The good news: all fifty states have laws against animal cruelty. The bad news: the law is only as good as the people who report animal cruelty. If you witness an animal being abused or suspect cruelty, it’s imperative you report the abuse. More likely than not, you’re the only hope for the animal to get help, as well as for charges being filed against the abuser.
And animal abuse is not something to take lightly, by any means. Animal abuse typically signifies other types of abuse. For instance, one study found that animal abuse occurred in 88 percent of homes where child abuse had been discovered. Another study found that up to 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abusers also abuse the family pet. In fact, animal abusers are five times more likely to abuse people.
If you do witness animal abuse, what exactly are the steps to take? Who should you call? Seeing an animal be abused is traumatic, but being prepared helps. Here is a handy breakdown of what to do. Remember it’s important to always speak up but please be prepared so you don’t put yourself (or others) in dangers!
First, Call Your Local Animal Control Agency
Always contact a professional first. If you are unfamiliar with local organizations, dial 911. Animal control agencies are required to investigate if a report of alleged animal cruelty is made, according to the Humane Society of the United States. One Green Planet also offers the largest database of local hotlines to help rescue abandoned, injured, stranded, sick, and lost animals in need. It’s important to contact a professional first before you potentially endanger yourself. While it’s hard to see animal abuse, don’t try to steal the animal because then you could be charged with trespassing.
Document the Abuse
Documenting the abuse in as much detail is crucial. Take note of dates, times, any specific details. Any photos or videos can also be helpful when agencies conduct an investigation. But please don’t put yourself in danger. Don’t enter someone else’s property and use caution when approaching an animal who may be frightened or in pain, according to the ASPCA.
Be persistent! If you’re not getting answers from law-enforcement officers, ask for their supervisor’s contact information. According to PETA, if you have personally witnessed an act of animal cruelty, you can go directly to your local magistrate or police commissioner and ask for a warrant to summon the abuser to court. The animal rights organization also notes that expert witnesses can be helpful, such as a veterinarian signing a statement that in his or her “expert opinion”.
And what exactly is animal cruelty?
The ASPCA also offers a comprehensive list of physical signs, as well as environmental signs of cruelty to be on the look out for. Be sure to review the below lists so you know animal abuse when you see it!
Physical Signsof Cruelty
Tight collar that has caused a neck wound or has become embedded in the pet’s neck
Open wounds, signs of multiple healed wounds or an ongoing injury or illness that isn’t being treated
Untreated skin conditions that have caused loss of hair, scaly skin, bumps or rashes
Extreme thinness or emaciation—bones may be visible
Fur infested with fleas, ticks or other parasites
Patches of bumpy, scaly skin rashes
Signs of inadequate grooming, such as extreme matting of fur, overgrown nails, and dirty coat
Weakness, limping or the inability to stand or walk normally
Heavy discharge from eyes or nose
An owner striking or otherwise physically abusing an animal
Visible signs of confusion or extreme drowsiness
Environmental Signs of Cruelty
Pets are tied up alone outside for long periods of time without adequate food or water, or with food or water that is unsanitary
Pets are kept outside in inclement weather without access to adequate shelter
Pets are kept in an area littered with feces, garbage, broken glass or other objects that could harm them
Animals are housed in kennels or cages (very often crowded in with other animals) that are too small to allow them to stand, turn around and make normal movements
Animal Cruelty Seen on the Internet
The Internet can be a wonderful place for helping dogs find homes, get cat care tips and more but unfortunately, the Internet also always for many dangers for our furry friends.
First, you’ll have to find the background information for the particular website. You can visit WhoIs and perform a search of the site. Then, contact the website’s ISP (Internet service provider) to report the animal abuse. If you believe the animal is an immediate danger, contact the offender’s local FBI branch, based on the WhoIs search.
You Are Their Voice
Just the thought of animal abuse is enough to bring any animal lover to tears. Tragic stories involving humans abusing animals seem to make headlines on a daily basis. Reading these stories can be difficult and make you feel as if no progress is being made to save and protect all the animals humans interact with or take responsibility for. Without voices to speak up for themselves or proper laws (and enforcement of the laws that do exist) to shield them from neglect or physical abuse, it is up to us to step in and do all we can to end the violence. This involves speaking out and raising awareness for animals who are the victims of abuse and also even working help get laws changed or improved on a state or national level.
Please share this article within your network so others can also learn what to do if they see animal abuse! It’s important to always speak up for those we cannot.
The Houston SPCA has nine full-time, highly-trained animal cruelty investigators and responds to over 7,000 cases primarily in Harris, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties. If you believe an animal is being cruelly treated, please contact us and complete the Online Animal Cruelty Report or call 713-869-7722.
Accurate information is critical to our response. You can help us by providing the following information:
Nearest major intersection.
Suspect address, city, zip code and county.
Apartment complex name or subdivision name.
Major concern (lack of food, water, shelter, no medical attention, etc.).
Animal species, breed, color, number of animals on the property and their location.
Your contact information if we have any questions about the report.
If the county or state you’re contacting us about is outside our jurisdiction, please contact the animal control organization, animal shelter or local law enforcement agency for that area. We cannot respond outside our jurisdiction unless requested by law enforcement.
Sixteen states now allow certain public officials to rescue animals in hot cars and 10 states allow members of the public to rescue animals in hot cars, provided certain steps are taken. Photo by iStockphoto
Yesterday, I wrote about Chinese authorities stopping a truck jam-packed with 800-plus dogs bound for slaughter. Today, I read a story about a truck with nearly 1,000 small animals crammed inside — including birds, chickens, bunnies, and guinea pigs – and left in the searing heat in Fresno County, California. The temperature inside the truck surged to 107 degrees. By the time the police arrived, notified by neighbors who reported an odor coming from the truck, the heat had claimed 18 animals. Ten more died after authorities got into the vehicle and started pulling them out.
These animals were not bound for slaughter, but for sale at pet stores. It’s a reminder of our home-grown problems here in the United States.
It’s also a reminder that with the first day of summer coming tomorrow, there are acute hazards for animals in transportation. Cars and trucks heat up extraordinarily fast, even with the windows down, as temperatures soar outside. Even on an 80-degree day – which residents of many parts of the country would beg for this time of year – the temperature inside a car can climb to nearly 100 degrees within 10 minutes.
Summer after summer, we shake our heads as we see a cascade of news stories about dogs dying after being left in hot cars. First responders on the scene to rescue animals left in hot cars make heartbreaking discoveries: claw marks left on the door, ripped seats, nail particles strewn in the vehicle.
In addition to building awareness that prompts better behavior, we are also attacking the problem from a policy angle. In recent years, we’ve convinced more than half of the states to pass laws to allow private citizens to break into cars and free animals from life-threatening circumstances. This year, lawmakers in Arizona, Colorado, and Indiana took final action on these so-called “Good Samaritan” measures, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown can sign the bill on her desk to do the same. Sixteen states now allow certain public officials to rescue animals in hot cars (Nevada passed a bill this year to improve and expand their provisions) and 10 states allow members of the public to rescue animals in hot cars provided certain steps are taken. Even more states grant immunity to first responders who must rescue animals in distress or prohibit leaving pets unattended altogether.
Intervention is carefully defined and kept as a last resort only to be used when all other options have been exhausted and the animal is in visible distress. But all responsible pet parents would sacrifice a car window to save the life of their animal. When it comes to property versus the life of an animal, that’s not a close call.
The safest thing you can do for your pet this summer is to leave him or her cool at home while you run errands. Take the pledge to never leave your pet in a hot car.
An investigation into the underworld of America’s overcrowded
dog farms, the secret shame of the pet industry.
Every year, tens of thousands of dogs are born into the filthy conditions in unregulated puppy mills nationwide. Amiee Stubbs
* * * * * * *
The house on Hilton Lake Road was unremarkable, a brick one-story with an under-watered lawn and a scrimshaw of patchy shrubs. It was flanked by bigger and smarter homes on a two-lane strip in Cabarrus County, 25 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina, but nothing about it suggested to passersby that inconceivable cruelty lived at this address. It wasn’t till we opened the side-yard entrance that the horror inside announced itself. A stench of complex poisons pushed out: cat piss and dog shit and mold and bleach commingled into a cloud of raw ammonia that singed the hair in our nostrils. Twenty of us – blue-shirted staffers from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS); several members of their forensic camera crew; the sheriff of Cabarrus County and his deputies; and a contingent of veterinarians from a local animal hospital – tiptoed around the filth underfoot into a house caked in pet fur and waste. Damp laundry draped across every flat surface; the floor was a maze of cat crates and garbage. From somewhere in the house, we heard the howling of dogs, but they weren’t in the bedrooms or the tumbledown john or the kitchen piled high with dishes.
Then we found the door that led to the basement. Down there, dozens of puppies in dust-cloaked cages stood on their hind legs and bawled. There were Yorkies and poodles and Maltese mixes, but their fur was so matted and excrement-mottled it was hard to tell which from which. Bred for profit, most of them would have been sold in pet stores or on websites by their third or fourth month of life.
HSUS staffers had gathered evidence that the breeder, Patricia Yates, was selling puppies on multiple websites without a license, and had a stack of buyer complaints lodged against her. But it took a tip from an anonymous source to alert the Sheriff’s office to the scale of Yates’s operation. “We’d been out there before, but had no idea it was this severe,” says Lt. David Taylor, an animal-control cop who helped launch the investigation. Obtaining an arrest warrant was the least of it, though. When you bust an illegal kennel, you’re suddenly swamped with sick dogs, often double what had been reported. It took Taylor a month to coordinate with HSUS – the rare non-profit with the money and equipment to house and treat puppy-mill rescues – before launching the raid on Yates’s kennel.
Back up the stairs, we followed more barking to a porch bricked in by the owner. It was pitch-black inside, and the smell was a hammer. Here were the parent dogs in desperate shape: blinded by cataracts and corneal ulcers; their jaws half-gone or missing entirely after their teeth had rotted away. Some were so feeble they couldn’t stand erect; their paws were urine-scalded and their wrists were deformed from squatting on wire their entire lives.
Out the back door and up a dirt trail, the worst was yet to come. A cinder-block kennel, hidden from the street, housed the bulk of this puppy-mill stock: 50 or 60 more parent dogs who’d likely never seen sunlight or spent a day outside this toxic room. They wept and bayed and spun in crazed circles as we toured the maze of cages. Some went limp as the rescuers knelt to scoop them. Each was photographed, then carried downhill to the giant rig at the curb. There, teams of vets from the Cabarrus Animal Hospital worked briskly to assess each rescue. Once triaged and tagged, they were loaded into crates on the Humane Society’s mammoth truck, an 80-foot land-ship with clean-room conditions, and taken to a staging shelter. One hundred and five dogs came out of that house, many of them pregnant or in heat. I turned to John Goodwin, the director of the puppy-mills campaign for HSUS, and asked him how many puppies sold in this country – at Petland and Citipups and a thousand other pet stores – come from puppy mills as dire as this one.
“Most every pup sold in stores in America comes from this kind of suffering – or worse,” he insists. “If you buy a puppy from a pet store, this is what you’re paying for and nothing else: a dog raised in puppy-mill evil.” The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals posts a database of pet shops for consumers to check before they buy. Input any ZIP code and you’ll see the list of stores that sell pups rather than offer them for adoption. That vastly ups the chances that the dogs are from mills, not from reputable breeders. Another click shows you ghastly shots of the mills those stores buy dogs from. Those pictures weren’t taken by animal-rights zealots, but by United States Department of Agriculture agents who inspect breeding kennels. Pet stores usually buy their dogs from federally licensed breeders, meaning kennels with five or more breeding females that breed a lot of pups. “Puppy mills house breeding dogs in small, wire-floored cages, separate puppies from their mothers at a very young age, and ship them hundreds of miles to pet stores around the country,” says Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. (Both Petland and Citipups deny they sell mill dogs, but reams of evidence and buyer complaints collected by HSUS argue otherwise.)
Yates was arrested and charged with animal cruelty. (Twelve counts were filed against her; a hearing is scheduled for February.) Yates was outraged; I heard her exclaim that “these dogs are the love of my life!” That evening, I caught up with Sára Varsa, the senior director of operations for animal rescue at HSUS. Varsa, a veteran of 50 animal-welfare raids, was quarterbacking the care of those hundred-plus dogs at a temporary shelter in a warehouse. When told what Yates had said, Varsa pointed to two poodles, both of them desperately underfed. Delicately, she lifted the male from the crate and put him, trembling, in my arms. He was blind in both eyes and had thumb-size infections where his molars used to be. “Is this how you treat the dogs you love?” said Varsa. “Is this how you raise your beautiful babies?”
Since dogs first crossed the Siberian land bridge and set foot in human encampments in North America, they have been much more than pets and companions to us – they made life tenable in this primal place. They chased off wolves and bears while we slept, caught and retrieved the game we ate, and dined on the garbage we left behind. Over the course of 10 millennia, a bond was forged between species that hunkered together for survival. (Early tribes survived subzero cold by sleeping beneath their dogs – hence the term “three-dog night.”) It took most of those millennia to truly domesticate dogs – they lived largely outdoors till the 1970s, in those quaint addenda called doghouses. Once inside the door, though, they were in for good, to be loved and spoiled like toddlers. The number of pet dogs in America boomed between 1970 and today, tripling to almost 80 million. Pet-shop commerce boomed in tandem, from practically nothing in the Fifties to nearly $65 billion in 2015. Where once you adopted your pup from the neighbors, now there is a Furry Paws down the block with dozens of designer puppies in the window.
Of course, in America, we industrialize anything that turns a profit. Beginning in the 1950s, struggling pig and poultry farmers began breeding puppies for extra income. “It was a cheap and easy fix: You just converted your coops into indoor-outdoor kennels,” says Bob Baker, the executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation. Baker, an animal activist for 40 years and a walking encyclopedia on the commercial dog business – he’s been a senior investigator for the ASPCA and the HSUS – watched the trade evolve from a mom-and-pop sideline into a multinational behemoth. “Pups cost nothing to raise, you’d sell them for $50 a head in town, and every five months you had a whole new litter – then dozens, as the puppies began breeding,” he says. What followed was a 40-year explosion of puppy mills, which are defined by HSUS as commercial kennels where profit counts more than the dogs’ well-being.
There are, by HSUS’s estimate, about 10,000 puppy mills in America, though the organization concedes that no one knows the real number: It’s an industry born and raised in shadows. The USDA only licenses a fraction of all kennels, about 2,500 of various sizes, which can range from five adult breed dogs to more than a thousand. States also license and inspect kennels, accounting for another 2,500 breed sites that aren’t registered with the feds, says Kathleen Summers, the director of outreach and research for HSUS’s puppy-mills campaign. “But in rural communities, there are thousands of backyard kennels selling online and evading government regulation.” A breeder only needs a federal license if he or she sells the dogs sight unseen, i.e., through a middleman like a pet store or a puppy broker. But if the seller deals directly with the puppy’s buyer, either selling face to face, through classified ads or, increasingly, via pop-up websites, there is little or no oversight of their business.
Three years ago, the USDA passed an amendment requiring online sellers to get federally licensed, which would submit them to annual inspections and standard-of-care rules. At the time, the department expected thousands of breeders to step forward and comply with the law; to date, less than 300 have. When asked about sellers who disregard the law, Tanya Espinosa, a USDA spokeswoman, says, “It is virtually impossible for us to monitor the Internet for breeders. . . . [We] rely heavily on the public and their complaints.” Good luck with that: Open your browser, type a breed in your state and thousands of websites appear. All claim to be local, loving and humane. Far too often, they are none of the above.
“If you ask to see their property and they say, ‘Let’s meet in a parking lot,’ you’re likely dealing with a puppy-miller,” says Kathy McGriff, a reputable ex-breeder of clumber spaniels who kept a close eye on her trade while she was breeding. “And if you want to write a check but they only take PayPal, you’re dealing with a puppy-miller.” As a rule, she says, breeders who are even the least bit evasive are millers raising dogs in deplorable places. “Reputable breeders don’t deal in volume, and we only sell to people we’ve checked out. It’s the most basic rule in our code of ethics: Never sell a puppy sight unseen.”
With dog sales, as with any commodity of late, the Internet has been the great disrupter. The HSUS estimates that roughly half of the 2 million pups bred in mills are sold in stores these days; the rest are trafficked online. The number of stores that still sell puppies has cratered over the course of the past decade, as groups like HSUS, the ASPCA and CAPS (Companion Animal Protection Society) have conducted stings of high-priced stores across the country and found them packed with sick puppies from Midwest mills. “We filmed undercover, got endless tape of purebreds in terrible shape, and followed up on buyer complaints,” says Deborah Howard, the founder and president of CAPS. Howard sends investigators out to infiltrate mills, exposes the stores that do business with those breeders, and coordinates with advocates across the country to ban the retail sale of puppies in big cities. “We’ve got reams of complaints from people with sick puppies, and they all say it was an impulse buy,” says Howard. “I mean, a dog is a commitment for 15 years – at least Google-search the seller for complaints.”
• • •
Given the duress in which mill pups enter the world and make their way to the stores – birthed by sick and stressed-out moms; snatched from their litters at eight weeks of age and loaded onto trucks for the hours-long drive to the next stop in the supply chain, puppy brokers; kept in a warehouse with hundreds of other pups, many of them sick with respiratory problems or infections of the eyes and ears; then again trucked with dozens of those dogs for the one- or two-day drive to distant states – it’s remarkable that any of them survive the gantlet, let alone turn up well. Puppy brokers are wholesalers who buy from breeders, keep a running stock of dozens of breeds, then sell and ship the pups for a hefty markup.
The biggest of those brokers, the now-defunct Hunte Corporation, professionalized the trade in the Nineties. They bought up other brokers, made large investments in equipment, trucks and drivers, and moved thousands of dogs a month from their facility in Goodman, Missouri. “I saw tons of sick puppies – vomiting blood, blowing diarrhea – that Hunte bought in that condition from breeders,” says “Pete,” an undercover investigator for CAPS who worked at Hunte in 2004. “Of the 2,000 pups they’d have on-site, hundreds were in their ‘hospital’ getting antibiotics. A day or two later, they’d load ’em on 18-wheelers and send them, still sick, to the stores.”
Per CAPS reporting, the dogs who proved too sick to sell went back on a truck to Missouri; Hunte buried the dead ones out behind its plant. In 2003, state inspectors in Missouri cited Hunte for dumping more than 1,000 pounds of dead puppies per year – the maximum allowed under Missouri law – in its back yard. Not that Missouri is an outlier in the disposal of sick and dead dogs. In Pennsylvania, two breeders shot 80 Shih Tzus and cocker spaniels rather than provide veterinary care. (Many millers prefer small breeds now; they’re popular in cities, sell for top dollar, and are cheaper to feed, house and ship.) In Kansas, a breeder had to put down 1,200 dogs after failing to inoculate them for distemper.
The USDA has exactly one law to govern the care and housing of commercial dogs. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), enacted in 1966, sets down the barest standards for breeders. Dogs, per the AWA, can be kept their entire lives in crates inches bigger than their bodies. They can be denied social contact with other dogs, bred as many times as they enter heat, then killed and dumped in a ditch whenever their uterus shrivels. We have millions of dogs on our streets, put down two million of them every year – and impose no limits on the number of dogs millers can breed. In England, by contrast, you need a license to breed even a single dog – and only 5,000 were euthanized in 2015.
“There’s this gross disconnect between our feelings for dogs and the way we guard them from abuse,” says Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of HSUS. “The USDA has a total of 100 inspectors to inspect thousands of breeders in 50 states.” But they also have to inspect every zoo, circus and lab that uses animals for research testing. “We’ve been petitioning them for decades to improve the law – require bigger crates for breed dogs, give them access to outdoor dog runs and much prompter vet care when they’re sick – but they can’t even enforce the bad law on their books,” says Pacelle. An internal audit in the USDA indicated as much. Per a scathing report in 2010 by its Office of Inspector General, the department chose to prioritize “education” of breeders over punishment, “took little or no enforcement action against most violators,” failed to respond to “repeat violations,” and collected insufficient evidence in the few prosecutions it brought against criminal breeders.
The USDA oversees thousands of licensees nationwide with a yearly budget of about $28 million. “For perspective, the Defense Department spends the equivalent of our budget every 25 minutes,” says Espinosa, the USDA spokeswoman. “Our dedicated personnel conduct roughly 10,000 unannounced inspections annually and work diligently to enforce the AWA.” And what has that enforcement produced by way of penalties? Less than $4 million in fines over the past two years, a dozen or so breeders forced to turn in their licenses – and exactly none handed over for prosecution. Not the miller in Iowa who threatened to stab an inspector with a syringe and confessed that he shot a dog in the head while his girlfriend held it down. Not a fellow Iowan who threw a bag of dead puppies at an inspector. In fact, just a handful of breeders on HSUS’s Horrible Hundred list – compiled every year from public records of chronic offenders – have been put out of business. And none of them have been made to answer in court for their proven mistreatment of dogs.
• • •
For weeks after the raid, I kept in touch with Sára Varsa, HSUS’s rescue team director, for updates on the poodle she’d let me hold. Pollo, as the staff called him (he high-stepped like a chicken), had somehow pulled through after multiple surgeries at the Cabarrus Animal Clinic. The vet removed his right eye, which was all but useless after a long-untreated rupture; pulled his few remaining teeth; and sealed a gaping fissure in what was left of his upper jaw. Even after all that, though, Pollo bounced right up, relieved to suddenly be in less pain. “The only time he cried was when we took his little girlfriend to be seen by the vet,” says Varsa, referring to the toy poodle who’d shared his cage. “They’d been together so long, they were like an old couple. He sobbed and shook while she was gone.”
Heather Seifel, the clinic administrator, brought him home till she could match him with an adopter. She took him outside and set him down in her yard; he’d no clue what to do with himself on grass. That trepidation is common to mill survivors, she says, the “weirdness of ‘What do I do now, now that I can finally be a dog?’ ”
Weeks before, I’d heard essentially the same words from a man named Wes Eden, whose family runs a boarding barn, the Lone Star Dog Ranch, near McKinney, Texas. Eden is a devotional rescuer of dogs whose methods make other advocates queasy. Each year, he saves dozens of breeding dogs by buying them, for top dollar, at puppy auctions, where millers “sell each other their trash,” says Eden. There used to be dozens of places to get unwanted dogs for a price. But after HSUS staged raids in several states, the ranks of the auction sites shrank to just a handful – two of them in the state of Missouri. It was at the bigger of the two, Southwest Auction Services, that I observed Eden in action one obscenely hot Saturday in early September. A tall young man with an artisanal beard and a crown of kohl-black hair, he was bidding on French bulldogs that were battered and sick after eight or nine years of being bred. Not that they came cheap: Bulldogs are prized these days, and as long as “they’ve still got a couple of litters left,” someone was going to bid them up, Eden says.
The auction was held in a hangar-size warehouse in the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it town of Wheaton, Missouri. HSUS’s Goodwin and I had flown in that weekend to watch several hundred people buy and sell breed stock to one another. Everyone was white, and almost everyone middle-aged. The mood in the room was church-fair festive; the breeders chatted convivially when not engaged in the bidding. One by one, some 300 dogs were placed on a table and sold. Their crates were stacked in an uncooled space in the walled-off half of the warehouse. It was stifling back there, and the air unbreathable from the waste of unwell dogs. “I saw dogs with stomach hernias and bleeding rectums and ears rotted off from hematomas,” says Eden. Each time the door opened and a dog was brought in, the stench would funnel in with her. It mixed with the aroma of pork-belly tacos that were sold in heaping bowls at the concession stand behind us and were lapped up hungrily by the crowd. From a dais, two auctioneers called out bids while touting the dogs’ untapped value. “She’s a 2012 model and showin’ a belly; she’ll work hard for you!” (One of those auctioneers – Southwest’s owner, Bob Hughes – defended the dogs’ health over the phone to me, saying they had “imperfections like all of us do,” but had been cross-checked by Hughes’ vet before he sold them. “If [the vet] thinks they’re at risk of suffering, we return them to their breeder or give them to rescue groups, free of charge,” he said. But neither Eden nor any of his rescue group peers have ever seen or heard of Hughes adopting out dogs. “He’s certainly never offered one to me,” says Eden.)
On that day, at least, the issue was moot: all 300 dogs were sold. “I spent everything I brought there – $60,000 – and cleared three tables of dogs,” says Eden, who raises all his buy money from small donations online. Twenty-one dogs went off in his van for the six-hour ride back to Texas. Once back at his boarding barn, they were swiftly seen by vets; many required costly operations. All the money for those surgeries – $1,000 to fix a hernia; a couple of thousand dollars for sedation and an MRI – came from Lone Star’s donors. Eden has a waiting list for every rescue, a pool of people ready to roll up their sleeves for the complex needs these dogs present. “Some of ’em have to be taught to walk and climb stairs – they’ve never taken a full stride in those cages,” says Eden. Asked why he seeks out the oldest, saddest dogs, he says, “If they don’t deserve happy endings, who does?”
But Eden, for all his fervor, is derided by groups like HSUS. They accuse outfits like his – I counted at least three at the auction – of putting blood money into the pockets of the breeders. “That 60 grand he spent will buy a lot of new breed stock – for every dog he saved, dozens will suffer,” groused Goodwin. Eden concedes the point, but won’t back up an inch. “Look at the faces of these dogs,” he says. “How can you deny them?”
Other grassroots groups use different tactics to bring down puppy mills. Some take to social media, building Facebook pages around graphic photos and pleas to spread the word. Then there are street warriors who picket pet stores, some with stunning results. Mindi Callison, a young schoolteacher in Ames, Iowa, formed Bailing Out Benji six years ago, and has recruited countless students from Iowa State to protest with her. Callison tells me about a local pet-shop owner who “used to have dozens of pups in his window; now he sells two or three a month.” At first, she got flamed by furious millers. Then, to her shock, a few quietly reached out, asking if she’d take their used-up dogs. “This year alone, they’ve given up almost 100, and we don’t pay a cent,” says Callison. They call her, she says, not out of charity, but to avoid the cost of euthanization.
• • •
For better than 50 years, the state of Missouri has been the Bermuda Triangle of dogs. The perfect landscape for breeders – small farms that weren’t bought by agri-giants; vast swaths of plains between its two major cities; and a live-and-let-live ethos in flyspeck towns – it has long been the number-one state in the nation for licensed operators. It also has one of America’s strictest dog laws: the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act of 2011. Enacted after a bitter, and expensive, battle over a ballot measure called Prop B, the law shines a light on the intractable problem of policing puppy-millers. When the act came in, it improved the lot of breed dogs – tripling their crate size, granting them annual vet checks, and providing money for stricter enforcement by state agents. Its rules have driven hundreds of commercial breeders out of business. There were 1,414 in 2010; now, there are 844.
With no movement in Washington to toughen federal rules, the law suggested a possible path forward: to mount ballot drives in farm states. But just five years after it took effect, Missouri’s dog law seems to have lost its teeth. Prosecutions have fallen, the number of licenses pulled has tanked and egregious breeders are breaking the rules and paying little or nothing in fines. A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Agriculture insists that “the number of [disciplinary] referrals has decreased because the majority of breeders have fallen under compliance,” but the state predominates the HSUS Horrible Hundred list. In 2016, almost a third of the kennels that made the list were located in Missouri.
Six months ago, Kristin Akin bought a goldendoodle from a notorious puppy mill called Cornerstone Farms. Akin is a St. Louis mom who’d lost two small children to a rare immune disorder eight months apart. Last June, she went online to find a puppy companion for her young dog. She came across a website that sold pups from Cornerstone; it purported to be a local and loving kennel that bred show dogs and kept high standards. Akin asked about a puppy depicted wearing a pink bow. She was told, via text, to make a deposit. “It was a total impulse buy – I offered to drive right over,” says Akin. “They texted, ‘No, we’re coming up your way tomorrow.’ ” The next morning, she sat in a mall parking lot; a filthy brown conversion van pulled up alongside her. A door slid open, but instead of a four-month pup, out came a cowering, full-grown dog that wouldn’t look up when Akin stroked her.
Stunned, Akin took the dog home for a bath. Her legs were covered with scabs and both ears were badly infected; she had explosive diarrhea for a week. Akin kept the dog, filed a complaint with the state, and went public with her story about the breeder, Debra Ritter. “We found 11 straight years of state violations, including a bunch that were issued just before we drove out there – but zero fines paid to the [Missouri] Department of Ag,” says Chris Hayes, a Fox reporter who interviewed Ritter and aired two stories in St. Louis. Ritter, in a rambling phone chat in which she name-checks the Lord and cites him for her decision to adopt 22 kids, some with special needs, denies to me that she sold sick dogs, just the “occasional” puppy with worms. She explains that she and her husband had quit jobs to become breeders so they could stay home with their kids who were chronically ill. “These animal-rights crazies say we abuse our dogs – but I don’t see them adopting kids,” she says.
As for the violations, those were “nuisance charges” that she resolved before the inspector drove away, she says. “We Ritters aren’t perfect, but I have a great reputation for never cheating customers or causing vet bills.” Not according to Yelp, which is littered with posts from people who bought her sick pups, or the Horrible Hundred list, where Cornerstone Farms made the 2015 edition. Meanwhile, the website is still posting photos of the “puppy” Ritter sold to Akin. “I had two friends contact her by text,” says Akin. “They were told she was available.”
What sets Ritter apart isn’t her brazen conduct or a trail of heartsick buyers; the difference between her and most online sellers is you can actually find her on a map. “Websites give no clue about where a breeder’s based – a lot of the time, you can’t even get their name,” says the HSUS’s Summers. They hide behind sites like puppyspot.com, a huge Web broker that sells many breeders’ dogs out of its call-center office in Florida. In 2011, a lawsuit filed in part by HSUS claimed that the company (which was then called purebredbreeders.com) used roughly 800 domain names to lure buyers into thinking they were purchasing puppies “from quality, responsible breeders.” Instead, “we found puppy-millers with USDA violations,” says Kimberly Ockene, an attorney for HSUS. A Florida judge dismissed it as a jointly filed suit, and a subsequent ruling forced the buyers of sick dogs to either re-file individually or drop the matter. Still, says Ockene, “we’ve had success in some cases. Litigation can be [an] effective tool for combating the puppy-mill problem.” (A representative from puppyspot.com declined to participate in the reporting for this story.)
In short, online dog sales is the perfect crime. Courts don’t care about out-of-state victims, and the feds don’t even fine breeders, much less arrest them, for selling sick pups on bogus sites. Any amateur can do this out of his or her basement and make good, steady money for years. A prime example: Patricia Yates, the miller in North Carolina whose dogs were seized in the Cabarrus County raid. With no license or bona fides from a purebred club, she’d supported herself for years on the profits from her kennel. She might have gone on indefinitely were it not for Lt. Taylor, the Cabarrus County cop who brought her down. “Unfortunately, the laws aren’t what they could be in this state, so all we could charge were misdemeanors,” says Taylor. (Yates’ attorney, Benjamin Goff, says he is weighing “a plea deal that involves no jail time for my client.”) “But our target,” Taylor says, “is that she never has animals again, and pays back every dime the Humane Society spent to treat those dogs and find them homes.”
The HSUS expects to spend at least $100,000 on the raid, most of it for medical costs. That’s actually on the low end for post-raid outlays. Yates yielded custody of her stock to HSUS, which allowed it to quickly disperse the dogs to animal-adoption groups around the state. “There are cases where we have to hold the dogs for months because they’re bargaining chips for the miller – they trade them in exchange for dropped charges,” says Goodwin. There’s the occasional fine and suspended sentence; in rare cases, someone goes to jail. “These people should be in prison, but that won’t end the problem,” he says. “The only way you end it is choke its blood supply: Stop buying purebred dogs, and adopt one instead.” Thanks to intense pressure from animal advocates like HSUS, Petco and Petsmart – the twin behemoths of the trade, with roughly half its total income – have stopped doing in-store sales of dogs, and feature rescue adoptions instead. The website Petfinder.com, a network of rescue groups, posts tens of thousands of dogs for adoption, many of them rescued pure breeds. There, you can find any breed you like – or would buy in a store that sells dogs. The difference, says Goodwin, “is these dogs are healthy,” and won’t cost you thousands in vet bills.
Of the 105 dogs relinquished by Yates, all but two survived. Pollo, the tiny poodle, succumbed to a stroke just a month into his new lease on life. “I hand-fed him meals and wrapped him in a blanket, but he’d been through too much,” says Brenda Tortoreo, a receptionist at the Cabarrus Animal Hospital, who’d adopted him and renamed him Kip. Tortoreo, who has a pair of older dogs, adopted a second poodle from the raid. Bebe is a couple of years younger than Kip, but no less rabid for affection. For the first two weeks, she wouldn’t leave the bedroom except in her owner’s arms. Now, she gobbles up the other dogs’ breakfasts and steals their small stuffed toys. Dragging them to her daybed, she nuzzles and turns them like the puppies she’s birthed and nursed. “We love her to pieces, but cry for Kip a lot,” says Tortoreo. “I’m so sad I didn’t save him years ago. He got to feel some kindness for those few short weeks. I just hope, wherever he is now, he’ll forgive us.”
It’s dangerous to leave a dog in an unattended car.
On an 80-degree day, it takes just 10 minutes for the interior of a car
to heat up to 99 degrees.
Hundreds of dogs each year perish from searing heat in unattended cars, left there by individuals who don’t understand what a risk to the animal’s life it is. With the car windows rolled up, even on a comfortable day, temperatures can spike in a flash and a life-threatening situation can develop. On an 80-degree day, it takes just 10 minutes for the car to heat up to 99 degrees. It doesn’t help much to roll down the windows, and animals don’t have sweat glands to release some of that heat.
Compelled to act by substantial numbers of animal fatalities, more than 20 states and many municipalities have made it a crime to leave an animal in a hot car as part of their anti-cruelty laws. Now, a growing number of states are fortifying their laws by allowing good Samaritans to enter vehicles to remove animals under certain circumstances.
In 2015, Tennessee made history by passing the first such law of its kind in the nation, and since then the states of Florida and Wisconsin have come on board. A similar bill has just landed on the Ohio governor’s desk, Michigan is considering a bill allowing the rescue of dogs from hot cars, and there is a bill in California that is moving ahead with strong bipartisan support. Virginia just passed a new law in 2016 giving civil immunity to first responders.
On Humane Lobby Day in California, supporters rally for HB 797, a bill that would allow good Samaritans to enter a car to save an animal from extreme heat.
Many states have good Samaritan bills addressing the dangerous problem of children left in hot cars, and we’re now catching up to make sure that pets don’t face that same threat. Intervention is carefully defined and kept as a last resort, only to be used when all other options have been exhausted and the animal is in visible distress. The bills also spell out what is to be done after an animal has been removed to ensure that emergency care is provided and that pets are returned to their owners appropriately.
Most people are aware of the problem, but often don’t realize that it only takes a few minutes for temperatures to mount and a dangerous situation to develop. Putting animals at risk of an agonizing and unnecessary death in a hot car is a problem we can all agree to prevent.
Meet 52-year-old longtime educator Pauline Winbush. She started her career in education in 1989 and made her way to her current district, the Palmdale School District, in 1992. Professionally she can be applauded: she worked her way from assistant principal to assistant superintendent of human resources. For a brief period, she was also the interim superintendent. Unfortunately, Winbush’s personal life is allegedly a very different story.
17 Felony Counts of Animal Cruelty
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Winbush isn’t making headlines for her role in California’s fourth largest elementary school district. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office recently brought “two dozen charges, including 17 felony counts of animal cruelty, four counts of dog fighting and one count of child abuse” against Winbush and her boyfriend, Kevin Ray Williams.
Ironically, Winbush and Williams can thank their own horse for leading authorities to their home. When officials tried to return the wandering horse back to the pair, what they found at the home was far worse than the lost horse. They found dogs trapped in crates covered in feces. Some of the dogs had the telltale signs of fighting with other dogs. All 19 pit bulls recovered from the property were euthanized.
Winbush was put on administrative leave when news of the raid first broke. The district launched its own investigation and is “deeply troubled” by the charges.
Winbush pled not guilty to the animal cruelty and dog fighting charges.
More Women in Dogfighting Rings
Winbush isn’t the first woman allegedly involved in dogfighting. Mainline Media News recently reported how 34-year-old Laura Acampora pled guilty to operating an entire dogfighting ring with her husband from the home they shared with their five children.
26-year-old Jennifer Kelley from Alabama also pled guilty to animal cruelty charges, reports AL. Kelley was part of another dogfighting ring where puppies and dogs were found chained up with no access to clean water or shelter and clear signs they’d been used in dogfighting.
Profiling Animal Cruelty
In dogfighting cases, offenders are commonly male, according to Animal Legal and Historical Center’s database profiling perpetrators. They often have a slew of other criminal offenses under their belts, including: armed robbery, aggravated assault, possession of controlled substances, fleeing from police and domestic violence.
However, as the above stories illustrate, just because women don’t fit the profile, it doesn’t mean they can’t be responsible for these heinous crimes. It’s important to recognize that women can also be perpetrators so that we don’t overlook signs of animal abuse.
Women also commit other types of animal cruelty, specifically hoarding. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, women make up 72 percent of animal hoarders, and they’re most likely to hoard cats.
Dogfighting is one of the vilest forms of animal exploitainment (exploitation and entertainment), regardless of who is responsible. For more information on how to spot dogfighting and steps you can take to help dogs in need, please visit the Humane Society for more information.
An animal rights group’s investigation uncovers Chinese factories that make leather products from dog skins.
The next time you go shopping for leather gloves, you might want to ask yourself an unsettling question: Did that accessory come from the skin of a family pet in China?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals last week released a video shot by an undercover investigator showing dogs at a factory in China’s Jiangsu province being butchered not only for their meat and organs — considered delicacies in that country — but also for their skin, which is tanned and sold as leather on the world market.
“A PETA Asia investigator has obtained a pair of dog-leather gloves, along with never-before-seen video footage in which workers in China’s Jiangsu province, where dog slaughter is a regional trade, grab terrified dogs with a metal noose, club them, and slit their throats,” the animal rights group announced on its website. “The animals’ skin is then cut off, and PETA Asia’s investigator saw workers peel the skin off dogs who were still alive. The investigator also documented that dog skin was turned into women’s fashion gloves, men’s work gloves, and other products that are exported around the world.”
PETA said it visited three slaughterhouses and six processing plants during a one-year undercover investigation. One slaughterhouse employee told PETA that the facility kills and skins 100 to 200 dogs each day.
“Although the dog-meat industry in China is well known, this is the first time that PETA Asia has captured the production of Chinese dog leather on camera,” the group said.
Most of the world’s leather products, including gloves, belts, shoes, purses, and other accessories sold in the United States, are produced in China.
Ashley Byrne, a PETA campaign specialist, said the Chinese dog leather industry has been thriving for years.
“It seems like it’s quite established, especially since there’s no penalty for using animals killed for their skin in China,” Byrne said. “Skin is an economically important part of the dog-slaughter industry.”
Where do all those doomed dogs come from? Byrne said that a small number are raised specifically for their meat, skin, and fur, but the vast majority are either pets that were kidnapped from their owners or dogs rounded up on the streets of Chinese cities and villages.
Short of conducting a DNA test, there is no easy way for importers, retailers, or consumers to know exactly what type of animal any leather product is made from.
The United States Fashion Industry Association and National Retail Federation did not respond to requests for comment on dog leather products, while an official at the American Association of Exporters and Importers said the group had no information on the practice.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, meanwhile, provided a link to its website stating, “It is illegal in the U.S. to import, export, distribute, transport, manufacture, or sell products containing dog or cat fur in the U.S.”
That law, however, has not stopped the import of dog fur from China passed off as raccoon fur, including a 2012 incident involving Neiman Marcus and, the following year, designer Marc Jacobs.
“The difference is that most people are more familiar with dogs than they are with cows,” Byrne said.
Consumers who are worried about wearing dog products should not buy any leather, she added, noting that PETA has a Web page called “How to Wear Vegan.”
“It’s easy to find inexpensive quality shoes and accessories that are stylish and free of animal suffering,” Byrne said. “Whether it’s coming from dogs or cows or other animals, we absolutely have the choice not to buy them in the first place.”