SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Bringing a puppy into your home is an exciting time and a years-long commitment. Deciding what type of dog is right for your family is one of the most important factors, but so is where you decide to get that puppy from. For those who are searching for a specific breed, a commercial breeder might be the way to go. But not all breeders are the same. Some are considered puppy mills.
The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines a puppy mill as “a commercial farming operation in which purebred dogs are raised in large numbers and often in substandard or poor conditions.”
The Humane Society of the United States releases a list of the 100 worst breeders in the country each year, called the Horrible Hundred list. This list is based on inspection reports from both state and federal inspectors. The state of Iowa has 5 breeders on the list this year, two of which are in Siouxland.
Breeders in the tri-state are required to be licensed in order to operate. Before we dig into puppy mills, what does being a licensed breeder really mean?
DIFFERENCE IN LICENSES
Commercial animal breeders in the U.S. need to carry either a state or federal license to operate. The federal license comes from the USDA, while the state license derives from the state’s department of agriculture. Different licenses mean there is a difference in regulations.
“Commercial dog breeding facilities are licensed in one of two ways,” said Preston Moore from the Humane Society of Iowa. “[Breeders] are licensed by the state if they are selling primarily directly to consumers and they are not crossing state lines. If they are crossing state lines, they are selling sight unseen by shipping their animals or they are selling via a third party like pet stores, they are more than likely going to be USDA licensed.”
Regulations for a federal license issued by the USDA are set by the Animal Welfare Act. The AWA was passed by congress in 1966 and lays out specific minimum standards of care for dogs, cats and other animals often bred for commercial resale. Enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), large-scale breeders are required to be licensed and are expected to follow the regulations laid out in the AWA. Breeders licensed by the USDA are to be inspected regularly. Breeders who sell their animals on a large scale, such as to pet stores, over the internet, or “sight unseen” are required to be licensed by the USDA.
Breeders who don’t fall within these guidelines are licensed by their respective states and are not required to follow regulations set up by the AWA. Instead, they must follow the state’s regulations in which they are licensed. Both Iowa and Nebraska require breeders to be licensed; South Dakota has no specific state laws. While all 50 states have some form of anti-cruelty laws in place, those are rarely enacted with commercial breeders.
Iowa: All commercial breeders are required to be licensed in the state of Iowa according to Iowa Code 162. Inspections are not required unless they have a reasonable cause to monitor the breeder to determine if they are providing the minimum standard of care required.
Nebraska: Nebraska requires all commercial breeders to be licensed. Unlike Iowa, inspections are required before a license is approved, and each breeder is subject to inspections at least once every 2 years.
South Dakota: No state-specific laws. Commercial breeders are usually licensed with the USDA.
THE HORRIBLE HUNDRED LIST
The Horrible Hundred list is put together each year by the Humane Society of the United States. It shines a light on some of the worst dog breeders in the country.
“To put this list together every year, our puppy mill research team looks at hundreds and thousands of inspection reports from around the country,” Moore said about the list’s creation. “These are reports that are put together by either state department of agriculture inspectors or from the USDA inspection reports, and our research team looks for the most egregious violations.”
Those breeders who make the list are running what experts consider “puppy mills.”
“We, as the Humane Society of the United States, define a puppy mill as an inhumane commercial dog breeding facility that frankly, puts the wealth of the breeder over the welfare of the animal.”
Two of the breeders listed on the 2020 report are here in Siouxland and both have been on the Horrible Hundred list in years past.
Horrible Hundred 2020 Iowa by Katie Copple on Scribd
NORTHWEST KENNELSIn Sheldon, Iowa sits Northwest Kennels, a repeat offender on the Horrible Hundred report. Northwest Kennels holds a USDA-B license and has accumulated a host of violations, many of which are ordered to be corrected but based on inspection reports viewed by Siouxland News, usually aren't fixed.
In July 2018, USDA inspectors visited Northwest Kennels for a routine inspection and discovered 18 bottles of expired medications on the premises that were still being used on the more than 130 adult dogs and puppies residing at the kennel. One bottle, testosterone hormones, had expired in 2001. Inspectors also observed rusted and corroded kennels, fences, and feeders that the dogs were coming in direct contact with, posing both a health and safety hazard. Several red plastic feeders on-site were chewed and dirty. These violations were reported and with notes that they needed to be corrected within a month.
The next report obtained by Siouxland News was taken a year later, in August of 2019. The number of dogs and puppies on site had grown to 167. Several of the violations noted in the July 2018 inspection report were still present, such as rusted and corroded feeders, fences, and kennels. Some feeders were also still covered in grime and chewed up. This time, inspectors observed several kennels with plastic flooring that had openings large enough where dogs and puppies’ feet were passing through them, which created a safety issue. Northwest Kennels was asked to correct these violations within a month.
Five months later, in January 2020, inspectors from the USDA returned to Northwest Kennels where they noted that the previous violations, many of which were reported back in July of 2018, had not been corrected. The inspection report states that a kennel housing 26 puppies still had a plastic wire flooring where their feet were passing through as they attempted to walk.
According to NoPetStorePuppies.com, a site created by the ASPCA, photos of Northwest Kennels in 2012 showed matted dogs, corroded fences and enclosures, wired flooring and several other violations noted years later in the reports listed above.
Siouxland News was not able to access inspection records from 2012, but records from inspections in 2014 detailed kennels that had sharp edges and dirty food and water dishes. During three separate inspections between September 2014 and March 2015, inspectors noted nearly a dozen “non-critical violations.”
Northwest Kennels also had a number of years with no violations at all. During five separate inspections between June 2015 and September 2017, inspectors found no issues at the kennel and reported Northwest Kennels was compliant. The next three inspection reports available, July 2018, August 2019 and January 2020, are noted above. It's important to note that different inspectors from the USDA visited the kennel throughout the years.
The USDA lists a PO Box in Sheldon for Northwest Kennels, but a records search lists Northwest Kennels as permanently closed, though its same address also maps to a pet store called Dog House, Etc., also owned and operated by the licensee of Northwest Kennels. When visiting the pet store, the sign on the building displayed Northwest Kennels.
See the inspection reports for Northwest Kennels below or click here. You can also search and access the reports directly here.
Northwest Kennels USDA Insp... by Katie Copple on Scribd
Siouxland News reached out to Dog House Etc. about the violations listed in both the inspection reports and the Horrible Hundred list. Between emails and a face-to-face conversation with another Siouxland News reporter, the owners of Northwest Kennels and Dog House Etc., did not want to speak to the allegations made in the inspection reports filed by the USDA or the Horrible Hundred list.
In an email, the owner stated they did not want to speak to the media.
SHAGGY HILL FARMS“There is one breeder in your area, the Sioux Center one, Shaggy Hill Farms, that unfortunately got its start as an unlicensed and unregulated puppy mill. The state's answer was to go in and get them licensed and attempt to bring them into compliance,” Moore said, referring to our second Siouxland puppy mill on the list. “Just based on their track record, that you can see documented the last few years, I think it’s a stretch to assume that these folks are going to become good actors, so we are really hoping that this type of report will create a sense of urgency in the public and from the state department of ag and the USDA that you have a long history of violations here and it's time for some serious ramifications to come from it.”
Based on inspection reports obtained by Siouxland News, Shaggy Hill Farms is licensed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Several times inspectors were not allowed on the premises. The facility was not approved for a license in January of 2018 because of this. The kennel was not approved again in June of 2018 after a failed inspection. Just a week later, they were approved for a breeding license, though a number of violations were found at the facility.
In August of 2019, an inspector discovered multiple unsafe kennels and found that the dogs inside them were too cramped. Shaggy Hill Farms was told they could not exceed 80 dogs. At that time, they had 200. Also during this visit, inspectors noted unsanitary conditions and a lack of grooming on some of the dogs. The owners of Shaggy Hill Farms were also instructed to begin hand walking the dogs twice a day, due to a lack of space for the dogs to freely move and get exercise themselves.
Inspectors returned to Shaggy Hill in September of 2019 where they noted many of the same violations listed in previous inspections. Two months later, early November of 2019, many of the same violations were still present.
Siouxland News visited the address listed for Shaggy Hill Farms just outside of Sioux Center. No signs were present stating that this was Shaggy Hill Farms, but there were multiple rundown barns and buildings on the property.
During the course of this investigation, Shaggy Hill Farms changed its name to JKLM Farm, licensed under the same owner and at the same address. Shaggy Hill Farms license with the Iowa Dept. of Ag was set to expire June 18, 2020. Under the new name, JKLM Farm had their last inspection of public record in late-November of 2019 and their license was renewed through June 2021. In the report, the inspector stated that all previous violations had been corrected and no others were present.
See the inspection reports for Shaggy Hill Farms/JKLM Farms below or click here. You can also access the reports directly here.
Shaggy Hill - JKLM Farms Io... by Katie Copple on Scribd
Phone calls to the number listed on the reports went unanswered.
OTHER IOWA BREEDERS ON THE LISTHAPPY PUPPIES - Cincinnati, Iowa: Happy Tails received a direct, repeat violation in September of 2019 for a Maltese dog who was seen chewing on her back leg and base of her tail. This is one of the most serious violations a commercial breeder can receive. Several inspections, including one as recent as March of 2020, noted unsafe kennels housing dogs on the property.
ANDERSON’S YORKIES LLC - Mason City, Iowa: Anderson’s Yorkies was cited for several violations in February of 2020, including a violation stating many of the dogs were in need of veterinary and dental care and that many of the dogs were severely matted. According to the Horrible Hundred report, many of the violations have been noted in past inspection reports, but have not been addressed or fixed.
STONEHENGE KENNEL - West Point, Iowa: Stonehenge is a repeat offender on the Horrible Hundred List, housing and selling more than 650 small-breed dogs. Inspectors found several injured dogs on the premises during their inspections, including as recently as December of 2019 and March of 2020. Stonehenge appeared in the 2017 Horrible Hundred list for similar violations after inspection reports from 2016-2017 showed multiple dogs in need of veterinary care, including one that “hung limply when held.”
Horrible Hundred 2020 - Iowa Kennels by Katie Copple on Scribd
REGULATIONS“The general regulations in the state of Iowa is that dogs in commercial breeding facilities have to have some food, have to have some water. They have to have some sort of housing. Though, in these commercial breeding facilities, the housing is not what you and I would consider to be acceptable,” Moore said. “We are talking about kennels with wire floors. We are talking about cages that are just barely big enough for animals to stand up and turn around. And as you can see in the reports, we have documentation of feeding bowls and watering dishes that are corroded and rusted over and jagged and dangerous. And even if that is a violation on paper, it isn't enough to get these facilities shut down.”
Breeders licensed by the state of Iowa fall under Iowa Code 162, which had new regulations go into effect July 1st of this year. According to the Iowa Code, commercial breeders must provide the following standard of care: (1) Adequate feed, adequate water, housing facilities, sanitary control, or grooming practices, if such lack causes adverse health or suffering. (2) Veterinary Care.
Also, part of the Iowa Code is inspections, where the Dept. of Ag can inspect the facility at any time during normal working hours. If the facility does not allow an inspection, the department may get a search warrant.
Iowa Code also states that inspectors can monitor the facility to determine if the minimum standard of care is being provided. A few of the new regulations include raising the minimum temperature in kennels by 10 degrees and requiring a solid resting surface for animals to lay on.
This section of the Iowa Code, 162.10C, states that the department must have a reasonable cause that the facility is not providing that minimum standard of care. This reasonable cause includes an oral or written complaint and/or a report from the Dept. of Ag.
The Dept. of Ag does have the ability to revoke or suspend a commercial breeding license under Iowa Code 162.10D. Inspectors can also instruct the facility to undergo a continued education program.
Siouxland News reached out to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for an interview. While representatives said they were unable to do an interview because their veterinarians were tied up with the Resource Coordination Center, spokesperson Keely Coppess did send a statement saying: "I'm happy to provide some background information about the companion animal rule changes we implemented this year for your story.
"The Department met with key stakeholders, including legislators, animal advocacy groups, commercial breeders, and the Department’s animal inspectors, to determine what changes were needed to elevate the standard of care in all commercial facilities in Iowa.
"The following changes went into effect in January.
For breeders with a federal license, regulations are set by the Animal Welfare Act. First established in 1966, the AWA sets out the regulations for USDA-licensed commercial breeders. Each breeder applying for a license must be inspected before they are issued a license. Under the AWA, licensed breeders “shall provide care ensuring adequate feed, water, and housing facilities and appropriate sanitary control, grooming practices and veterinary care.” If a breeder has their license revoked or denied, the licensee is not able to apply for a new license for at least three years. If found guilty of animal cruelty or neglect in court, that is extended to 5 years.
HOW THEY KEEP THEIR LICENSES
With all of these violations, how are these two breeders and others on the list, able to keep their licenses?
Over the last few years, the USDA's enforcement and issuing of violations have gone down dramatically,” said Moore. “The USDA inspectors are now using what they call teachable moments and they are just having conversations with the owners of these facilities instead of actually noting violations. What we really need is for the state of Iowa and the USDA inspectors to have more authority to actually stop these facilities from producing more puppies and from expanding and from selling their puppies from all over the country if this is the type of conditions that we are seeing.”
The Horrible Hundred list is just that, a list. A tool that the public can use when researching a breeder to purchase a puppy from. But its creators hope it helps increase breeding regulations as well.
“So this list, first and foremost, is a really good educational tool that helps consumers like you and me or general run of the mill folks looking for a pet make informed decisions, but we can also point to this report when we speak to policymakers, especially when we are looking at trying to increase regulations or improve regulations. Like we did this last year in the state of Iowa,” Moore continued. “There is no better tool to improve regulations than to look at a report filled with government-issued inspections filled with violations.”
If you would like to view the Horrible Hundred List for 2020, click here to be taken to the report.
The inspection reports referenced in this story were obtained by Siouxland News through open records searches and also provided by representatives from the Humane Society of Iowa and the Iowa non-profit organization, Bailing Out Benji.
Many inspection reports are available to the public and can be searched by the breeding facility or licensee. Click the links below to search:
State Licensed Breeders in Iowa, Nebraska
SEE THE VIDEO
Commerical Dog Breeders: Regulations, inspections and puppy mills
SIOUX CITY, Iowa — “I got into this because I fell victim to the puppy mill industry by buying a puppy in a pet store. I had never heard the term puppy mill before. I just walked in and bought something because it was cute and fluffy and only later did I learn that it came from one of the worst puppy mills in Iowa.”
Mindi Callison is the founder of Bailing out Benji. A non-profit organization to educate the public on the differences between puppy mills and reputable breeders. Bailing Out Benji began in 2011 here in Iowa and is now represented in 24 states across the nation. Who is Benji? Benji is your dog, my dog, your neighbor’s dog, and all dogs. Bailing Out Benji is the “voice in this world and we will stand as constant reminders to those who insist on hurting these innocent creatures that the world is watching.”
“Puppies, in general, are the one purchase that people make without much research," Callison says. “When we buy a car, we read reviews, we test drive the cars, the same with buying a house. But these companion animals that we are purchasing that will live with us, hopefully for 20 years, and this is the one area where people are not doing their research.”
The state of Iowa is known by many as the leading state for puppy mills in the country. The state is frequently listed as having some of the most commercial breeders listed on the Humane Society’s Horrible Hundred List each year. Read our breakdown of two Siouxland puppy mills featured on the list here.
READ MORE: Horrible Hundred List 2020
“We are in what's known as the Puppy Mill Belt, so with these two states, we are highly agricultural,” Callison says about Iowa and Nebraska. “We know that driving especially up in the Sioux County area, you see lots of hog confinements and cattle farms. Iowa is very, very rich in agriculture.
"That means we are also rich in dog farms and that is essentially what these are. These are breeders who do not farm livestock-type animals for food consumption, they are farming and mass-producing puppies to be sold to the public." Each breeder is required to be licensed by either the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), or their respective state’s Department of Agriculture, but what license they carry depends on how and where they sell their puppies.
“Commercial dog breeding facilities are licensed in one of two ways,” said Preston Moore from the Humane Society of Iowa. “The first way is by the state, so there are some facilities that are licensed by the state of Iowa. They are licensed by the state if they are selling primarily directly to consumers and they are not crossing state lines. If they are crossing state lines, they are selling sight unseen by shipping their animals or they are selling via third party like pet stores, they are more than likely going to be USDA licensed.”
But just because a facility carries a license, doesn't mean they are considered a reputable breeder. Most of the breeders listed on the Humane Society's Horrible Hundred report are licensed. Yet, they have accumulated numerous violations, like lack of grooming and dogs being housed in kennels too small to move around in. These violations have been noted multiple times during inspections, yet the breeders are still in business.
“We have documentation where dogs and puppies' feet and legs are falling through cages. They can't stand on their own,” Moore says. The violations he mentions have been noted in reports from Northwest Kennels in Sheldon Iowa.
READ MORE: Horrible Hundred: Two Siouxland dog breeders listed on latest Humane Society report
“Some of these animals have broken limbs and they can't put weight on them at all,” Moore continues.
"And yet, the only punishment is getting a violation on an inspection report." Those with the worst violations in the nation are listed on the annual Horrible Hundred Report put together by the Humane Society of the United States. A panel of experts sifts through hundreds of inspection reports from commercial breeding facilities across the country to put the list together. A handful of those that make the list each year are repeat offenders, those who have made the list in years past.
“I would like to think that being placed on a list of breeders with some of the most egregious violations would be a wake-up call,” says Moore. “Unfortunately, we have a number of breeders on this report in the state of Iowa that have been on this report time and time again and have not changed their behavior.”
Moore says it’s the inspector’s responsibility to make sure these breeders are following the law, but many times, they aren’t able to do their job properly.
“So we need to make sure that inspectors are able to do their job, that they have all the tools and that there are enough of them to do their job and inspect these facilities, but that they are also encouraged to make sure that these facilities are following the regulations that are in place, even if they are on the lower tier in the types of regulations they have,” Moore said.
“Over the last few years, the USDA's enforcement and issuing of violations has gone down dramatically. The USDA inspectors are now using what they call teachable moments and they are just having conversations with the owners of these facilities instead of actually noting violations. What we really need is for the state of Iowa and the USDA inspectors to have more authority to actually stop these facilities from producing more puppies and from expanding.”
Inspections are done based on regulations set by either the state or the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Here in the state of Iowa, new regulations for breeders began July 1st. These regulations didn’t make significant changes to the laws, but are an improvement, like raising the minimum temperature for breeding facilities by 10 degrees and requiring a solid resting service in kennels for the animals to lay on.
“With the new regulations coming down the pipeline in the state of Iowa, we've got a big question mark in the air. What is it going to mean?” Moore said. “Are we going to see more inspection reports of violations? Or, and this is what I am hopeful will happen, are we going to see the state department of Ag actually start pulling some licenses.”
Callison agrees, “We really need the Iowa Department of Ag to step up and enforce the regulations they have in place. We need the USDA to do something similar."
"These two agencies are really just inspection agencies. They don't exist to save these animals from these facilities." Callison says while there are still too many puppy mill breeders open, positive changes have been made.
“We have seen a lot more oversight,” she said. “The laws have changed a little bit here in Iowa. We have seen a lot of the worse puppy mills close down, whether it be because of age or public pressure or public awareness but we've also seen more pop up.”
Preston says not all breeders are bad, but those that are do take away from those who take care of their animals.
“I think this industry is just inherently cruel. And it’s unfortunate because we do have some amazing, reputable breeders in the state and I am proud to work with them. But we also have a fair number of folks like this who are giving breeders a bad name. They are looking to make money. They are not necessarily looking to make sure these animals are getting good forever homes.
"You should really be seeking out breeders that will welcome you to their property, will show you the parents of the dog, and they will show you the conditions where this animal is living,” says Moore. “And that is just about the only thing that the individual consumer can do to ensure that they are not supporting a puppy mill.”
So what can the public do to help put an end to puppy mills? Both Moore and Callison say you can start by not buying a puppy from a pet store. Find a local rescue and adopt a dog who is looking for a forever home or if you do decide to adopt from a breeder, it’s important to do your research.
“You need to Google the breeder. We all have a computer in our pocket, we all have smartphones, we all have access to the internet. Google where the puppy is from. Google that breeder.” Callison says the best breeders want to meet you face to face. “If you are considering buying in a pet store, please know that a responsible breeder does not sell puppies in pet stores. Responsible breeders want to meet you. They want to know who is going to be taking home one of their babies.”
“The simplest thing folks can do to not support puppy mills is to not buy pets at a pet store,” Moore said. “Go to a shelter or meet a breeder on their own. So even if people are not looking for a pet at this time, educating their social circle, their family and friends about this connection that puppy mills have to pet stores is huge.”
For those who aren’t looking to add a puppy to their family, there are things you can do as well to help put an end to puppy mills.
“A lot of people, when they read these reports, think they need to go save a puppy from these facilities. But you are not saving a puppy from a pet store. You are not saving a puppy from a puppy mill. What you are doing is you are creating a hole for another puppy to be put in to be sold again, proving there is a need for the product,” Callison said. “So, the best thing we can do when we see these reports, when we know there is cruelty going on, the best thing we can do is walk away and go somewhere else. We vote with our money every day.
“The other thing people can do is contact their legislators,” Callison adds. “Here in Iowa, we try all the time to try and get a puppy mill bill passed or an animal cruelty bill passed, and it takes all of us from across the state to contact our legislators and urge them to try and pass new laws.”
A good place to start is the Horrible Hundred list. The data compiled is based on government-issued data, much of which is available to the public to see firsthand. For changes to happen, new legislation needs to be passed, both at the state and national level, to hold breeders responsible.
“But we can also point to this report when we speak to policymakers, especially when we are looking at trying to increase regulations or improve regulations,” Moore says. “Like we did this last year in the state of Iowa. There is no better tool to improve regulations than to look at a report filled with government-issued inspections filled with violations.”
“Here in Iowa, we try all the time to try and get a puppy mill bill passed or an animal cruelty bill passed, and it takes all of us from across the state to contact our legislators and urge them to try and pass new laws. And on the other side of that is you can help us educate,” said Callison.
“If you accidentally supported a puppy mill like I did, I used my story to warn others about how they can avoid puppy mills. If we can all educate our little corner of the earth, then sooner or later these puppy mills are going to go away.”
The inspection reports referenced in this story were obtained by Siouxland News through open records searches and also provided by representatives from the Humane Society of Iowa and the Iowa non-profit organization, Bailing Out Benji.
SEE THE VIDEO
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