Wisconsin puppy mill breeders exposed in new report

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggly tail? The cost — measured in suffering — is high if a puppy mill supplied the dog to the store.

The Humane Society of the United States in May issued The Horrible Hundred: Puppy Mills Exposed, with a state-by-state breakdown. It is not a comprehensive list of bad breeders, but rather an annual report that offers a sampling of the problems in the breeding industry.

In Wisconsin, this means it’s likely there are more puppy mills than the four identified in the report.

“There are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S. and they exist in every state,” said Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin state director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Although Wisconsin is not one of the top five puppy mill states, it still has a significant number. And for every one that The Humane Society of the United States is aware of, there may be twice as many that are operating in the shadows, unlicensed and unreported.”

Canines for commerce

A puppy mill is a dog-breeding business in which the physical, psychological, and/or behavioral needs of the dogs are neglected due to inadequate housing, shelter, staffing, nutrition, socialization, sanitation, exercise, veterinary care and inappropriate breeding.

The Humane Society compiled The Horrible Hundred report from inspections by federal and state agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The report reveals widespread problems in the U.S. puppy breeding industry, as well as gaps in laws and enforcement.

Missouri and Kansas continue to shelter the greatest number of problem dealers for the third year in a row — 23 in Missouri and 16 in Kansas, followed by Nebraska at 14, Iowa at 11 and Arkansas at seven.

Partly as a result of greater public scrutiny and stronger laws, nearly two dozen problem breeders identified in 2012 and 2013 closed down.

Still, puppy mills continue to be relicensed year after year in the United States. Many dogs in these facilities are inbred and overbred, receive minimal veterinary care, poor quality food and water and little socialization and exercise.

Repeat offenders

Among the Wisconsin breeders exposed in The Horrible Hundred, John Zeiset, operator of Lone Pine Kennels in Thorpe, is classified as a repeat offender in the report.

Last June, a USDA inspector found a Cavalier King Charles spaniel at Lone Pine Kennels in Clark County with an “open and discharging laceration on the bottom of its neck,” which appeared to be caused by an embedded chain collar. The gash was untreated.

In December 2014, a state inspector found at the kennel excessive feces, unsafe conditions and more dogs in need of veterinary care, including an underweight 15-week-old Maltese puppy with one eye “completely sealed shut from dried mucus.”

In New Holstein, federal and state inspectors repeatedly cited Brooknook Puppies, operated by Herman Gingerich, for issues related to unsanitary and unsafe conditions. USDA inspectors reported excessive cobwebs, debris and rodent droppings, excessive piles of feces and excessive temperatures. State inspectors noted similar problems. The most recent state report, dated December 2014, indicated improvements but feces remained an issue, as well as a lack of adequate grooming at the Calumet County facility.

The report identified two other problem breeders in Wisconsin: Mose Bontrager in Hillsboro, and Alvin and Esther Nolt in Thorp.

In a February inspection, officials determined Bontrager’s kennel in Vernon County had not been cleaned for a week, apparently because the owner left town. The inspector noted “lice nits in the fur of several dogs,” matted dogs, dogs with fur “dirtied with excrement due to unsanitary conditions,” a dog with nails so overgrown the animal could not properly walk and a “significant and unacceptable accumulation of excrement in whelping enclosures.”

The inspector also observed a Siberian husky with three puppies kept in an outdoor enclosure with only a cracked igloo-type shelter and other puppies housed in a corncrib, with no other protection.

The report said Bontrager was selling puppies wholesale without the required USDA license.

At the Nolts’ facility in Clark County, federal and state inspectors repeatedly found problems with sanitation and animal care, according to The Horrible Hundred. Last November, a state inspector noted piles of feces, dogs without adequate protection from the cold, puppies with their feet falling through holes in wire flooring and several dogs in need of veterinary treatment. One dog later was euthanized due to “several tumor-like growths” near the ear, along with a wound that was open and bleeding. In March, a USDA inspector said the kennel was now compliant.

Several animal welfare watchdogs contacted WiG to report the four breeders in Wisconsin are Amish, and that conditions at their facilities were indicative of how the Amish treat animals, as resources rather than pets.

Lisa Williams, founder of a Florida-based rescue program, worked as an investigator for a national animal rights group. “I investigated three puppy mills, two of them Amish,” she said. “Depending on how many dogs they have, they can make around $100,000 per year just by selling puppies. I went to a farm with over 400 dogs in two small barns. They think nothing of keeping them in small wire cages and never letting them out for their entire lives. Trucks come to the farms in the night and pick up puppies to move to pet stores. I watched them do that. It broke my heart.”

Tedrowe said, “No one should neglect the proper care of their animals, Amish or otherwise. There is no excuse for animal cruelty. That being said, The HSUS has found puppy mills with dreadful conditions operated by people of all creeds. We really need to place the focus on the conditions that animals are living in, not the lifestyle of the owners.”

Efforts to reach the Wisconsin breeders were unsuccessful as of WiG’s deadline on May 20.

Meanwhile, some animal welfare advocates responding to The Humane Society report said more must be done to close the mills.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the past five or six years, but we must do more. We can always improve,” said activist and dog-rescuer Monette Barrett of Milwaukee.

Law and enforcement

Legislation signed in 2009 by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle went into effect in mid-2011 and set minimum standards of daily and veterinary care for dogs and established a licensing program for breeders and sellers that annually market more than 25 dogs from more than three litters and prohibited the sale of puppies less than 7 weeks old unless sold with their mothers. The law provides for an inspection process and requires that certificates of veterinary inspection or health certificates accompany dogs sold or adopted for a fee. The inspectors evaluate the general care of animals, conditions of indoor and outdoor enclosures, transportation of dogs, animals’ ages, record keeping and health certificates.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection website says the intent of the law “is to protect the welfare of dogs and to protect consumers who buy or adopt them.”

Act 90, dubbed “The Puppy Mill Bill” as it moved through the Legislature, passed with unanimous support in both chambers. Doyle’s signature on the measure was hailed as a milestone. Before passage, Wisconsin was one of the few states with no regulation of dog sellers or shelter operators. The federal Animal Welfare Act also requires minimum standards.

“But the standards are just that — minimal survival standards,” said Tedrowe.

In the first year, the DATCP inspected 339 breeders, dealers and sellers and reported that 289 earned a state license. Concerns resulted in 35 facilities receiving conditional licenses. The state denied three applications and other cases involved facilities that either went out of business or reduced the number of dogs sold to less than 25 per year.

On the first anniversary of the law, Yvonne Bellay, animal programs leader for DATCP’s animal health division, said, “We’ve taken a great first step this year toward protecting the welfare of dogs in Wisconsin.”

Still, animal welfare advocates want more protections for future pets, specifically tools enabling the rapid removal of dogs from unsafe and unsanitary conditions and putting repeat offenders out of business.

But they also stress the important role consumers play in either propping up puppy mill operations or closing them down: Puppy mill operators breed dogs for the money, not the love of breeding dogs.

“It isn’t easy for the USDA or the state Department of Agriculture to simply shut down a breeder just because they had some violations,” Tedrowe said. “Often they have to go to court in these cases, which can be a costly and lengthy process. That’s why the public really has to take part of the responsibility.”

Consumer watchdogs

Animal welfare advocates caution people against purchasing a puppy from a pet store or over the Internet, because the dogs commonly come from puppy mills. And the only way for potential buyers to know if they are purchasing from responsible breeders is to visit breeders in person and see how and where their puppy was raised, according to The HSUS.

“If every person who purchased a puppy took the time to visit the breeder and ensure that the dogs are living in good conditions, puppy mills would cease to exist,” Tedrowe said. 

In Wisconsin, people should be wary of purchasing a dog:

• If they are denied access to where animals are sheltered

• If the seller cannot provide a certificate and details about health care

• If the animal is being sold on the Internet

• If a seller or an advertisement fails to have a license number from the state.

A license does not guarantee a breeder is providing humane conditions for dogs, as evidenced by the four Wisconsin breeders listed in The Horrible Hundred. But a license means the breeder is inspected and being monitored, making it possible to identify problems and expose bad operations.

“The HSUS estimates that across the country there are as many as two unlicensed breeders for every one that is licensed,” said Tedrowe. “That is why we recommend that no one ever purchase a puppy without personally visiting the breeder to see where the puppy was raised. And, of course, we always encourage adoption from an animal shelter as the very best way to find a best friend.”

On the Web …

To download the full report, go to www.humanesociety.org/100puppymills.

Action alert

People who suspect a puppy mill should report the operation to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at datcp.wi.gov. If you witness cruel or inhumane treatment of an animal, you can also report the issue to the local animal shelter and law enforcement. Also, HSUS operates the Puppy Mill Tipline at 1-877-MILL-TIP and, for information, a micro site at apuppyisnotaproduct.com.  

— L.N.

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