Iowa remains one of worst states for puppy mills

Ten dog breeding facilities in Iowa made the Humane Society’s latest annual report on the country’s “Horrible Hundred” puppy mills. Iowa has long been one of the worst states for unscrupulous dog breeders, and a 2010 law designed to “crack down on the bad actors in this industry” did little to resolve the problem. Only Missouri and Ohio had more dog breeders listed in the latest Humane Society report. Iowa was among the five worst states for puppy mills in similar reports for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Two of the Iowa breeders mentioned this year are “repeat offenders” from past “Horrible Hundred” lists.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture no longer releases details about inspections of dog breeders, Clark Kauffman reported for the Des Moines Register on May 17.

In February 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump took office, the USDA removed from its website all the animal-welfare inspection reports that for five years had been publicly accessible as part of a searchable database.

A few months later, the reports resurfaced on the USDA site, but with the names of the facilities, their street addresses and their owners blacked out, making it impossible for people to attribute the violations in the reports to a specific facility.

Tracey Kuehl of Davenport told Kauffman that she “has filed more than 150 FOIA requests for USDA inspection reports” on puppy mills. The department typically provides the reports about five months later, having redacted “all of the inspectors’ findings, along with the accompanying photographs.”

The USDA, Kuehl said, told her that the potential “embarrassment or harassment of the licensee” outweighed the public’s interest in the inspectors’ findings.

The Humane Society’s new “Horrible Hundred” list speculates about the names of some problematic breeders, based on the minimal information released. Here’s the Iowa section of the list by state:

Ackworth, Iowa: Name withheld by USDA; believed to be Helene Hamrick, Wolf Point Kennel* (REPEAT OFFENDER)
Dogs had live maggots crawling in their food; dog’s feet were falling through gridded flooring; licensee received prior official warning from USDA.

Bloomfield, Iowa, Name withheld by USDA
Dead Chihuahua found with large, open wound had gone unnoticed by the licensee.

Cincinnati, Iowa: Name withheld by USDA; believed to be Henry Sommers* (REPEAT OFFENDER)
Multiple repeat violations; Yorkie had foot swollen to twice its normal size; puppy had swollen eyelids with yellow discharge; bichon had open wound on her neck.

Ionia, Iowa: Name withheld by USDA; believed to be David Horning*

Fifteen dogs found in need of care during March 2018 USDA inspection included a dog with a bleeding mouth, a dog with a red and oozing eye, dogs with patches of missing hair and irritated skin, many dogs with dental disease and two dogs with injured feet; USDA listed most of the issues under a single “Direct” violation.

Ireton, Iowa: Dean Dekkers, Double D Kennels
Dogs with unsafe housing; inadequate space; excessive feces; failure to obtain enough adult staff to care for 90 dogs.

Knoxville, Iowa: Name withheld by USDA; believed to be Tim Galeazzi, Double G Kennels*
Inspector found emaciated shih tzu nursing six puppies and emaciated poodle who appeared “depressed and lethargic” with little body fat or muscle, puppies on unsafe wire flooring.

Lucas, Iowa, Name withheld by USDA
Inspector found 17 dogs needing veterinary care; ten of them disappeared before the next inspection. Dogs had infections and injuries; one “cried out” in pain while being handled.

New Sharon, Iowa, Name withheld by USDA
Dogs in need of veterinary care included two German shepherds with raw, open wounds; repeat violation for lack of adequate veterinary care.

Sioux Center, Iowa: Shaggy Hill Farm
Unlicensed kennel; believed to have over 140 dogs, yet failed to let state inspector on property.

Unionville, Iowa: Name withheld by USDA; believed to be Fox Creek Kennels aka Iowa Fox Creek Kennels*
Great Danes found in 7 degree weather with their water bowls frozen solid (January 2018); Great Dane found in emaciated condition with ribs and backbone showing.

Excerpts from the methodology section of the new report (page 64):

We selected the facilities listed in this report to demonstrate common problems and conditions at puppy mills and puppy mill transporters/brokers across the United States. The sellers listed in this year’s report were selected based upon a number of factors, which included, but were not limited to:
•The availability of state kennel inspection reports showing violations, or related documents received via public records requests.
•The availability of federal (USDA) kennel inspection reports showing violations, or related documents received via public records requests.
•Federal, state or county warnings or fines, if information was available (note: most federal warnings and other enforcement records have been removed from public view since early 2017, as part of the USDA’s data purge);
•The quantity of violations found on state or federal inspection reports and/or the severity of violations, especially those affecting animal safety and health, and how recently the violations occurred;
•Whether a facility’s violations seemed newsworthy and of interest to the public;
•Whether the dealer was listed in one of the HSUS’s prior reports and has continued to accumulate violations since then;
•The availability of consumer complaints, investigation reports, photographs or news articles; and
•Indications that the facility appeared to be in business at the time of publication.

The best way to avoid patronizing puppy mills is to adopt a dog from a reputable shelter, like the ones operated by the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. For those determined to buy a purebred puppy, the Humane Society suggests these tips on “How to find a responsible dog breeder.”

UPDATE: Reader Bernie Lettington commented via Facebook,

One of the main provisions of the 2010 “Puppy Mill Bill” was to enable local authorities (sheriff, IDALS, etc) to inspect a federally-licensed breeding facility on receipt of a complaint. Previously, state and local authorities had no jurisdiction over a USDA-licensed breeder and complaints would be referred to the USDA office in Colorado. Not surprisingly, responses were slow, if any.

At the time, Iowa was one of the few states that didn’t allow for any local oversight of USDA breeders, so not surprisingly, we had a lot of them.

Since the bill’s passage in 2010, the number of USDA-licensed commercial dog breeding operations in Iowa has declined from nearly 500 to a little under 300 today.

While we clearly still have a problem with puppy mill operators not providing adequate care for their animals (the very same “bad actors” the breeders lobby claims to abhor while they simultaneously protect them) the 2010 Puppy Mill bill made some significant improvements overall, as indicated by the number of operations that have closed up shop rather than risk an even slightly increased chance of getting in trouble.

Point taken.

SECOND UPDATE: Dustin Vande Hoef, communications director for the Iowa Department for Agriculture and Land Stewardship, responded on May 21 to my request for comment on the allegation about the Sioux Center facility.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship does inspect state licensed commercial dog breeders. A facility must be licensed and inspected in order to sell animals. However, we do not have the legal authority to enter a premises without the owner’s consent.

We did receive a complaint about an unlicensed facility in Sioux County last summer and sent a letter of inquiry outlining the requirements as prescribed in Iowa Code if they are breeding and selling animals. We received an application for a commercial breeder license from that facility. Our inspector had a consultation with the facility and outlined changes that would be need to the facilities in order to meet state requirements. During the consultation visit our inspector viewed all the animals present and did not have any concerns about the health of the animals, it was just the facilities that needed to be updated to meet the requirements outlined in Iowa code. Following that consultation visit our office did not hear back from the facility’s owners. Our inspector visited the site early this year to follow up and no one was home/no one answered the door. At that time our inspector disapproved their application.

As a result, the facility has been directed to our compliance investigators. Our investigator has followed up and notified the owners they are not allowed to sell any animals until they are licensed. If they do attempt to sell any animals we would work with local law enforcement officials to respond.

Top image: Map created by Laura Belin based on the Iowa puppy mills listed in the Humane Society’s 2018 “Horrible Hundred” report.

  • Very interesting

    I appreciate both this post and Bernie Lettington’s update. I’d be interested, sometime in the future, in what the next big push will be to improve this situation, especially if the November election makes it any more likely that the Iowa Legislature and/or resident of Terrace Hill will be willing to address it.

    Iowa’s horrible puppy mills have been an embarrassment for the entire forty years I’ve lived here, so whatever is keeping the mills open must be pretty strong. I would really hate to think it’s a deep-seated state cultural tradition of accepting animal abuse as long as that abuse is mostly out of sight and makes money for someone.. But after forty years, that possibility does come to mind.

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