Posts tagged dog breeders

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!

Tip from ‘The Dog Merchants’ Reader Leads to Story Exposing Breeder’s Conviction

About two weeks ago, I received an email from a reader of The Dog Merchants book. The reader is involved in the breeding community and explained that there was something going on with a Miniature Schnauzer breeder named Joan Huber. Little information was online, but what I was able to find suggested that a major-award-winning breeder of AKC championship dogs—more than 850 of them over the years—had been convicted of animal cruelty.

I looked into the details and wrote this story that ran today in The Washington Post.

My thanks to the reader who tipped me to this breeder’s tale. It’s an important story, and it’s amazing to me that it was somehow kept out of the public eye for as long as it was.

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.

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 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.

Video: ‘The Dog Merchants’ Author Kim Kavin on HomeTowne Television

[fusion_text]HomeTown Television just sent me this two-part series of shows that the channel is preparing to air in my home state of New Jersey. Each video is a half-hour long, adapted from a full-hour conversation that I had with the show’s host about my books Little Boy Blue and The Dog Merchants—and all the issues they touch on in the worlds of dog breeding and rescue alike.

The beginning of Part I is funny: The adoptable pup in my lap is named Teddy, and the host is named Fred. I accidentally called the dog Freddy. Luckily, the host was not offended!

Special thanks to HomeTowne Television for sharing these links. Enjoy:

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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.

Hydra: New Jersey’s Just Pups and the ‘Puppy Mill Monster’

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A screen shot of the Pascack Press' coverage of Just Pups.

Well-intentioned officials in my home state of New Jersey are combining forces to exile Vincent LoSacco and his Just Pups stores, where, among other things, 67 puppies and dogs were left outside in a 38-degree van earlier this year. First came hundreds of animal cruelty charges, followed by the closing of Just Pups pet shops in Paramus, East Brunswick and Emerson. Most recently, the state attorney general and Division of Consumer Affairs filed a complaint in Superior Court in Hackensack, trying to ban LoSacco from doing business anywhere in the state, ever again.

Animal-welfare advocates are cheering a blow to a distributor of “puppy mill dogs,” a victory in the War on Cruelty thanks to their protests and complaints.

All of us who care about animals want to believe that’s true, and certainly, LoSacco’s business practices deserve the intense scrutiny they have received.

But is what’s happening now, really, a victory for the dogs themelves?

The frustrating truth is that for many of them, the answer is no.

 

just-pups-auction-flierTHE PART OF THE STORY NOBODY TELLS

LoSacco, like most pet-store owners nationwide, sourced his puppies from rural breeding farms well beyond New Jersey’s borders, including a kennel in Missouri. Today, August 6, the dogs from that kennel are scheduled to be at the county fairgrounds in Milan, Missouri, for a common and legal event in that part of America: a dog auction.

The “Just Pups Total Kennel Dispersal,” as headlined in the promotional flier from Southwest Auction Service (page one is at right), will include two auction rings and more than 450 dogs. The breeds to be auctioned run the gamut from Akitas to Yorkshire Terriers, along with dozens of other purebreds and crossbreeds (such as Goldendoodles and Morkies) that fall alphabetically in between.

In reporting my book The Dog Merchants, I attended an auction that Southwest put on, where about 300 dogs were auctioned. I then returned to Missouri to spend a full day with the auction’s owner, learning about that end of the dog business—the part that rescuers protesting at New Jersey pet stores never see.

I can tell you that if recent trends hold, more than six figures in cash is going to change hands at the Just Pups dog auction in Missouri today. And the vast majority of that money will strengthen, not weaken, the commercial dog-breeding business.

 

A still shot from my recent appearance on "Business Insider."
My recent appearance on “Business Insider” to explain dog auctions.

HOW THE MONEY REALLY WORKS

A third or so of the buyers at today’s auction will likely be rescuers. In fact, I’m told, some rescuers in New Jersey have been soliciting donations to try to buy the dogs at today’s auction in Missouri. When these rescuers win the bids, they’ll market the dogs for adoption nationwide, telling families the dogs were “saved from a puppy mill.” That’s also a common practice (click on the caption at right to learn more). In reality, the dogs are being purchased, and all of the money will go through the auctioneer, who takes a cut, and then straight into the pockets of the Just Pups team.

In other words, rescuers may buy 100 or 125 dogs today and get them into good homes, for sure, but in the process, they will strengthen the finances of their Just Pups adversary. In fact, according to the founder of another dog auction I interviewed, the rescuers’ very presence at today’s auction will actually drive up the per-dog prices and increase the total amount of money collected.

For the majority of the Just Pups dogs at today’s auction, though, a different fate is likely in store. The remaining two-thirds of auction bidders are likely to be breeders who run commercial-scale kennels, including the kind regularly called “puppy mills.” With more than 450 dogs for auction today, some 300 of them will likely go to breeders.

If each of those breeders buys, say, 10 dogs, then no less than 30 breeders will boost their kennel production and future puppy sales because of today’s Just Pups auction.

 

John Singer Sargent's representation of Heracles and Hydra.
John Singer Sargent’s representation of Heracles in battle with the monster Hydra.

THE LESSON OF HYDRA

Once you understand that business reality and apply it to the War on Cruelty, it’s hard not to think of Hydra, the creature from Greek mythology. Cut off one of its heads, and two grow back.

Animal-welfare activists, like all soldiers in the War on Cruelty, have honorable hearts. They are right to cry out against dogs being treated badly, and to demand change. But their current nationwide strategy of targeting pet stores like Just Pups makes as much sense as cutting off a single Hydra head.

Advocacy groups including the Humane Society of the United States, which is the driving force behind “pet store puppy mill ban” legislation that targets stores like Just Pups, continue to pursue this strategy in part because it generates tons of headlines. It’s great for raising public awareness about the “puppy mill monster,” to be sure. Every time another municipality enacts a ban that ends a store like LoSacco’s (some 160 municipalities have so far), headlines in local media describe the effort as a blow against puppy mills and animal cruelty. Right now, HSUS is working to enact a statewide version of these laws in New Jersey.

But the truth is that with their “victory” in shutting down LoSacco’s Just Pups stores in New Jersey, the rescue community is about to strengthen dozens more of the very breeding kennels their actions are intended to close. At the same time, they will be leaving LoSacco and his associates with a ton of investment-ready cash to reboot their business model elsewhere, including in other states.

How on earth is that strategy ultimately good for the dogs?

 

THE WAY TO WIN THE FIGHT

Here’s the good news: Heracles ultimately prevailed. He killed Hydra after figuring out that he needed to slice off its sole immortal head with a golden sword he got from Athena, the goddess of, among other things, war strategy. Heracles realized that he had to adjust his targeting, that he needed to aim at the core of the monster’s power instead of being distracted by its unwieldy tentacles.

At its own core, the puppy-mill battle isn’t about pet stores. They are just the distracting tentacles. The “immortal head” that needs slaying is the conditions inside many commercial-scale breeding kennels, the kinds whose owners are operating legally, in broad daylight, in places like today’s Just Pups auction.

The Dog Merchants-3DTo be clear, there are responsible, commercial-scale breeders who treat their dogs great. I write about some of them in The Dog Merchants, too. But even the breeding side of the industry acknowledges that a good number of legally operating, large-scale kennels are doing business in unacceptable ways that our federal animal-welfare law allows.

The true core of the problem—the “immortal head of the puppy mill monster,” as Heracles might put it—is our federal animal-welfare law. It is decades old and, among other things, allows a dog the size of a Beagle to spend her whole life inside a cage the size of a dishwasher. If that law were updated, then the conditions inside the legally operating commercial kennels would change, and pet-store owners like LoSacco would have a far harder time sourcing puppies from kennels that treat dogs badly, anywhere in America.

Heracles was a smart guy. There’s a reason mythology calls him a hero. He recognized, in his battle with Hydra, that his original strategy of cutting off one head at a time was creating false victories. He adjusted his tactics accordingly, and that’s how he ultimately won.

After 10 years of working to ban pet stores nationwide, rescuers need to realize that their effect on the kennels has been negligible. Business is booming in places like today’s auction. We must take a lesson and shift the aim of our sword if we, too, want to turn the monster we’re battling today into a tale from the ancient past.

 

Learn more about how to follow the money on the breeding and rescue sides alike of the dog industry. Get your copy of The Dog Merchants today.