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State Officials Act after HuffPost Article

HuffPost just broke the news that Colorado officials have taken substantial action against the multimillion-dollar nonprofit National Mill Dog Rescue, a couple of months after my lengthy investigative article ran with details about the organization’s business practices.

As with the first story, this new one is about more than National Mill Dog Rescue. It’s also about the increasingly popular business models now being called forms of rescue in the United States.

From the new story’s opening paragraph: “The Colorado agency that regulates shelters, breeders and other dog-dealing entities has hit the multimillion-dollar nonprofit National Mill Dog Rescue with the biggest fine the agency’s manager can recall. It comes with a larger goal, he said: ‘to highlight the fact that rescue is a problem’ and warn other nonprofit shelters and rescuers who do business in similar ways that they could be next.”

I believe there will be more news in the future about this case. As today’s story states, the founder and executive director of National Mill is due in court Sept. 30 on a cease-and-desist order that Colorado officials issued regarding the practice of veterinary medicine without a license.
Stay tuned.

Pioneering Dog-Breeder Research

For a few years now, I’ve been wanting to write a profile of Dr. Candace Croney at Purdue University. She has been leading first-of-its-kind research into commercial breeding kennels—the types often decried as “puppy mills”—and taking a ton of incoming fire from all sides because her work has remained unbiased, showing that pretty much everyone on all sides of the great dog debates has something to learn about what’s really going on with the dogs in these types of kennels.

Leapsmag, a site that publishes articles based on all kinds of scientific research, just gave me the opportunity to write the story, which you can find here.

The article talks about something that continues to amaze me, and that Dr. Croney says amazes her as well: Despite the widespread scope of commercial breeding in the United States going back decades, there are serious research gaps in terms of what actually constitutes a well-run commercial kennel. For a lot of things that affect the lives of dogs in these kennels, and for a lot of things that activists and lobbyists argue about in front of lawmakers all the time, no actual research exists about what’s right or wrong for breeders to do.

Filling in those gaps is a big part of the work that Dr. Croney and her team have been doing, and are continuing to do, as they build out their Canine Care Certified program. Their work is of paramount importance to the well-being of thousands upon thousands of dogs, and I’m excited to finally have the opportunity to bring it to the attention of the general public through this article.

The Dog Merchants: New and Improved

As I write this blog post, the new version of DogMerchants.com is about to come online. It’s been quite a saga getting to this point, and I want to explain why I’ve decided to focus the site the way it is now being reborn.

I originally launched the site in 2016, timed to coincide with publication of my book The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers. As I wrote in the book, my idea was to create a site where consumers could post ratings and reviews of breeders, rescuers, pet stores, shelters—basically, anybody who takes money in exchange for a pet dog.

The site did OK for a couple of years and then got the attention of a social-impact investment firm, which gave me a grant to upgrade and relaunch it. I handed every nickel of that money to a developer, and we spent months rebuilding the site with all the latest technological bells and whistles. We also came up with the groovy new logo that you see on this page, giving The Dog Merchants brand an identity beyond the original book.

But when we did the private soft launch of the new and improved website, something disturbing happened: Countless dog breeders and rescuers threatened to file lawsuits if the site went live and the general public were allowed to write reviews. One dog breeder doxxed me, publishing my personal address and other information online. I also received a call from the police in Connecticut after a breeder there sought to have me arrested for including her name on the site at all.

While all of that intense pushback was occurring, my phone was ringing off the hook with people who’d gotten word that I was working on a major investigative article about “puppy mill rescue” for HuffPost. With that story—just as with my major investigation last year about rescuers and dog auctions for The Washington Post—sources were giving me more information than I could ever possibly publish about all kinds of breeders and rescuers.

It dawned on me that, instead of trying to battle on legal fronts against dozens of breeders and rescuers who would fight to maintain the secrecy that shrouds the entire dog industry, I would instead do better to spend my time battling to get the truth out to consumers through my primary skill set, as a national award-winning journalist.

Thus, the new DogMerchants.com was born, focusing on books, articles and an occasionally updated blog. Plans are in the works for a podcast that should launch in the coming months, with an eye toward digging even deeper into the topics that my work has covered to date. And, I’ve started work on what I hope will become my next book about the dog industry.

Thanks for dropping by the new site and taking a look around. If you have information that might help me with articles and books going forward, please feel free to reach out. You can find me (including a snail mail address for documents) by pressing the Contact button at the top of this page.

Cease and Desist Order Challenged

Following up on the article I wrote this month for HuffPost about the business model of “puppy mill” rescue and the business practices of the Colorado-based nonprofit National Mill Dog Rescue:

Theresa Strader, the founder and executive director of National Mill, has responded to Colorado’s State Board of Veterinary Medicine regarding a cease and desist order demanding that she stop what the state called the unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine. 

Strader’s response, submitted through an attorney, denies the state’s allegations. The response also addresses a matter that Colorado authorities did not raise in the cease and desist letter: The response states that Strader is “the lawful owner of all the animals in her custody and at her facility.”

As is standard with a response of this nature, the Board of Veterinary Medicine has referred the case to Colorado’s Office of the Attorney General, where attorneys are now evaluating the case and deciding how to proceed.

Cease and Desist Order Issued

KRDO, the ABC affiliate in Colorado Springs, is reporting that state authorities have issued a cease and desist order to Theresa Strader, the founder and executive director of National Mill Dog Rescue.

The revelation comes just days after my investigative feature appeared in HuffPost taking a deep dive into the group’s business practices.

The cease and desist order demands that Strader stop the unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine, and specifically states that Strader has, among other things, “administered vaccinations on animals without licensed veterinarian supervision, and used a licensed veterinarian’s signature stamp on vaccination certificates without the veterinarian’s permission.”

My HuffPost article reported that Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies is investigating a claim by National Mill’s former marketing director, Jene Nelson, that Strader “has been practicing veterinary medicine without a license and falsifying rabies certificates. In Colorado, practicing veterinary medicine without a license is a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on second and subsequent offenses. ‘Conservatively, hundreds of dogs have been given their rabies vaccine by Ms. Strader,’ Nelson wrote in her complaint to the Department of Regulatory Agencies. ‘Realistically, the number is in the thousands.'”

Strader wrote June 29 on the National Mill Facebook page—prior to my article even being published—that it would be “riddled with lies, bias and inaccuracies.” According to the KRDO news report, the state had already issued its cease and desist order, on June 28, when she wrote that Facebook post.

Peeling Back Yet More Layers: HuffPost

In 2016, I published the book The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers. A person who read that book was keenly interested in Chapter One, which took readers inside America’s biggest legal dog auction and showed that not just breeders, but also nonprofit rescuers are regularly doing business there. About 18 months after I first spoke with that person, in April 2018, I published the article “Dog Fight” on the Sunday front page of The Washington Post. It documented, for the first time in American history, a multimillion-dollar river of cash running through dozens of rescue nonprofits and into the pockets of the very breeders they decry as “puppy mills.”

Now, there’s another layer. A person who read the article “Dog Fight” reached out to me about six months ago and essentially said, “But wait, there’s more.” Today, my latest story about what’s really going on behind the scenes of America’s dog industry came online. It’s my first-ever piece for HuffPost, titled “When ‘Puppy Mill Rescue’ Blurs the Line Between Saving and Selling Dogs.”

The new story alone is based on interviews with nearly 40 people (including more than a dozen current and former staffers, volunteers and directors from the multimillion-dollar nonprofit rescue that is the focus); the rescue group’s inspection reports going back to early 2017; a slew of documents, photos and videos from inside the nonprofit; and more than 7,500 documents received through open-records requests in seven states where the nonprofit sources dogs and puppies.

To the best of my knowledge, this new story is the deepest-dive investigation ever taken by any journalist into the business model known all across America today as “puppy mill rescue.” And it’s eye-opening, in quite a few ways.

I wonder who will read it and reach out to me with more information next.

Winner–Again! And Again!

Today, the American Society of Journalists and Authors announced the winners of its 2019 Writing Awards. I am truly beyond grateful and humbled to share the news that I won two of the specialty awards, both of which are open to competition from every freelance writer in the United States.

I’m told that it’s the first time any writer has won these two awards in the same year, in the 71-year history of ASJA’s existence.

My 2016 book The Dog Merchants won the The Arlene Eisenberg Award for a Book That Made a Difference. Given every three years, the award is not just for reporting and writing, but also for documented impact. In my book’s case, the book has spurred new and updated legislation in several states, and is being taught on several college campuses.

About The Dog Merchants, the Arlene Award judges said: “Man’s best friend couldn’t have a better advocate than Kim Kavin. The Dog Merchants is a disturbing, definitive exploration of mass production dog breeding and selling, and Kavin braved death threats to produce it. Her book has inspired revisions in both state and federal laws, plus a host of other changes.”

(I appreciate the judges’ enthusiasm; for the record, the book inspired state-level legislation and legislative revisions; it also inspired work that led to an investigation by the federal Department of Agriculture.)

What’s most interesting is that Chapter One of The Dog Merchants is what led an industry insider to come forward and provide me with documents that became the basis for my article “Dog Fight” in The Washington Post, which won the ASJA’s Donald Robinson Prize for Investigative Journalism. The award honors outstanding writing and organization, plus previously unrevealed research.

About “Dog Fight,” the Donald Robinson Prize judges said: “This exhaustively researched article turned a powerful light on what everyone assumed was a good deed — until Kavin showed us that it isn’t. The story is an example of the very best investigative journalism.”

Many thanks to the judges for their kind words, and congratulations to all of the other winners in ASJA’s various categories.

Winner!

I’m thrilled to share the news that the Dog Writers Association of America has named my article “Dog Fight” in The Washington Post the best newspaper article of the year, any topic.

“Dog Fight” was the most complex article I’ve reported and written since I graduated from journalism school in 1994. It required 18 months of research; involved an endless stack of documents from a whistleblower and open-records requests; and included more than 60 interviews. I worked under the direction of the great Jeff Leen, head of investigations at The Washington Post, and received all kinds of help from The Post‘s amazing team of editors, fact-checkers, photographers, videographers, graphic artists and more.

The story marked the first time that anyone has ever documented—in dollars and cents—the multimillion-dollar river of cash that is flowing from rescue nonprofits, shelters and dog-advocacy groups through dog auctions and into the pockets of breeders who are regularly decried as “puppy mills.”

Washington Post Expose Named Finalist

I’m thrilled to announce that my article “Dog Fight” in The Washington Post, about rescuers who buy dogs at auction from the very breeders they decry as “puppy mills,” has been named a finalist for Best Newspaper Article of the year in the competition organized by the Dog Writers Association of America.

My article “It’s a War,” also for The Washington Post, was named a finalist in another category.

I’m of course humbled and grateful to receive this kind of acknowledgment, and I extend my sincere congratulations to all the other finalists. Good luck to everyone in the competition!

USDA Takes Action after Washington Post Expose

My article “Dog Fight” in The Washington Post showing that buyers ­affiliated with 86 rescue and dog-advocacy groups and shelters nationwide have spent $2.68 million buying dogs at auctions has ignited fierce debate — and late Tuesday, the U.S. Agriculture Department issued a bulletin stating that such individuals and nonprofits may need to be licensed under the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Read the full story here.