ago the agency issued 192 warnings and filed complaints against 23 licensees.

starved dog

Photo by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, courtesy of humanesociety.org.

Another photo taken from AussieDoodleWoods in Alton, Missouri. According to the report, state inspectors have repeatedly found underweight or injured dogs at the operation, including a dog with bite wounds.

Also of concern is the USDA-launched pilot program that would alert some facilities to inspections in advance, as well as revisions to the written guide that its inspectors use (eliminating requirements related to identifying suffering animals and requiring veterinary examinations for sick animals). The agency also chose to inspect small nonprofit pet rescues that transport pets for a fee and only receive reimbursement for expenses. The HSUS is concerned that while the USDA was pursuing smaller rescues, it appeared to ignore problems at some of the massive dog breeding operations that were identified in prior reports.

In response, the USDA submitted this statement in an email release: “We are dedicated to conducting quality inspections and providing assistance to facilities with compliance challenges,” said USDA spokesperson Andre Bell. “In FY 2017, USDA conducted 2,727 inspections of breeding facilities and found that 97 percent of them were in substantial compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requirements.”

In 2017, the USDA redacted breeder names, kennel names and license numbers from most of the public inspection records available online. HSUS researchers continued publishing the Horrible Hundred report using state inspection records to identify many of the problem dealers and breeders so that consumers could access the information. The HSUS is currently in an ongoing legislative battle with the USDA to get those redactions removed under Freedom of Information Act requests on these reports.

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), a HSUS affiliate, recently submitted a letter to the USDA with 272 signatures from veterinary professionals. The letter is in support of a proposed USDA rule that, if finalized, could prevent federally licensed pet breeders with conditions that violate basic standards of care, or those who have had their licenses previously revoked, from obtaining a new license. The rule would also require licensed facilities to provide annual hands-on professional veterinary care for each dog, along with continual access to water. The letter noted that the proposed provisions are common sense from a veterinary perspective.

Block says that the letter also urged the USDA to make the rule stronger by banning certain hallmarks of puppy mills-such as stacked cages and wire floors-and requiring dogs to have more space than the tiny cages the USDA currently allows. The proposed rule, which both HSVMA and HSUS are in support of, can be found here. The public comment period is now closed, but the HSUS hopes that the USDA issues a final rule soon.

“Puppy mills are bad for animals, consumers and veterinarians alike,” said Block in the interview. HSUS is calling on the government to step up its enforcement efforts-"to do its job of swiftly citing and taking action against operations with miserable conditions where animals who are ill or injured suffer needlessly.” Block urges consumers not to buy puppies from pet stores or online, or from any breeder who won't meet you in person and show you the conditions in which a puppy was raised.

Kristy Stevenson is an independent contributing writer and editor based in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Her award-winning work has appeared in Military Officer, Geek and other publications. She enjoys travel, scrapbooking and viewing the world through the lens of a Nikon.

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