Posts tagged Humane Society of the United States

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.

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.

‘The Dog Merchants’ Book Inspires Colorado Legislation

The Dog Merchants-3DLate last night, I learned from Google that my book has inspired legislation in Aurora, Colorado. I found out when I read this story in the Aurora Sentinel, which reported that the councilman who introduced the legislation “said he was inspired to do something locally after reading Kim Kavin’s book The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers.”

I’m so honored that this councilman read The Dog Merchants and was moved to try and make life better for dogs in his own community. That’s a person of good heart who cares about dogs and is standing up for them in the best way that he knows how.

It’s important for everyone to understand, though, that the Sentinel‘s article indicates this legislation is a version of the same “pet store puppy mill bans” that have now been enacted in about 160 municipalities nationwide—laws that are highly controversial, and that are neither advocated nor even mentioned at all in The Dog Merchants book.

“Pet store puppy mill bans” generally require pet stores to source their dogs only from rescue groups and shelters, instead of from breeders. They are controversial for a number of reasons: they usually are a blanket prohibition on pet stores working with all kinds of breeders, responsible and irresponsible alike; they usually put no consumer protections in place regarding the dogs coming from rescue groups, which often are not licensed or monitored in any way; and more.

Outside of my book The Dog Merchants, I have written a few pieces that mention these laws:

  • In this op-ed for the Bergen Record in my home state of New Jersey, I argued that it was unwise to force pet stores to work with nonprofit rescue groups that have just as little oversight and regulation today as the breeders of years past, leading to the current state of some breeding kennels that has us all so outraged. I wrote: “Before we drive even more business to rescuers, we need to ensure that they behave responsibly. It’s exactly what we failed to do with breeders decades ago, leading to our current situation on the worst of the farms — which we now cannot get under control.” (That op-ed led to New Jersey’s pending legislation being rewritten to include licensing requirements for rescue groups, for the first time in the state’s history.)
  • In this op-ed for the Albany Times-Union in New York, I explained that even though “pet store puppy mill bans” have been enacted nationwide for about a decade, there is no evidence that they actually affect the types of kennels that activists want to shut down. I wrote: “A proposed ban in New Jersey cites Humane Society of the United States statistics that an estimated 10,000 puppy mills now produce more than 2.4 million puppies each year. That estimated number of puppies is up — by nearly 18 percent, from 2.04 million — since 2014, even as the bans have begun taking effect.” I also reported that when I asked a top HSUS official whether the group could point to a “puppy mill” that has been closed because of these laws, she acknowledged that the group “cannot point to exact puppy mills that have shut down due to ordinances because pet shops source from a wide variety of mills.”
  • Last, in this blog post for my website DogMerchants.com, I wrote about how targeting pet stores with such laws can have unintended consequences that many well-intentioned people do not understand. In the case of a franchise called Just Pups in New Jersey, the pet-store closures led to a massive dog auction that actually strengthened many of the kennels that activists would call “puppy mills,” while putting a ton of money into the pockets of the breeders the activists wanted to put out of business.

Again, to be clear, I’m so honored that the councilman in Colorado read The Dog Merchants and was moved to try and do something to make life better for dogs in his own community. I haven’t read his legislation, and I don’t know how it compares to other “pet store puppy mill bans” nationwide, but I’m sure he introduced it because he thought that doing so might help dogs who are in trouble.

When my book inspires people to take action to help dogs, that’s a very good thing. I hope we can all work together, on the breeding and rescue sides alike, to make sure the actions we are taking actually address the problems that exist on both sides of the industry.

The Dog Merchants-3D

 

 

Order your copy of The Dog Merchants today.

 

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.

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

https://youtu.be/zwNtpzex0eY

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 RogerEbert.com (“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 Patch.com
A typical puppy-mill protest, courtesy of Patch.com

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 thedoglovermovie.com
Forrest Lucas, courtesy of thedoglovermovie.com

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.

 

‘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.

An Open Letter to Brandi Hunter and the American Kennel Club

Illustration created by Sharon Montrose for my op-ed. Copyright to this work is owned by the Albany Times-Union
Illustration created by Sharon Montrose for my op-ed. Copyright to this work is owned by the Albany Times-Union.

On May 2, I published this op-ed in the Albany-Times Union urging New York State lawmakers to consider outright evicting, or at least prohibiting the televising of, the AKC-sanctioned Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from within state lines.

I wrote that the village of Mamaroneck had recently become the first municipality in New York State to enact a “pet store puppy mill ban,” making it illegal for pet stores to do business with commercial-scale puppy farmers. The point of my op-ed was that if New York wants to stop farmed puppies from being imported and sold, then it has to do far more than simply cutting off the distribution outlet at a single pet store, or even at all pet stores. To achieve that goal, I wrote, lawmakers also have to go after one of the puppy farms’ biggest marketing assets: the widely televised Westminster show held annually in Manhattan.

The most recent estimate from the Humane Society of the United States, which I included in my op-ed, is that about 2.4 million puppies a year are now coming off the federally registered U.S. breeding farms alone. That number is up nearly 18 percent since 2014, and it does not include illegally operating puppy farmers, the types regularly cited in the media as “puppy mills” after being caught in large-scale animal cruelty-busts involving popular, AKC-promoted breeds such as Bichon Frises and Yorkshire Terriers.

Furthering my point, I also wrote that sanctioning events such as Westminster and creating the resulting mass-market demand is intentional on the part of the AKC, which profits from every additional puppy that is bred on the farms and then registered with the AKC for a fee.

Yesterday, AKC Vice President of Public Relations and Communications Brandi Hunter responded to my op-ed with this Albany Times-Union piece.

The Dog Merchants-3DTHE TRUTH: AKC IGNORED MULTIPLE INTERVIEW REQUESTS FOR THE DOG MERCHANTS BOOK

Hunter’s piece opens with an outright lie. Her first line reads: “The AKC (American Kennel Club) was not contacted by Kim Kavin regarding her book The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers.”

Let’s dispel Hunter’s libelous public statement right off the bat, as it is intended to defame my reputation as an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, writer and editor.

I did, in fact, reach out—not to one, but instead to two AKC media officials while reporting my book The Dog Merchants. I wrote both to Hillary Prim, who at the time was AKC’s public relations director (she now works for fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg), as well as to Lisa Peterson, who continues to be listed on AKC’s website today as director of communications.

I sent the same email to Prim and Peterson alike—and I of course retained a copy in my book’s reporting notes. My letter began, “I’m an author writing to request an interview with AKC Spokesman Chris Walker for my upcoming book about how everyday people can make smart choices when buying a dog.”

My interview request went on to list bullet-point questions that I wanted to discuss with the AKC, including this one: “My research has led me to instances where some breeders and the AKC are at odds about what is in the best interest of dogs, including lawsuits involving Border Collies in the 1990s and, more recently, the Coton de Tulear. Some breeders say the prominence that comes with AKC recognition is a double-edged sword that also leads to more puppy-mill activity, with everyday people not understanding the difference among dogs they see listed for sale. I’d like to know how the AKC addresses those concerns.”

The reason AKC is not quoted directly in my book The Dog Merchants has nothing to do with me. Its representatives are not quoted because the AKC failed to reply to my explicit and direct request for an interview.

The Dog Merchants-3DFACT, AFTER FACT, AFTER FACT

Hunter’s letter published yesterday goes on to explain how the AKC is committed to responsible dog ownership and breeding. Her piece does not, however, address or even acknowledge a single reported fact that my op-ed included.

Let’s look at just a couple of those facts in detail. This is the information I was prepared to discuss with the AKC in seeking its side of each story for The Dog Merchants book:

AKC Affiliation and Events Drive Up Demand and Pricing on Puppy Farms. While reporting my book The Dog Merchants, I heard the cash-income value of the AKC brand, as well as of AKC-sanctioned shows like Westminster, invoked by virtually everyone I interviewed on the commercial puppy farming side of the purebred business.

  • One source was a commercial puppy farmer who at the time was president of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, which opposed that state’s “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” of 2010 and ultimately worked to get many of its provisions overturned. To be clear, this breeder has not been accused of animal cruelty in any way, and he welcomed me onto his property with my notebook in hand. At the time I visited and interviewed him, he had about 50 Newfoundlands, Beagles, Shiba Inus, Corgis and Puggles on his farm, and they all seemed healthy and content, with plenty of room to run and play.
  • However, as he went on to explain to me, he sells his AKC-registered puppies in a far different manner than the breeders featured in AKC-sanctioned, televised shows like Westminster—breeders whom in-house announcer Michael LaFave, during the 2014 event at Madison Square Garden, explained over the loudspeakers were not affiliated with pet stores, because they “are the breeders who care.” Unlike those show breeders turning out AKC-registered puppies, this commercial farmer turning out AKC-registered puppies told me that he sells to pet stores, puppy brokers and online click-to-ship buyers, things that show breeders consistently claim no responsible breeder would ever do. He also told me that he gets many sales leads from the AKC classifieds, and that he likes those buyers because they see the AKC brand and don’t try to negotiate his puppy prices downward.
  • Another person who invoked the AKC name, and the Westminster show directly, was the director of corporate sales for the Hunte Corporation, which moves 45,000 to 90,000 puppies a year from breeding farms into pet stores nationwide, depending on customer demand. He told me, “You don’t want somebody thinking it’s a Westminster winner when it’s not” while describing how Hunte grades incoming puppies as A, B or C, on what it calls “buy day” at the start of processing and pricing the puppies for retail sale across America every week.
  • In addition, Hunte officials told me, company founder Andrew Hunte once told AKC officials that his company was the kennel club’s biggest customer in moving dogs that buyers later register with AKC for a fee.
  • Yet another person who invoked the AKC and Westminster brands during my reporting for The Dog Merchants book was the owner of America’s biggest legal dog auction. While talking about the most expensive dog he has ever sold, he told me, “When I got $12,600 that one time, a guy came up to me and said, ‘Wow, you sure got a lot of money out of that dog.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Did I?’ Because we’ll only know what these dogs are really worth when the American Kennel Club lets me hold an auction just after Westminster one year, using the champion.”
  • On the day that I attended the auction, more than 300 dogs were sold to the highest bidder. About one-third were either AKC registered or eligible for registration once buyers brought the puppies home. I created a spreadsheet of the top-selling breeds at the dog auction that day: Four of the Top 10 breeds in terms of highest auction pricing matched breeds on the list displayed on television during the Westminster show, of the top AKC-registered breeds for that year. When I expanded the spreadsheet to review the Top 20 breeds that brought in the highest auction bids that day, eight them were on the AKC-registered list of America’s favorites.

Suffice it to say that while Hunter may believe what she wrote yesterday, that “the goal of our shows is not to drive demand at commercial breeding farms,” she is at best mistaken. When I spent time with the breeders of AKC puppies who actually operate the farms, one of their primary distribution companies to pet stores nationwide, and one of the auction houses where they trade breeding stock on a regular basis, they were very clear in explaining that the truth is precisely the opposite of what Hunter claims.

creating-demand-for-purebred-dogs-screenshotSanctioning Events to Increase Demand on Puppy Farms and at Pet Stores is an AKC Business Goal. Next, in my op-ed, I cited this document written by Mike Ganey, who at the time of its writing was AKC vice president of marketing. Ganey’s piece was published in the commercial-breeding magazine Kennel Spotlight, whose publisher owns the Southwest Auction Service dog auction.

  • The fact that AKC is openly advertising for business in this publication, produced by a prominent dog auctioneer, is newsworthy unto itself, given that in its own 2002 report on high-volume breeders, the AKC states: “Auctions are not an appropriate venue for selling purebred dogs. Auctions are a blight on all dog breeding and on the commercial industry in particular, and many commercial breeders we spoke to in that community would like to see them eliminated as well. There is really no positive aspect of these auctions.”
  • The title of this document written by AKC’s own marketing director for this publication is “Creating Demand for Purebred Dogs.” The piece urges puppy farmers to register their dogs with the AKC, because then the AKC turns their fees into a marketing investment—sanctioning highly publicized dog shows with concurrent events such as “Meet the Breeds”—to drive up business not only back on the farms, but also in pet stores like the one where such business was just banned in Mamaroneck, New York.
  • Ganey writes: “Because of the AKC’s unique scale and depth of our involvement, we create events other organizations can only dream about. Events that draw thousands of pet owners and potential pet owners—events that have a positive impact on your business whether you are a breeder selling to distributors, dealers, pet stores, or direct to consumers.”
  • Ganey continues in that same document: “So how do these AKC events help breeders? By helping create preference and demand for purebreds, no matter where the consumer chooses to buy their purebred dog. Giving consumers a positive, hands-on experience is an important way we remind potential dog owners of the unique benefits of purebreds, in a fun, informative way. The most tangible benefit for breeders, however, is reflected in dollars and cents. Sure, AKC litter registrations may cost more than other registries, but we turn that difference into a marketing investment that can yield more margin for you.”

This clearly delineated AKC business strategy is the polar opposite of what Hunter claimed in her Albany Times-Union piece yesterday, when she wrote that the AKC’s goal with mass-marketed dog shows is “to share and celebrate our sport and our dogs with the public.”

Those words were written for an audience of potential buyers, as opposed to the audience of suppliers with whom AKC talks very differently when it is conducting the business of filling the mass-market demand that it creates for purebred puppies when it sanctions televised marketing events like Westminster.

The Dog Merchants-3DAKC MUST JOIN THE REST OF US, ON BEHALF OF ALL DOGS

What Brandi Hunter and the American Kennel Club published in yesterday’s Albany Times-Union was a classic “non-denial denial,” which is what happens when any company cites its own honesty of purpose without acknowledging, addressing or providing any contradictory evidence to facts such as the ones cited above. Hunter’s piece was intended to buttress its public image in the face of strong public demand and rave reviews for my book The Dog Merchants, which reveals all of the above facts, and more, about the breeding and rescue sides of the dog business alike.

Hunter and the AKC also engaged in “character assassination” in yesterday’s piece, publishing an outright lie about me in an attempt to smear my reputation as an award-winning journalist with 20 years’ experience. Anyone who has ever heard the phrase “kill the messenger” can easily understand why Hunter would choose to employ such an underhanded tactic.

I sincerely encourage Brandi Hunter and everyone at the American Kennel Club to join me in actually attempting to address the real problems facing so many of our beloved dogs today.

As I write in my book The Dog Merchants, “I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m tired of feeling dizzy and manipulated while trying to shop responsibly.”

 

Get your own copy of The Dog Merchants book at your favorite local bookstore, or by clicking here.