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VACTF Manual: Chapter 5 - Special Cases

Irresponsible Breeders/Puppy Mills


Many breeders of dogs or other animals take good care of the animals they raise because they make their money based on their reputation for producing healthy, purebred animals. However, you may periodically receive a complaint that the animals being raised by a breeder (also referred to as a "backyard breeder") are not being fed properly or given adequate shelter.

"Puppy Mills" are operated by irresponsible breeders, with the focus on mass production of puppies, keeping the females constantly breeding with no concern for their health. The puppies may be shipped via air freight to various locations around the country and often die in transit. The conditions at a puppy mill are generally deplorable.

In most of these cases, because of the number of animals involved, you will have to coordinate your rescue effort with both a local veterinarian and the local animal shelter.

According to Title 20, Chapter 194, Section 3901 (7), a pet "dealer" means "any person who sells, exchanges, or donates, or offers to sell, exchange, or donate animals, but shall not include a person who makes disposition only of offspring from animals maintained by him only as household pets". Since the Department of Agriculture has enforcement authority over pet dealers, they should be contacted before a cruelty investigation proceeds to verify the breeder's licensing status (or lack therof) and to check for any previous violations.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

Environmental conditions:

  • Lack of fresh water and insufficient food
  • Overcrowding, cages often stacked on top of one another
  • Cages not cleaned, feces piled up
  • Little or no protection from the elements
  • Lack of sufficient/adequate shelter (animal carriers serving as housing in lieu of proper shelter)
  • No floors on cages, only mesh wire; feces falls through on top of animal below
  • Improper manure storage and disposal
  • Improper ventilation
  • Weak caging, protruding wires/nails

Animals' physical appearance/behavior:

  • body sores/poor coats
  • bloated stomachs
  • missing hair, excessive itching - may indicate mange
  • animal attempts to hide, crouches down, pulls head back if you put your hand near the dog - all signs that may indicate abuse
  • aggressive behavior - may indicate abuse
  • lethargic behavior
  • lameness
  • holding a leg up
  • ear mites
  • aural (ear) hematoma
  • cloudy eyes (could be fighting or injury from cage wires, etc.)

What to do

If you receive a complaint that sounds as though someone is running an irresponsible breeding operation, consider doing the following:

  1. First contact the Department of Agriculture to check on their licensing status and possible previous violations.

  2. Obtain a signed statement from the complainant, if possible.

  3. When investigating the complaint, look for the conditions mentioned above. If they are present, apply for a search warrant to enter the property. Then have the State's Attorney's office review your application.

  4. Contact a veterinarian and the local humane agency to accompany you to the scene. The humane agency can help remove and house the animals.

  5. Arrest the owner and remove him from the scene.

  6. Charge the owner or person responsible for the care of the animals with the appropriate number of cruelty charges.

  7. Notify the United States Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of licensing and standards of care for animal breeders. (See pg 209 of Appendix II, Resource Agencies, "The USDA").

  8. If the person is convicted of the charges or negotiates a plea bargain, notify the registering agency responsible for granting registration status to the particular species of animal, or ask the humane society that assisted you on the case to do so.

    For example, in the case of dogs, the American Kennel Club should be notified. (See pg 208 in Appendix II, Resource Agencies, "The American Kennel Club"). Upon receipt of this information, the registering agency will normally revoke the person's registered breeder status, thus discouraging him from engaging in this type of behavior again.

Example 12 - Irresponsible Breeders

The Complaint
A complainant wrote a detailed letter to a local humane society stating that 13 purebred dogs kept on a neighbor's property were not being fed or watered properly. The dog owner/breeder no longer lived on the property and only periodically returned.

Because it was winter, it was critical that the dogs be given proper food and water. In addition, some of the dogs were chained to plastic dog carriers which provided inadequate shelter.

The Response

  1. The investigator had the complainant complete a statement stating exactly what he had seen and when.

  2. The investigator then observed the dogs and their conditions from the roadway. In addition, the investigator observed the conditions of the dogs from the window of the complainant's home which was adjacent to the breeder's property.

  3. Based on his observations and the signed statement of the complainant, the investigator applied for a search warrant.

  4. The investigator coordinated the rescue effort with the state police responsible for the area.

  5. He also secured the services of a local veterinarian to assist in the rescue effort.

  6. On the day of the rescue, the state police executed the search warrant and entered the property along with staff of the humane society. Photographs were taken of each dog and its living conditions.

  7. The dogs were transported to the shelter.

  8. The state police found the breeder and issued him a citation.

  9. The veterinarian examined each dog and completed a "Veterinarian's Statement" form, specifying the condition of each animal (see sample on pg 216 in Appendix III, Forms and Supplies List).

Charges Brought
The individual involved was charged with 13 violations of Title 13, Section 352.

Example 13 - Puppy Mills

The Complaint
A complainant called a local humane society and reported that she went to a breeder to buy a puppy. The person was appalled by the conditions that she witnessed at the premises and described them in a signed affidavit to the humane society.

The Response

  1. The humane society sent an investigator to the property on the premise of looking to buy a puppy.

  2. She was not allowed into the kennel areas; instead the puppies were brought out to the porch of the house. In addition to looking lethargic, the puppies had a foul smell.

  3. She asked to see the parents of the puppies and the owner refused.

  4. Based on the condition of the animals, the owner's behavior, and the original complaint, the investigator applied for a search warrant to enter the premises.

  5. The investigator contacted other area shelters to assist in a rescue effort. She also contacted a local veterinarian and volunteers from other humane agencies.

  6. On an agreed upon date, the Sheriff's Department executed the search warrant and entered the property along with the humane society and the veterinarian.

  7. The owner and caretaker of the kennels were issued citations.

  8. The team entered the property. Each animal was photographed and given an identification number. In addition to numerous dogs, 4 cats, 1 goose, 1 duck, and 5 doves in poor condition were also on the premises. Animals were assigned to the various shelters and removed. Their locations were documented.

  9. The situation was complicated by the fact that there were two individuals involved, each of whom technically owned several of the animals. Thus, the investigator had to determine which animals technically belonged to whom, identify them, and specify the information accordingly.

  10. The humane society kept an accounting of the paperwork and presented it to the State's Attorney's office.

Charges Brought
The owner of the kennels was charged with 86 violations of Title 13, Section 352. The caretaker of the kennels was charged with 47 violations of Title 13, Section 352.

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