Posts tagged Humane Society of the United States

HSUS ‘Horrible Hundred’: A Reminder Why The Dog Merchants Message is Key

2016-horrible-hundred-hsusEarlier this week, the Humane Society of the United States issued the 2016 edition of its “Horrible Hundred” report. Inside are descriptions of 100 breeders that HSUS describes as “puppy mills,” including some breeders who also have been listed in previous years’ reports for similar ways of doing business, and who it appears have not changed their ways.

Two things stood out to me in the introductory text to this year’s report—both of them involving topics covered in my book The Dog Merchants, and both of them once again showing just how hard it has become for everyday dog lovers to figure out how to shop responsibly for a puppy.


First to catch my eye was that HSUS says it has an American Kennel Club Breeder of Merit included in this year’s report.

The AKC Breeder of Merit seal has become ubiquitous across the Internet in recent years, as breeders who earn the badge hold it up as evidence of their trustworthiness, so puppy buyers will feel comfortable shopping with them. HSUS says the Breeder of Merit listed in this year’s report was running a kennel “where underweight and injured dogs were found in unsanitary conditions.”

The actual requirements to become an AKC Breeder of Merit, listed here, show how a breeder can end up with both that badge and a spot on the HSUS “Horrible Hundred.” To request inclusion in the AKC Breeder of Merit program, breeders need to have participated in AKC events for at least five years, earned titles on at at least four dogs at those events, be a member of an AKC club, ensure that all of the puppies sold are then registered with AKC, and certify that health tests recommended by any breed’s parent club are being performed.

Quite a few of those requirements include paying fees to AKC, but none of them have to do with checking the conditions in which the puppies are actually being produced.

As I write in The Dog Merchants, as of 2013, the AKC acknowledged that it didn’t even know how many breeders across America owned AKC-registered dogs, and that it had just nine inspectors covering the entire nation. Thus, a breeder could in fact meet all of the conditions required for AKC Breeder of Merit designation while still raising dogs in deplorable conditions.


The second thing to catch my eye was that HSUS calls out the Hunte Corporation in the introductory text to this year’s report, stating that the 2016 “Horrible Hundred” includes “six breeders who supplied puppies to the Hunte Corporation—one of the largest providers of puppies to pet stores.”

An entire chapter of The Dog Merchants takes readers inside Hunte’s facility in Missouri, explaining the company’s business model and its own statements about how it operates, as well as serious accusations of everything from racketeering to having “mass puppy graves” at its facility. Because Hunte is a privately owned business, it’s hard to know every detail of what goes on inside, but the company does acknowledge being one of America’s biggest distributors of pet-store puppies, moving anywhere from 45,000 to 90,000 dogs a year into shops nationwide, many of them franchises of Petland.

I was thus curious about the “Horrible Hundred” report citations of Hunte, because in some cases, the accusations were vague, as have been many of the accusations made about the company on the Internet for years. For some breeders affiliated with Hunte on the “Horrible Hundred” list, HSUS says it has actual documentation that puppies were sold to Hunte. For others, HSUS writes that records show some breeders “claim to sell puppies” to Hunte.

Trying to verify the truth, I reached out to Greg Brown, who handles marketing for Hunte. I asked him if there was any way to verify or disprove the HSUS claims where documentation is vague, or where HSUS says it has proof that Hunte is doing business with the breeders on the new HSUS list.

Brown told me that Hunte cannot comment on any breeder’s business, only on its own business. He then sent me this three-paragraph statement from Ryan Boyle, Hunte’s president and CEO (which I am publishing in full because it’s only fair, given the number of pages in the HSUS report that cite the Hunte Corporation):

Everyone at The Hunte Corporation loves pets, and especially puppies. For over 25 years, Hunte has worked with professional responsible breeders in many states listed on the HSUS’s report.  We rely on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) inspection reports, as well as our own due diligences, to provide necessary information to guide us in our purchasing decisions.  When we are made aware of issues at a specific breeding facility we immediately get involved to ensure any issues are corrected.  In the unlikely event a Hunte breeder has issues with substandard animal care resulting in the health or welfare of the animal being affected, Hunte discontinues purchasing from the breeder.

“Breeders that have been cited can take steps to correct the problem. If they do so and are back in the good graces in accordance to the Animal Welfare Act regulations, we will consider re-evaluating the relationship and purchasing puppies from the breeder on a case-by-case basis, but only if animal cruelty was never involved. 

“Through the USDA inspection, citation, and correction process breeders grow and improve. It’s a disservice to animals in rescues and shelters that all animal care organizations are not required to have this same level of regulatory scrutiny.”

The Dog Merchants-3DTHE UPSHOT

It’s a good thing that HSUS continues to shine a light on breeders whose business practices are resulting in dogs being treated in unacceptable conditions, but it’s also paramount for all of us dog lovers to do more than just read the headlines. We must ask questions—and then more questions—no matter where it is we choose to get our next dog.

As these most recent examples from the HSUS “Horrible Hundred” involving the AKC and Hunte show, when it comes time for us to hand over money for a puppy, the truth about how our money is being spent can often be very hard to ascertain. No matter what we think we may know, there is often much, much more to be learned before cash should change hands.

That’s the big-picture message I’m trying to spread with The Dog Merchants, for all of us dog lovers who are trying to do business with responsible breeders and rescuers alike.

If you’d like to learn more by reading your own copy, you can find the book at your favorite local store or with any of these online retailers.

An Open Letter to Amy Jesse and the Humane Society of the United States

The Dog Merchants-3DOn April 19, New Jersey’s Bergen Record published an op-ed I wrote about a proposed law that would require all pet stores statewide to do business only with rescuers, and not with breeders. It is a piece of legislation crafted in close cooperation with the Humane Society of the United States, which has lobbied for similar “pet store puppy-mill bans” to be passed in about 125 municipalities nationwide so far. HSUS hopes the New Jersey ban, if enacted as a statewide model, can be replicated in every state across the nation.

The clearly stated position I took in my op-ed was that it is short-sighted to ban pet stores from working with all breeders, including responsible ones, while driving business to all rescuers, including irresponsible ones.

Sadly, there are many documented cases of rescuers failing to to business responsibly. While the majority of rescuers do the right thing—when dealing with dogs like my own two adopted mutts, and the nearly 20 foster puppies I have welcomed into my home—it is undeniable that reports continue to spread nationwide of some rescuers transferring sick dogs into the homes of unwitting families. It’s an open secret among rescuers that some offer dogs for “adoption” who are just as sickly or temperamentally unsound as the dogs that some of the worst breeders offer for “sale.”

In my own home, while volunteering time and money for the cause of rescue, I’ve had so-called “healthy” foster puppies from a well-intentioned rescue group arrive with everything from a torn ear caked in blood to severe coccidia to a lack of rabies shot. I also had a “friendly” foster dog bite me five times in the arms and legs. Similar stories are what have led states all across New England to pass emergency orders and regulations, trying to get the least-responsible rescuers under control, no matter how good their intentions may be in saving dogs’ lives.

“The consequences of irresponsible rescue are just as devastating to families as those of irresponsible breeding,” I wrote in my op-ed. “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.”

Before I submitted my op-ed to the Bergen Record, I exchanged emails with Amy Jesse, the public policy coordinator for HSUS’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign. I told her specifically that I was working on an op-ed, and that I wanted her opinion on whether it was wise to legally require pet stores to work only with rescuers, when we all know that some rescuers are moving problematic dogs into people’s homes.

She responded by writing, “I am impressed with your knowledge of this issue and dedication to this cause,” and she agreed with me, adding later in her email, “I do think that better regulation of rescues is needed in New Jersey and in all states, but I am not sure that this bill is the right place to do that.” I quoted her accurately in my op-ed, stating just that point on which we agree.

Yesterday, instead of holding that common ground, Jesse chose to take the low road with her own op-ed in the Bergen Record. Instead of stating the truth as we had both acknowledged it in writing, she announced to the general public, “Kim Kavin misses the mark with her defense of current puppy mill regulations.”

Because yes, that’s me: a defender of puppy mills. How utterly ridiculous.

I did not defend current USDA regulations over huge commercial breeding farms. In fact, I didn’t even mention those regulations in my piece at all. (Again, you can read my op-ed for yourself.)

It is downright shameful for Jesse to agree with my point, and then to turn around and publicly mischaracterize my stance in an attempt to protect her pending legislation at my personal expense. Character assassination and misrepresentation of facts are the feeble swipes of those who do not want to address, nor even discuss, the weaknesses of their own position.

My point–again, on which we all agree–remains the same. Nobody wants dogs being treated badly, or being handed over to families sick. We should not be legally requiring pet stores to do business with the least responsible rescuers today any more than we should have allowed them to do business for so many decades with the least responsible breeders.

I understand that this inconvenient truth may be a problem for the pending legislation that Jesse and HSUS are urging lawmakers to pass nationwide, but that’s no reason to take personal swipes at me about things I never even stated.

Amy Jesse, I implore you and everyone at HSUS to rejoin me on the high road: Let’s all get back to work, being on the side of all dogs.