Posts tagged dog rescuers

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.

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!

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!

‘The Dog Merchants’ Book Leads to Washington Post Expose

This morning, The Washington Post published an article that I wrote about rescuers who buy dogs at auctions.

It is a story that came my way after an industry insider read The Dog Merchants book, particularly Chapter One, which is about rescuers attending dog auctions. The chapter discussed the practice, but not the amounts of money changing hands, because I didn’t know the amount of money changing hands. Nobody really did.

The insider began sending me copies of invoices, checks and more that showed $2.68 million in spending. For about 18 months, I did additional research and dozens of interviews to put together the story that ran today.

It’s the first time that anybody has documented, in dollars and cents, the amount of rescue money that is flowing to breeders by way of U.S. dog auctions. All because the insider read The Dog Merchants book, thought it was fair and honest, and trusted me to tell more of the story.

Amazing.

I would like to give a seriously big tip of the hat to the entire team at The Washington Post for helping me bring this story to light. A lot of people worked really hard on this editorial package and helped to make it great. My public thanks to them all. It was an honor to work with them on this piece.

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]

The Facts—and State Inspection Reports—Behind Today’s Diana’s Grove Dog Rescue Story

[fusion_text]Today, multiple media outlets in St. Louis, including the Post-Dispatch, reported that the Chesterfield Mall had canceled its agreement with a rescue group that was scheduled to open a new adoption center there this Saturday.

More than 100 comments from dog lovers in the community were posted inside of about seven hours, expressing, mostly, confusion. As one commenter wrote: “There is obviously a lot more than the article is saying if the people felt so strongly about the shelter.”

That commenter is right. Here’s the backstory—which should be a lesson to us all about retail pet stores and the types of merchants that we want offering dogs for sale in them, whether those merchants are breeders or rescuers.

 

What the Public Was Initially Told

In late December, St. Louis media outlets including the Post-Dispatch ran articles about Diana’s Grove Dog Rescue, saying the nonprofit from rural Cabool, Missouri, had gotten in over its head. The story reported to the public was that a Petco near St. Louis had terminated the group’s adoption events after receiving consumer complaints about sick dogs, including one that died a few days after adoption. Diana’s Grove, without the retail space, had an overflow of homeless dogs. The Humane Society of Missouri took more than 100 of them, making the crisis appear short-term.

At least in part because of the way that story was reported by multiple media outlets, nearly 150 people, in a matter of weeks, donated more than $9,000 on GoFundMe to help Diana’s Grove.[/fusion_text][separator style_type=”none” top_margin=”” bottom_margin=”” sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”” class=”” id=””][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][separator style_type=”none” top_margin=”” bottom_margin=”” sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”” class=”” id=””][fusion_text]And on January 15, media outlets reported that thanks in part to those donations, Diana’s Grove was resuming operations January 21, in new retail space in the Chesterfield Mall.

The stories were mostly positive; for instance, the Post-Dispatch described the group as “bringing its mission” to the St. Louis area.

But all of the media outlets failed to report what has long constituted normal operations at the Diana’s Grove kennel in Cabool, where the dogs live outside the public eye before they are brought to St. Louis-area retail stores.

 

The Unreported Story

The truth is that Petco, just before Christmas, was not the first store near St. Louis to give Diana’s Grove the boot in 2016; Petsmart also did so, last spring.

In the recent media coverage, Cynthea Jones, founder and director of Diana’s Grove, is quoted as saying, “I truly don’t know why Petsmart decided to terminate us.”

But the Diana’s Grove Facebook page, in a May 19, 2016, post, makes clear why Petsmart acted: “Petsmart Charities informed us that they were in receipt of a copy of a Department of Agriculture report from November 2015. Due to certain issues reported on the inspection form, we were suspended from Petsmart, pending resolution.”

[/fusion_text][separator style_type=”none” top_margin=”” bottom_margin=”” sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”” class=”” id=””][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][separator style_type=”none” top_margin=”” bottom_margin=”” sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”” class=”” id=””][separator style_type=”none” top_margin=”” bottom_margin=”” sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”” class=”” id=””][fusion_text]

Here is the Missouri Department of Agriculture report from November 2015:[/fusion_text][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][fusion_text]As you can read in the documents above, the state inspection report issued November 4, 2015—with Jones’ name at the top—is disturbing. It describes previous warnings for the nonprofit to fix rusted enclosures; floors and walls so worn they no longer stopped moisture; dogs exposed to broken and jagged metal; and at least one enclosure too small for the dog inside (a Beagle lacked 6 inches of headroom).

That report also identified new problems: a kennel support post chewed in two; doghouses with no protection from wind and rain; and dogs again exposed to sharp edges.

Perhaps most distressing was the citation for approximately 7 litters of puppies, some younger than 1 week old, living outside without adequate bedding for warmth.

The November report also listed citations for inadequate veterinary care. They included dogs brought across state lines to Missouri from Arkansas without proof of a rabies vaccine, and dogs cited for health problems some five months earlier, still with no documented treatment.[/fusion_text][fusion_text]Citations that Went Back Years

That report was one among at least 11 the state issued for Diana’s Grove between 2014 and 2016, most containing citations (and all published at the bottom of this blog post). And with that November report, the state issued an Official Letter of Warning to Diana’s Grove, stating that the group had repeatedly violated the Animal Care Facilities Act. It was one of at least three Official Letters of Warning issued to Diana’s Grove for repeat violations between 2014 and 2016 (also published at the bottom of this blog post).

Problems cited in the 2015 letter included “several of the dog houses chewed to the point that they no longer provided sufficient shelter for the dogs.”

Here is that 2015 Official Letter of Warning:[/fusion_text][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][fusion_text]Possibly most noteworthy, given recent media coverage, is the state’s July 28, 2014, report. The stories last month in St. Louis media described recent problems at Diana’s Grove as short-term, involving too many dogs because of a backup caused when Petco ended the group’s adoption events in December.

But in fact, having too many dogs is a problem the state first cited with Diana’s Grove two and a half years ago. The July 2014 inspection report states that Jones “needs to immediately start reducing her inventory of animals.” Here is that report:[/fusion_text][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][fusion_text]Back then, when the state said Diana’s Grove had to start reducing its number of animals, the group had 276. During the recent incident, Diana’s Grove had amassed about 350, according to the Post-Dispatch.

And the group’s announcement about its new St. Louis retail space at the Chesterfield Mall promised to bring about 85 dogs per week:[/fusion_text][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][fusion_text]Rightful Outcry from the Welfare Community

This is why so many people from within the St. Louis animal-welfare community contacted the Chesterfield Mall and threatened a boycott, calls that resulted in today’s announcement that the mall changed its mind and will not go forward with the group restarting its adoption events in St. Louis this Saturday.

The welfare advocates who took that stand should be highly praised. Far too often, the political divide between rescuers and breeders leaves “welfare advocates” crying foul only when a breeder is issued inspection reports and Letters of Warning of this nature. There’s no doubt that if Diana’s Grove had been a breeder, with these kinds of inspections, “puppy mill” protesters would have been at Petsmart and Petco long ago. So three cheers for the welfare advocates who called out a rescue organization with similarly questionable inspection reports, and for Petsmart and Petco taking action when they realized something might be wrong. That’s what it means to look out for the dogs.

The Diana’s Grove story is a powerful example of why it’s time for the “adopt, don’t shop” mentality to evolve, and for us to seriously reconsider the current legislative strategy of requiring pet stores to welcome only rescuers instead of breeders. So far, more than 180 municipalities have enacted such laws. It’s highly unlikely that lawmakers, in enacting such bans, realize that they might be encouraging, and even legally mandating, retail pet stores to work with rescue groups whose business practices might be questionable.

Not all breeders are devils, and not all rescuers are angels. The last thing the dogs need is us banning the better breeders from retail pet stores while welcoming questionable rescuers.

Welfare advocacy and legislation should be about one thing and one thing only: the dogs. Whether it’s a rescue group or a breeder offering dogs for sale in a retail pet store of any kind, the goal should always be to make sure the dogs are healthy, happy and safe.

The Dog Merchants-3D

 

 

Want to learn more about the business of dog breeding and rescue? Get your copy today of “The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers.”[/fusion_text][separator style_type=”single” top_margin=”” bottom_margin=”” sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”fa-folder-open” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”center” class=”” id=””][separator style_type=”single” top_margin=”” bottom_margin=”” sep_color=”” border_size=”” icon=”” icon_circle=”” icon_circle_color=”” width=”” alignment=”center” class=”” id=””][fusion_text]

Missouri Department of Agriculture inspection reports and Official Letters of Warning issued to Diana’s Grove Dog Rescue between October 2014 and May 2016:[/fusion_text][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”none” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][imageframe lightbox=”no” 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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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Hydra: New Jersey’s Just Pups and the ‘Puppy Mill Monster’

[fusion_text]

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.

‘The Dog Merchants’ Op-Ed Inspires Amendments to ‘Pet Store Puppy Mill Legislation

My publisher, Pegasus Books, just sent out the press release below. I’m thrilled to see “The Dog Merchants” and my other writing based on the book’s research having such an impact, just a month after the book’s publication date.

The Dog Merchants-3D“THE DOG MERCHANTS” OP-ED INSPIRES AMENDMENTS TO “PET STORE PUPPY MILL” LEGISLATION 

The bill’s sponsoring senator now seeks not only to curb substandard breeders, but also to hold dog-rescue groups accountable for doing business responsibly.

JUNE 6, 2016, TRENTON, N.J.—At today’s hearing of the New Jersey state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, introduced amendments to Senate Bill 63, known as the “Pet Store Puppy Mill Ban.” The amendments would require that all dog-rescue groups in the State of New Jersey be licensed by a Department of Health.

Lesniak introduced the amendments following an April 19 op-ed in The Bergen Record by Kim Kavin, author of “The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers.” 

Kavin’s op-ed, based on her book that was published May 2, exposes ways that some dog breeders as well as some rescuers are now doing business in irresponsible ways that lead to sick dogs ending up in homes all across the United States.

“In recent years, America has seen a clamor for shelter dogs unlike at any other time in history,” Kavin stated in her op-ed. “The majority of rescuers are operating responsibly, bringing healthy dogs to loving homes—but some are cutting corners. The consequences of irresponsible rescue are just as devastating to families as those of irresponsible breeding.”

Prior to today’s hearing, Lesniak emailed Kavin with a link to her op-ed, telling her that he was introducing the amendments because “I’ve been troubled by this issue. It’s been my only concern.”

At today’s hearing, Lesniak testified that overwhelmingly, dog-rescue groups operating in New Jersey are committed to saving the lives of animals, “but I’m not going to presume that everybody is a saint in this world.” 

He testified that his amendments would require local and state Health Departments to regulate rescuers operating in the state of New Jersey.

“I give Senator Lesniak an enormous amount of credit for reconsidering the part of his legislation that affects rescue groups,” says Kavin, who has two adopted mutts and has fostered 21 other rescue dogs in her Morris County, New Jersey, home. “All of us who love dogs want to see the least-responsible breeders either improved or shut down, but we also don’t want to give a free ride to the least-responsible rescuers who give all of the good rescuers a bad name. We want all the dogs to be safe, and we want everyone offering them for sale or adoption to be held accountable for the health and wellbeing of the dogs in their care.”

Lesniak’s bill, if enacted into law, would become America’s first statewide version of the “pet store puppy mill” bans that the Humane Society of the United States has lobbied to enact in dozens of municipalities nationwide, including Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia. The laws require pet stores that offer dogs for sale to source them from shelters and rescue organizations instead of breeders.

The New Jersey version of the bill is the most comprehensive ever to be introduced in any legislature, according to Amy Jesse, puppy mills public policy coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States. If enacted, NJ S63 could become a model law for every other state in America. Freeholder Jeffery Nash of Camden County, N.J., testified in support of S63 today by saying that if it were enacted, the bill would place New Jersey at the forefront of such legislation and would “send a powerful message to the horrific puppy mills.”

Kavin, who was at today’s hearing in Trenton, stated, “I’m thrilled that my book ‘The Dog Merchants’ is elevating the conversation about the need for more responsible practices among breeders and rescuers alike. Both sides of the industry are now moving millions of dogs a year into homes, and both sides need to be accountable for the way they do business. All of our lawmakers need to stop thinking about breeding vs. rescue and start thinking about responsible vs. irresponsible when it comes to the ways dogs are marketed, sold, transported and placed in homes. We should all be fully on the side of protecting the health and safety of all the dogs, as well as all the people who love them, right across the board.”

Get your copy of “The Dog Merchants” book by clicking here.