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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. Visit this site to know about the best dog boarding near Naples which is available 24/7.

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.

U.S. Government Reinstates Database of Kennel Inspection Reports

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a press release this afternoon announcing the reinstatement of its searchable online database that includes inspection reports for commercial dog-breeding kennels.

Reinstatement of the database follows months’ worth of public outcry. A diverse spread of individuals ranging from animal-welfare advocates to pet-store executives have said the previously available database should be returned to the internet. Some filed lawsuits.

The inspection reports for commercial kennels registered with the USDA used to be freely searchable, allowing anyone to comb through the records of those breeders to see whether they’re in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. The records were used for many purposes, including letting pet-store owners verify kennel conditions and helping nonprofits like the Humane Society of the United States compile things like its “Horrible Hundred Puppy Mills” document.

Commercial-scale dog breeders had long argued that, because their kennels are typically located on the same property as their private homes, the inspection reports contained personal information that was being unfairly revealed to the general public, including to some activists who trespassed onto their property to take photographs, harass them and bother their dogs. Breeders also didn’t like the fact that warning letters were being published without giving them time to correct the problems that inspectors documented.

Today’s announcement from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, directs users to this chart explaining how the kennel inspection reports are now being adjusted as the database returns to the internet. Kennels that are not “residential” will now be published “with appropriate redactions to protect privacy interests of individuals,” such as signatures. For kennels located on residential property, “identifying information” will be redacted “to protect privacy interests.”

In addition, documents such as warning letters, which used to be published in full, will now become part of quarterly “statistical summaries,” with the details of such letters remaining offline.

John Goodwin, head of the HSUS National Puppy Mills Campaign, told me via email: “At first blush, it doesn’t look like much is back up. Also, key information is still redacted. I can see redacting a home address, but they also redacted the names and license numbers of facilities who were cited. Without being able to identify who did what, no one will know which breeders had clean records and which had dirty records.”

Mike Bober, president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, issued this statement: “PIJAC is pleased that the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to take steps to balance public transparency and private safety with the release of their new compliance database and search tool. We in the pet care community look forward to working with the USDA and everyone who cares deeply about animal welfare to ensure that healthy, ethically raised pets find loving homes.”



Get your copy of The Dog Merchants today and Learn more about commercial dog breeding, with tips for evaluating breeders and rescuers alike. Wins Best Independent Blog Award

The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists announced the winners of its annual writing competition today (for work done in 2016). I’m thrilled and honored to share the news that I earned three prizes in this year’s competition in my home state, all for articles about dog industry.

Each of the three awards is for second place in its respective category:

A full list of the winners is here—and there is some really great journalism in the links by all of my colleagues in the industry. Congratulations to all the winners!

New Study Likely to Affect Debate about Shelters and Breeders

[fusion_text]This morning, The Washington Post published my article about a new study from Mississippi State University showing that shelter euthanasia rates for dogs have dipped to the lowest level in modern history, with fewer than 780,000 dogs per year now dying in U.S. shelters.

Researchers and scientists from groups including the ASPCA, No Kill Advocacy Center and Maddie’s Fund are still breaking down the study’s results and looking into its methodology, but those I spoke with late into the evening yesterday were of the same mind-set that I am: Let’s hope the science is solid, because it would be great news for the dogs, a sea change from the past few decades when dogs were estimated to be dying in our shelters by the millions.

Interpreting the study’s results beyond the science, however, is a political exercise that I suspect will continue for a long time to come.

Rescue advocates seem poised to argue that once America’s shelters are saving all the healthy, adoptable dogs in our own nation, we should next turn our attention to read more about transmission of the rabies virus through dogs , ensuring dogs free from diseases and saving homeless dogs from outside our borders, by importing dogs in need from U.S. territories and other countries.

Breeding advocates, on the other hand, say that once America’s shelter dogs are all in homes, the need for responsible breeding will remain clearer than ever, to ensure that everyone who wants a pet dog in America can have one.

For today, though, I hope this study’s results are simply a reason to cheer. Many fewer dogs dying in our shelters would be a great thing. I’m going to hope that the science stands up, and give my two shelter mutts a big hug to celebrate.[/fusion_text]

Petland and HSUS Act to Reverse USDA Database Decision

When the pet-store chain Petland and the Humane Society of the United States—frequent opponents on legislative actions—are both on the same page and crying foul, you know we have entered new territory concerning the welfare of dogs.

Both Petland and HSUS today stated that they are calling upon the U.S. Department of Agriculture to amend or reverse the move it made Friday, deleting a long-public database of government reports that revealed what taxpayer-funded inspectors find everywhere from commercial-scale breeding kennels to animal-research facilities.

HSUS has initiated legal actionto challenge this outrageous action that undermines longstanding consensus about public access to information concerning these laws, and frustrates state, local, and industry efforts to help enforce them.”

Petland has scheduled an in-person meeting with USDA officials in Washington and plans to issue a press release this afternoon “calling upon the USDA to find a balance between privacy and transparency,” according to company CEO Joe Watson.

HSUS is challenging the takedown of the USDA database by claiming that the removal violates the terms of a previously settled case.

As the HSUS notice today states: “The HSUS sued the USDA in 2005 over public access to AWA reports concerning animal use in university and other laboratories. That case was settled in 2009 in exchange for the USDA’s agreement to post certain data on its website concerning research on animals. The agency’s precipitous decision to purge virtually all AWA and HPA enforcement documentation—just two weeks after President Trump assumed office—violates the plain terms of the settlement and a federal court order. It also runs contrary to congressional provisions in 1996 and 2016 designed to increase transparency and electronic access to information.”

Petland is challenging the takedown by asking the USDA to meet the burden of protecting privacy in a way that still makes the bulk of the reports open to public access.

In an email to Petland staff today, Watson wrote: “The USDA deserves credit for making an effort to protect the privacy of their licensees. We are all too familiar with how the activists misuse this data to attack breeders and pet stores. We have also heard of inspection reports being photoshopped by activists and used against us. We applaud the USDA’s efforts to address this abuse of information. At the same time, this decision creates an added burden on responsible pet stores, such as Petland. We must now obtain the inspection reports directly from the breeders and brokers. While this is not impossible, it does create a new set of challenges for our business. Also, the total denial of any public access creates a veil of secrecy that can be used against the pet industry. We need more responsible transparency, not less.”

This is the first time in recent memory, if ever, that HSUS and Petland have come out simultaneously, publicly and forcefully on the same side of a major national issue concerning animal welfare.

Federal Agency Removes Key Consumer Tool for Evaluating Dog Breeders

At 1 p.m. today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture posted this notice on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) section of its website. The notice explains that from now on, it will be much harder for consumers and others to review government inspection reports about dog breeders that previously had been available online in a simple search.

Until today, documents including inspection reports of commercial-scale dog breeding kennels have been uploaded into a searchable database that anyone could access at any time through a link on the APHIS landing page. Several years’ worth of these inspection reports, which are generated by the taxpayer-funded agency, have been available for a free, easy search. That search function is now gone, replaced by today’s announcement on a static web page.

The inspection reports that used to be searchable have long been used for many purposes. For instance, they allowed consumers to check whether a commercial-scale dog breeder was complying with the federal Animal Welfare Act before purchasing a puppy from that breeder; they allowed pet-store owners to do the same (in some states, pet stores are required by law to check the reports of any commercial-scale breeders who sell them puppies); and they were used by welfare advocates and activists to produce pamphlets such as the Humane Society of the United States “Horrible Hundred Puppy Mills” list each year.

Commercial-scale dog breeders have long argued that, because their kennels are typically located on the same property as their private homes, the inspection reports contain personal information that is being unfairly revealed to the general public, including to some activists who trespass onto their property to take photographs, harass them and bother their dogs. The breeders have said that having their names, addresses, contact details and other information placed online or made available to the public is a violation of their personal privacy.

Today, the federal government appears to have sided with those breeders.

From now on, according to today’s notice, the inspection reports will be removed from the searchable database. The move comes, according to the agency, following a yearlong review that included ensuring compliance with the Privacy Act.

“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication,” the notice states.

The notice adds that anyone seeking access to such information in the future, instead of being able to simply look it up online, must now submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the federal government.

In those cases, the notice states, “Records will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act. If the same records are frequently requested via the FOIA process, in most instances APHIS may post the appropriately redacted versions to its website.”

The FOIA process can be a long one, sometimes taking months to yield a response. This delay may now make it impossible for consumers, pet-store owners and others to assess a dog breeder’s record in real time, when the purchase of a puppy is pending—unless the breeder himself chooses to share his own government-issued inspection report, especially when it contains citations for violating the Animal Welfare Act.

Review of Documentary ‘Petfooled’ by Author of ‘The Dog Merchants’

[fusion_text] just published my review of the documentary Petfooled, which becomes available on iTunes and video-on-demand January 10. If you’re like me, trying to be a conscious consumer about everything you buy, then I think you’ll find this film well worth watching. Here’s a preview:

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Washington Post Op-Ed: How Our Political Vitriol is Hurting Our Dogs

Screen Shot 2016-11-21 at 9.22.44 AMThe Washington Post just published my latest story about dogs, which I originally pitched with the title “Party Animals.” It’s about how our current level of political vitriol in the United States is keeping dogs in conditions that many of us agree are unacceptable.

I hope you’ll take the time to read it, whether you voted for Trump, Clinton or not at all. We dog lovers need to start learning how to have a civil conversation and stand together on the side of all dogs.

Extended Interview with Forrest Lucas about ‘The Dog Lover’ Film

This morning, Dogster published my review of “The Dog Lover,” a new film based on the true story of a hunting-dog breeder in South Dakota whose dogs were seized in a puppy mill raid aided by the Humane Society of the United States. The film has received mixed reviews, including from The Hollywood Reporter (“this propaganda piece seems bound to infuriate the very animal lovers to which it’s attempting to appeal”) and (“shamelessly manipulative on several levels”).

Everything those reviewers wrote is true—this movie is a one-sided take on an issue that is bound to infuriate many dog lovers—but the reviewers don’t understand the context in which this film was made, or its deep importance to anyone trying to understand both sides of the “puppy mill” issue that is raging all across America today.

As I wrote in my Dogster review of the film, I believe everyone who cares about dogs needs to watch it: “The breeders need to see that their voice is being amplified within the current media climate, while the rescuers need to see how they often come across to those they believe should change their ways.”

I also believe anyone who can’t understand why the film exists needs to read the following Q&A with its executive producer, Forrest Lucas. He spoke with me for more than an hour before I wrote my review.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation—which, fair warning to you, contains movie spoilers. While I do not agree with everything Lucas says, I agree completely with his underlying notion that only one side of the debate usually gets fair media coverage. That’s why I’m publishing this Q&A as a companion piece to my review of “The Dog Lover” movie on Dogster, which I also hope you’ll read.

You also may want to visit the official website of “The Dog Lover” film.


The Dog Lover movieQ: Was the original name of the movie changed?

A: When we were making it, we called it “The Wrong Side of Right,” but it didn’t tell anything about the story, so they came up with a list of names about dogs.


Q: How did “The Dog Lover” come to be?

A: This started in 2000, when the HSUS came to the state of Missouri. They came in with this term “puppy mill,” which meant “the bad guys.” I have a 16,000-acre cattle ranch here in Missouri. I found out about it only a few days ahead of time, because one of my cowboys called. He saw a sign on a highway.

What the voters saw on the ballot wasn’t the same as the actual law. They used the word “pet,” way down deep, and in Missouri, legally, a pet is anything that can live within 15 feet of your house. When we opened this thing up and started looking at it, it would have taken over all animals.

They had spent around $7 million, and they had 67 percent approval at the time. It was high because nobody was fighting against them. All the small agriculture groups in the state, the one big guy came along and told them don’t fight because you can’t beat ’em. All you’ll do is make ’em mad. That’s how they fight. They’re terrorists.

I got involved six days before the vote. We took them down to 51 percent. If we’d had one more day, we would’ve won. We just told people who they really were and what they were going to do: “These are terrorists and they’re lying to you.”

What happened is, since it was a proposition, the House and Senate could take it apart and fix it. HSUS spent a lot of time down there spending on these politicians. HSUS was giving them money to vote their way, and telling them that if they didn’t vote their way, they’d use the money against them.


hsus-prop-b-screen-shotQ: So your opposition to Proposition B had nothing to do with dogs, even though it was called the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” on the Missouri ballot?

A: This was going to take in everything, not just dogs. They weren’t just after the big dog breeders. They were after all the dog breeders. They had rules in there that nobody could live by. Your house wouldn’t probably be big enough for one animal.

I was living in California when they destroyed—and they still brag about it today—this big slaughterhouse. They had a mole in there for months and months. This old cow got down, and that happens, and they couldn’t move her, so they took a forklift and picked her up. They ran that video, and it destroyed that organization. They had to bring back millions of pounds of beef. Every school in the country was getting hamburger from them. The video was totally out of context, and it made this horrible, horrible story, oh these poor animals, and all the crazy people in the news went off on it, and it was the biggest thing ever.


Q: So that’s why in “The Dog Lover” film, the false accusations against the breeder involve a doctored video that the rescuers give to the media. That video leads to a raid of the kennel, and to a big campaign ad asking for dog lovers to send donations.

A: Co-rrect.


Q: It all goes back to what you thought was an unfair campaign against a slaughterhouse, because you’re a cattle rancher.

A: I saw that happen with that video, and then they turned around and ran Proposition 2 right behind it. That was in California, and it said all the chickens would have to be taken from these real tight cages where they’re so unhappy, these poor chickens, and go into bigger cages. Well, the poultry industry just started falling apart.


cage-free-eggsQ: So you made “The Dog Lover” film in part because you’re also upset about the cage-free egg movement?

It’s crazy to us who know better, but to them, it’s a way of stopping egg production. Now they want cage-free, and that’s even worse. The chickens could be inside or outside, but they have to run them to get them outside. The chickens do not want to go outside. And once they get out there, you can’t run the belts underneath them to haul away the manure. They are standing in the manure, and every once in a while a girl’s going to lay an egg, and 20 percent of those eggs get laid outside. You have to go out there and pick up those eggs out of the poop.


Q: That sounds gross.

A: It is gross, but that’s what’s happening with these nuts trying to get laws passed to deny eggs to people who want them.


protect-the-harvestQ: So all of this was in your mind when the “Puppy Mill” Proposition B got on the ballot in Missouri, where you have your cattle ranch.

A: Right. HSUS and all the other groups have been lying without people trying to get them, and it’s had a horrible effect on this country. The three months I spent out there fighting Prop B, that’s where I really learned that nobody else is fighting. A lot of people wanted to do something, but they couldn’t. HSUS is too big and powerful, and they have so many people terrorized.

By the time I got done fighting that, we decided, we’re going to go on the offense. We created Protect the Harvest. Then we started actually working with politicians.


Q: HSUS alone took in nearly $160 million for the last reported tax year. I noticed that was the same number you used in “The Dog Lover” as the budget for the fictional animal-rights organization. Do you have that kind of lobbying cash for your side?

A: No, I don’t, but I think I’m a whole lot of a better businessman than they are, and we can tell the truth. Everything they say has to be a lie, so it’s a lot harder for them.


A frame from "The Dog Lover" film.
A frame from “The Dog Lover” film

Q: This movie is called “The Dog Lover.” Do you have a dog?

A: I had mutts when the kids were little, but I don’t have time to have a dog now.


Q: So you didn’t make this movie because you want to protect purebred dog breeders?

A: The only people that had purebred dogs when I was a kid, they would’ve maybe been a hunting dog. There was a lot of ’coon hunting back then. That was one big effect that the fur laws had on America. Raccoon hunting was a big thing of fur. If you could catch them at the right time of year, the fur was valuable, and you had the fun of hunting them with your father or your uncle. That all stopped because you couldn’t wear furs. They terrorized those people.


Q: “The Dog Lover” is about a fictional group called the United Animal Protection Agency. Since the movie is based on a true story, why didn’t you call the group HSUS?

A: We didn’t say HSUS because it would’ve been just HSUS that way. We used a name that is not being used, so it could be applied to any of the organizations—PETA, HSUS, ASPCA, Fund for Animals, Greenpeace, that’s a horrible organization out there causing all the people to starve to death in Indonesia.


Promo ad for Wayne Pacelle's new book.
Promo ad for Wayne Pacelle’s new book The Humane Economy (which has received very good reviews and a great deal of media coverage)

Q: In “The Dog Lover,” the top people at the fictional UAPA are portrayed as being interested only in money and political power.

A: Wayne Pacelle at HSUS got into it, and he started making the big money.


Q: The last tax documents that I saw, he was earning about $425,000 a year.

A: Did you say $4 million?


Q: No, about $425,000.

A: Well, whatever they say, he’s taking plenty more on the side. They lie. These guys have to lie. If they told the truth, nobody would give them a dime.

That television scroll? That big ol’ minute-long commercial? Send the $20 a month and we’ll take care of them? It’s a lie. They don’t have any shelters. All they want is the money. The actual dog pounds around the country aren’t getting funded because the money is going to these guys.


A frame from "The Dog Lover" film.
A frame from “The Dog Lover” film

Q: Why did you decide to tell the story of this particular South Dakota breeder in “The Dog Lover?”

A: Because I’d seen exactly the same thing happen to a lady in Southern Indiana. I didn’t know her personally, but the attorney general of the state of Indiana, he went down and led his raid against this lady, who was doing nothing but raising dogs and making money. She had a dairy farm also.

That guy in South Dakota, his story was very similar to the lady in Indiana. She was not convicted either, but she was ruined. That’s what happens. They come in and hit you, and the news is in there telling things their way, and people don’t have time to react. That’s the way they work.


Q: At the heart of “The Dog Lover” is the question of what it means to breed and sell dogs responsibly. Tell me your thoughts about that.

A: Breeding dogs is, I think, a lot like breeding anything else. The more comfortable you keep the animals, the more productive they’re going to be.

But these guys have tried to say they’re not just dogs. They’re not just pets, even. What’s the thing they call them? I can’t remember…


animal-rights-national-conference-logoQ: Do you mean “companion animals”?

A: Right. They’re com-pan-ion animals. HSUS has, supposedly, a university of their own in D.C. where they’re teaching people to sue you, or me, or anybody with the dog being the plaintiff. Of course, the dog is property to you and me, but they’re doing it, and they’re giving a whole lot of money to people in other colleges to teach the classes.

One of these days, they’re going to get that passed, that animals will have rights. That’s why it’s called animal rights. Now, when that happens, it’s going to be, “Katie, bar the door!” That’s their long-term goal right there.


Q: So in making a film about a dog breeder, you’re not actually interested in the details of how dog breeders operate?

A: I’m not fighting for the dogs, necessarily. I’m fighting against HSUS.

And they’re trying to spay and neuter every animal they can, so that you can’t be breeding yourself. In their perfect world, if you bought a puppy, you’d have to get it neutered.


Q: I’ve never seen a spay/neuter requirement in any HSUS-backed “puppy mill” bill. Spay/neuter laws usually involve shelters, and trying to stop strays and dogs in everyday people’s backyards from producing more puppies.

A: I’ve not personally seen a stray dog. It’s been so long, I can’t remember. When I was a kid, you saw them all over the place.


A typical puppy-mill protest, courtesy of
A typical puppy-mill protest, courtesy of

Q: Are you receiving hate mail about “The Dog Lover”?

A: We had one hate mail yesterday, which kind of shocked our director. He wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. The words they were using…


Q: What words did they use?

A: I can’t even tell you, but it was bad. They picked me out and said horrible things about me, so it had to come from somebody paid to do it.


Q: This hate mail came from a rescuer?

A: Yes. But other than that, it’s been a really, really good response from people who came to the screening and saw it. The ratings were very good. They were very surprised at the quality of it.

They loved the fact that we were doing it, the fact that somebody is doing it, that we are taking it back against these people. A lot of people don’t like these guys.


Forrest Lucas, courtesy of
Forrest Lucas, courtesy of

Q: Have you ever tried to talk to HSUS or other people on the rescue side about your concerns?

A: I have personally not met anybody from the other side, on the dog side of it. They don’t talk to me.

But they can’t scare me. They can’t hurt me or anybody around me. We’re not afraid of them. That’s what everybody has to understand. They don’t have to be afraid of these guys. Some of these big businesspeople who have stepped over for them, I just don’t understand it.


Q: I think if you did talk to them, they would tell you that most people who care about dogs just want them to be treated well, all across the board. My new book The Dog Merchants talks about how there are good and bad breeders, and good and bad rescuers, and that we should all stop fighting with each other and have the good people on both sides start working together.

A: You know, I agree with everything you said there. That sounds right to me too.


Read my full review of “The Dog Lover” film on Dogster.