Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Indiana - Dog kennels spark conflict

I am posting this article from a northeast Indiana newspaper (News Sun) that covers four counties. I posted Part 2 Inspections called key to preventing puppy mills, yesterday. The reporter used one of our undercover photos from a breeder that supplies The Family Puppy. The store continued to use this breeder after our exposure. I added my comments to the article below.

Dog kennels spark conflict
Owners, foes disagree on animal welfare

These dogs are in a kennel in LaGrange County that was the subject of a USDA inspection. LaGrange County has 18 USDA licensed dog breeding kennels. Together with Noble and DeKalb counties, the area has nearly 20 percent of the dog breeding kennels in northeast Indiana.
A mix of puppies are together in one kennel in Noble County in this photo taken during a USDA inspection. USDA inspections, how thorough they are and their enforcement are among the issues raised by groups opposed to kennels.

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 11:44 pm, Sat Feb 9, 2013. 

First of two parts
By Bob Braley

LAGRANGE — Animal rights advocates have labeled Indiana a puppy mill state, with the number of breeding kennels in Indiana growing.

Nearly 20 percent of Indiana’s dog breeding kennels licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are in northeast Indiana, and some have been targeted by groups seeking to block the sale of puppies from them and/or shut them down.

Amish families own and operate most of the local kennels. They view doing so as part of their way of life, and they say they treat their animals well, for both practical reasons and reasons of faith.

Conflicts are arising between people working to protect animals from bad living conditions and others who say the activists are targeting the wrong people. Also in the mix are concerns about selling dogs from breeders and USDA inspections.

Some dog breeders have received threats of harm to themselves and their families.

Emotions are spilling over on all sides, said David Sacks, a USDA spokesman. “Passions run high when you talk about animals. There’s no neutral ground,” he said.

23 kennels in area

The USDA has licensed 122 dog breeding kennels in Indiana, according to its records. Of those, 23 are in the four northeast corner counties — 18 in LaGrange County, three in Noble County and two in DeKalb County, with none in Steuben County, the USDA said.

"If you are a commercial dog breeder in this country, you would need to be licensed by the USDA,” Sacks said. Any kennel with four or more breeding females must be licensed by the USDA.

Pam Sordyl, who sat on the press board of a national group, the Puppy Mill Project, is the founder and leader of Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan.

Sordyl and others have been tracking the number of kennels breeding dogs for commercial sale in each state across the nation and have seen a trend.

“The numbers are going down every year in every state except Indiana,” she said.

The recession and slow economic recovery are one reason for the drop, Sordyl said, adding, “It’s an industry that’s related to the economy.” She also said awareness of what she calls “puppy mills” increased after a 2008 Oprah Winfrey episode on the subject.

What are puppy mills?

But what constitutes a “puppy mill?” It’s a term coined in that Winfrey show, and it has no set meaning — but those who use it usually oppose large breeding kennels or selling dogs across state lines.

 That’s not a term we use here at USDA,” Sacks said. It’s used by people opposed to kennels.

"I consider a ‘puppy mill’ any commercial dog breeder that puts a higher priority on making a profit than on providing a good quality of life to the animals they breed, whether they are compliant with the legal definitions of welfare standards or not,” said Lori Gagen of Albion, who is working with groups opposed to commercial breeders in Noble County.

“While ‘quality of life’ is subjective, there are certain basic emotional, social and health-related needs that are typically not met in commercial dog kennels,” said Gagen, the executive director of Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion. “Private dog owners who occasionally breed their pets are not, in my mind, puppy mills.’”

There’s no legal definition for the term, Sordyl said. She defines a puppy mill as, first, a kennel that is profit-driven. Puppy mills also involve minimal veterinary care and settings that aren’t healthy environments for animals, producing puppy after puppy, she added.

Reputable breeders give rests between breeding cycles and allow exercise for dogs, Sordyl said.

That’s what an Amish dog breeding kennel owner in LaGrange County said he and others like him do, partly out of practicality and partly as a matter of faith.

The kennel owner, who asked that his name be withheld because breeders whose names have appeared in print have been targeted by opposition groups, said he has a veterinarian who is hands-on and on-site who inspects the animals.

All the dogs are on a strict vaccination and preventative worming protocol, the kennel owner said. As per Indiana law, they also all have current rabies shots.

His dogs have indoor and outdoor access in their kennels at all times, except when a mother has tiny puppies, the kennel owner said. The restriction then is to protect puppies from the elements.

The kennel building has fans for warm weather and is heated in winter, the kennel owner said. The kennels are 3 feet wide by 12-13 feet long and normally house two dogs each.

There’s also a grassy area outside the kennel of about 30-50 feet where the dogs who don’t have small puppies get one to three hours per day to exercise and socialize, depending on the weather, he said, adding, “They’re friendly.”

Amish farmers

Many of the kennels in Indiana — and almost all in northeast Indiana — are owned by Amish families.

Areas with large Amish populations across the state, including LaGrange and Noble counties, are seeing increases in breeding kennels, and are where most of Indiana’s increase in kennels is coming from, Sordyl said.

It has to do with the Amish way of life, Sordyl said. They form businesses, stay close at home, run out of farmland and need to find new trades. For them, the dogs are livestock, she said, adding, “It’s a puppy farm.”

“It’s a cultural divide,” said Gagen.

But those statements don’t match with how the Amish actually operate, the kennel owner said.

“You don’t abuse anything,” the kennel owner said. “They should be treated properly.”

The Amish treat all animals with care because of the benefit they provide, whether that is work, such as with horses, profit from farm animals or companionship and love from pets, the kennel owner said.

“Why should we treat a dog different than we treat anything else? Why would we not take care of something that’s going to be beneficial to us?” he asked.

The Amish use the kennels to provide chores for children and something beneficial to do while at home with their families, the kennel owner said, adding, “We like our dogs.”

He originally had pets just for his family and allowed his own dogs to have puppies, he said.

“Demand for the puppies got higher and higher, and I couldn’t keep enough of them around,” he said. That’s when he started selling the dogs commercially.

While selling the dogs the Amish breed generates money, maintaining the kennels and caring for the dogs limits it, the kennel owner said.

“We don’t get rich on dog breeding,” he said.

One Amish kennel owner in Noble County has put more than $100,000 into his kennel facilities, the LaGrange County kennel owner said.

USDA rules

Ultimately, the issue is standards — whether they’re met, and whether they’re high enough.
The USDA’s task is to ensure that animals are getting proper nutrition, that caging is large enough and structurally sound, that animals have adequate veterinary care and that there is enough staff to care for the animals, Sacks said.

The only way to monitor that is through unannounced site inspections, Sacks said.

 “Our mission is to make sure the animals get the care they need,” he said.

If inspectors find problems, kennel owners will be cited, Sacks said.

“Not everything that gets cited results in a penalty action. Some things get fixed on the spot,” he said. “Penalties are not a knee-jerk reaction.”
The type of violation is the first consideration in whether a penalty is issued, Sacks said. Violations that present immediate threats to the welfare of animals — such as having no fresh water — will result in some form of penalty, he said.

Violations also trigger automatic reinspections, Sacks said. Kennel owners who have repeat violations are more likely to receive penalties.

Penalties range from warning letters to fines, a temporary suspension of a breeding license or permanently revoking that license, Sacks said.

In looking at prior history, inspectors can tell if there’s a pattern of negligence that merits a penalty or if the kennel just has a problem that day, Sacks said. That’s taken into consideration.

The kennel owner who asked for anonymity said his family raised dairy cattle that produced Grade A milk when he was growing up, so he’s used to working with the USDA to meet standards.

No one will get a perfect inspection every time, the kennel owner said.

Another LaGrange County kennel owner said he had a violation listed on a report that he was told to fix within 24 hours. He said he did so.

But some watchdog groups have asked why the USDA didn’t follow up the next day. That owner, and three others in Noble and LaGrange counties, are on a watchdog group’s list of owners with questions about USDA inspections and follow-ups.

Sacks didn’t have information on specific cases. But many of the violations to which watchdog groups refer are those that are relatively small and might happen in any spot inspection, he said.

My comments (Pam Sordyl)

I am not sure I understand the difference between a “pet” and a “breeding dog”. The Amish say they love their pets and some are part of their family. Why would they allow one to live in the home with comfort, attention and love, while the rest live in isolation in a barn with only a number?

They say the dogs have access to the outdoors. This simply means they can push thru a door flap onto wire floors and hover over their own feces and urine to look out at a privacy fence or burn under the sun on a hot day. We have recordings from the Noble Cty Zoning meeting stating that the dogs DO NOT go outside in the fenced in open area. If they did, I am guessing the neighbors would hear the barking. Not one site inspection (USDA, Zoning or Police) did they note animals were outside at the Bontrager Kennel. If theses 177 dogs were getting exercise, the owners would need to rotate animals as not all 177 could be allowed to go out at the same time. Unaltered animals need to be separated, correct? You can’t have different breeds mingling with each other, correct? Oh, wait, yes commercial breeders are mixing breeds. Then they call them designer and charge more.

The USDA does not notify local authorities when animals are being neglected or are dead. If an animal was not receiving veterinary care and was in pain and was suffering, criminal charges could be filed. If you read the USDA inspection reports, you will see that charges could be filed.

The photo used in this article was taken by a local advocate in Indiana at Roy Schlabach’s kennel in Lagrange County (not a USDA Photo). Schlabach sells puppies to The Family Puppy in the Detroit area. This is typical Amish style kennel. Would you want your family pet living in this kennel? Wire floors are very painful and cause the animals feet to spread out and sometimes blister. We have 8,000 USDA photos taken over the last few years and many show dogs trapped with their feet dangling. They can brake their legs of be trapped without access to food or water.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Pet Vendor closes after 35 years of pet trading

The owners of The Pet Vendor (25021 Van Dyke, Centerline Mi) left abruptly on Friday with nothing but a “Closed” sign posted on the door. Apparently, the rent went up and the simply left - retired hopefully. We came a crossed a craigslist posting and another posting stating they were “closing the business” and marking everything down 50% at the end of January.

Store photos

The Pet Vendor owner has been selling an assortment of animals including fish, turtles, iguanas, lizards, tarantulas, rabbits, birds, hamsters, kittens, and puppies for 35 years.  

We do not know if the owners will be opening a new store somewhere else. If the owners do choose to reopen in our area, we will launch a campaign to block the retail sale of any animals.

The Pet Vendor has been on our “Watch List” since 2010 after the manager told a local PMA member that they do occasionally sell puppies from local breeders with “extra litters”, however it was not their primary business. Local members have been visiting the store to make sure this was true. They were regularly selling cats and kittens. 

I spoke with the manager this past December when we notice they had a litter of puppies for sale. She stated again they only work with local breeders, but have worked with puppy mills in the past.

“We had case of something similar to parvo. I found dead puppy on Christmas morning. I thought they were a good breeder, but the puppies were coming in sick. The virus wiped out the whole kennel. It was just too risky to sell puppies”, stated Linda, the store manager. 

“Usually it is the first question people ask too. Where do they come from? We do not provide breeder names because the breeders don’t want people coming to their home. They are not serious breeders or belong to clubs.”

If a pet store will not disclose breeder names, let you meet the parents and work with breeders that are “not serious” and belong to clubs, they should not be selling puppies and charging $500 for mixed breeds. They should not be breeding if they don’t have homes for the animals. Puppy Mill Awareness does not agree with any type of retail puppy selling and encourages families to always adopt. Many animals that this store sold can be found in shelters and in rescue groups. See our list of rescues groups below.

Detroit area residents can find many animals typically sold at pet stores at local rescues, sanctuaries and shelters including rabbits, birds, chinchillas, and ferrets. Community leaders should encourage humane pet acquisitions and promote an awareness of the level of care required so that families are equipped for long-term care and expenses.


Indiana - Inspections called key to preventing puppy mills

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2013 12:00 am 


By Bob Braley
Second of two parts

In a campaign against what she call puppy mills, Pam Sordyl said more localized inspections are needed for dog breeding kennels.

Sordyl is the founder and leader of Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan. The group has raised complaints about breeding kennels in northeast Indiana.

Breeding kennels in Indiana must be licensed by the Indiana Board of Animal Health, Sordyl said. Some kennels licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture aren’t yet licensed by the state, she contends.

Sordyl also believes that county animal health inspectors are needed. Noble County has no local person in that role, she said.

A majority of people who care about their pets would not consider keeping them only to meet the minimum USDA standards, said Lori Gagen, executive director of Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion

“Most people desire and strive (knowingly or not) to far exceed those minimum standards when keeping man’s best friend, and others,” she said. Gagen compared the conditions in kennels that barely meet USDA standards to a prison.

Sordyl also expressed concern about dogs being kept in cages their whole lives and animals with dental diseases or eye problems. “Puppy mills” often don’t provide care for the illnesses and medical conditions some breeds develop, she said.

An Amish dog breeding kennel owner in LaGrange County, who requested anonymity because he fears harassment, said he focuses on only a couple of breeds to make sure he can address both those concerns and those of breeding organizations.

“I feel that if I specifically breed certain breeds, I can focus more on breed standards,” he said. All of his dogs are American Kennel Club-registered, and they are certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals Inc. for heart and knee health. Any dogs with health issues are adopted directly to homeowners as pets, he said.

Sordyl said the USDA is cracking down “a bit more” in the last few years. More direct violations are being cited, and more kennel owners are having licenses revoked, she said.

“The system of regulating kennels works,” Sacks said. “Most of them do what they need to do and address what they need to address.”

Black Pine Animal Sanctuary has proposed creating a task force to review Noble County’s ordinances related to the keeping of animals and dog kennels, to make recommendations to address the types of concerns mentioned, Gagen said.

“We hope to have recommendations to present this summer and plan to adhere to the appropriate procedures in place to submit our recommendations for consideration,” Gagen said.

Bad apples

The problem, said USDA spokesman David Sacks and kennel owners, is people who don’t follow the rules and give all other kennel owners a bad reputation, which they say is undeserved.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about what a kennel is,” said a second anonymous kennel owner in LaGrange County. “There’s a lot of bad in every industry.”

The first anonymous kennel owner said he is frustrated by what he called substandard kennels, which he said he opposes as much as anyone else.

“We have done a lot of work to get those people to come up to standards or get out of the business,” he said.

Kennel owners’ groups have set up a kennel management assistance program for breeders who want to get started or work to improve what they do. That program doesn’t benefit those leading it, except that getting people on the program betters the industry, he said.

The problem is that other owners can’t tell someone what they must do, he said.

“We’ve taken steps to do everything in our power to eliminate those bad kennels,” he said. The percentage of them is lower, but they’re still there, he added.

Sacks disagreed with using the term “substandard kennel,” but he said the problem is that bad kennels profiled on television programs have provoked strong reactions.


The first kennel owner said he asked for anonymity because he knows of threats made against others simply for operating kennels. He said he didn’t want to risk harm to himself or his family by having his name publicized.

He also said he is aware of threats against kennel owners in Noble County after news coverage of a January meeting of the Noble County Board of Zoning Appeals, at which Sordyl, Gagen and others sought to block zoning variances for six kennels.

Sordyl confirmed that kennel owners in Noble County were threatened. “I think that’s unfortunate,” she said.

Some people who got involved after news coverage of the meeting decided they should take the approach of threats as a way to help the animals, Sordyl said. They even had a Facebook page up until Gagen told them to stop, Sordyl said.

“I do not condone anyone making or carrying out personal threats,” Gagen said. “Anything less than respectful discussion and fact-finding is pointless and only diminishes the credibility of a real effort to help.

“Raising awareness so people can make informed decisions is key. I believe people have their hearts in the right place,” Gagen said. “They do, however, get very emotional and feel helpless, and lash out.

“Many of us donate time, money, and support an overall effort to teach humane treatment of animals to our children, to value life, and to ensure that every animal receives some reasonable definition of quality of life. I support those intentions,” Gagen said.

“They tried to make a difference in their own way,” Sordyl said about those who made threats. “I think that’s a bad approach,” as well as ineffective, she added.

The Amish kennel owner said he is concerned that the majority of kennel owners, Amish or not, who are not part of the problem are getting lumped in with others and getting targeted as a result.

“They’re putting everybody on the same level,” he said.

My Comments (Pam Sordyl)

Mr. Bradley, Thank you for another story on this issue. We need to keep talking about commercial breeding and what can be done to end animal neglect and suffering. My organization does not want breeders to get better at “puppy farming”, we want to end commercial breeding as an ‘industry’. When ever animals are used for profits, it is never good for the animal as money always comes first. If they were properly vetting their animals, there would be no profits.  

Clarification: This article states that I confirmed threats were made to breeders in Noble County. I was not aware of any threats. I agree that often when stories make the news and the general public is alerted, some people feel like writing letters to the breeders directly. I disagree with sending letters to a breeders personal residence or calling directly. If someone has a problem with a breeder, they need to reach out to local law enforcement or their commissions, mayor…etc. 

The photo used for this article showing a white puppywas taken on June-19-2012 by a USDA inspector. The report reads as follows: Veterinary Care Direct USDA Violation - "There is one puppy, a malti-poo with ID # 2-150 that was found weak. The owner said the puppy was hypoglycemic. The veterinarian had not been contacted. There was no care plan to manage the illness in this puppy. Appropriate care for all sick animals should include complete diagnosis and compliance with veterinary care plan as developed by the veterinarian." Breeder: Marlin Bontrager, Rome City, IN