Posts tagged pet stores

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.

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.

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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DogMerchants.com Blog Post is a Finalist for DWAA Best Article of the Year

I’m honored to share the news that the Dog Writers Association of America has announced its finalists for Best Article or Blog. My article posted on this website, “Hydra: New Jersey’s Just Pups and the Puppy Mill Monster,” has been named one of four finalists for the award.

Congratulations also go out to the three other finalists in this category:

Bud Buccone, whose story “How the Briard Won Over Thomas Jefferson” was published by the American Kennel Club;

Laura Teresa Coffey, whose story “ASPCA ‘safety net’ keeps pets out of shelters (and hearts from breaking)” appeared on Today.com;

Nancy Tanner, whose story “Herding Lightening-Rhumb off Leash” was published at nancytanner.com.

Congratulations to all my fellow finalists! The winner will be announced in mid-February.

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’

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

HOW THE MONEY REALLY WORKS

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

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

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

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

 

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

THE LESSON OF HYDRA

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE WAY TO WIN THE FIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

‘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.

Two Incredible Nights in Morris County, New Jersey

The Dog Merchants-3DSince my new book The Dog Merchants was published earlier this month, I have been doing talks and book signings at libraries and bookstores all across my home state of New Jersey. Sometimes, only one or two people show up. Sometimes, it’s a packed room.

The past two weeks, at the public libraries in Chester and Randolph, New Jersey, the turnouts were strong—and amazing conversations happened among purebred and rescue advocates alike.

They are the kinds of conversations I’ve never seen happen, anywhere, among people who often won’t even stand in the same room together. They were conversations taking place between the kinds of people who will often scream at each other in ALL CAPS on Facebook. Whether they’re on the “rescue side” or the “breeding side,” most of these people tend to believe the other side is the enemy. They can’t even hear one another, let alone want to try to listen.

But in these two libraries, on these two nights, they all managed to come together.

And in the end, they were all thinking similarly and trying, very hard, to work with one another and be on the side of all dogs.

Me as a child with my first dog, Mac, a Scottish Terrier.
Me as a child with my first dog, a Scottish Terrier. The first word I ever spoke was “Mac.”

The Dog Merchants in Chester

Before my program in Chester officially began, I asked everyone around the room what kinds of dogs they had. I was making small talk, just trying to kill time before the official start.

Quite a lot of people in attendance had purebreds, and it was obvious that they knew one another. They had come as a group. At least a few were breeders. One woman, sitting in the back with her arms folded, asked me what kinds of dogs I had. The way she asked the question—her tone and her demeanor—made me feel like I was being challenged to a duel.

I explained how I’d grown up loving my family’s purebred Scottish Terrier, Doberman Pinschers and West Highland White Terriers, and that today, I have two beautiful mutts.

“That term is offensive,” she shot back.

“What term?” I asked.

“The term ‘mutt.’ The proper term is ‘All-American Dog.'”

I was familiar with the term “All-American Dog.” It is the name of a category the American Kennel Club introduced a few years ago, for mutts who compete in events like agility.

This woman was laying down the gauntlet at my talk, letting me know before I even uttered my first words that she was there to represent the American Kennel Club’s interests.

And this was minute one, before I’d even said a single word about The Dog Merchants book.

Kim's dog Blue, alive and well next to the book about how he was saved.
My dog Blue, alive and well next to the book I wrote about him. (He turned 6 this past February.)

You can imagine how the next part of the story began to play out. I opened my talk the same way I always do: by explaining why I wrote The Dog Merchants book the way that I did. I talked about my previous dog book, Little Boy Blue, and about how at a lot of those talks and signings, I’d be standing there with my 2-year-old dog Blue, and people would tell me they couldn’t read books like mine because they were always too sad. The dog always died at the end.

“But … this is Blue,” I’d say. “Alive and well. See? He’s fine.”

They wouldn’t read the book. They just knew it would make them cry, because that’s what books about serious dog issues do.

“With The Dog Merchants,” I explain today, “I wrote a book that follows the money. It talks about how dogs are bought and sold and marketed, whether it’s for sale as purebreds or for rescue as mutts. I purposely wrote it in a way that won’t make you cry. Half my book is about purebreds, and half my book is about mutts. And you will see that I believe there are responsible rescuers and breeders–along with irresponsible rescuers and breeders. My message is that we, the dog lovers, have to stop being on opposite sides and all get together to support the sellers who are treating dogs responsibly, breeders and rescuers alike.”

Now, with a crowd like that one in Chester last week, my basic opening statement can soften the blows, but the antagonist’s first instinct is still to keep punching. Some of these women had come to have an argument, not a conversation, so the best that I could do was try to have a reasoned and polite conversation in response to whatever they said, however they said it.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of the verbal jousting, two other women in the room began to speak up. They had already read The Dog Merchants. One had grown up in a family that bred German Shepherds and gone on to volunteer for a local rescue group, and one owned a local pet-supply store where she was struggling to find responsible rescue groups to work with on in-store adoption events. 

These two women began to answer the accusations of the women from the “purebred side” of the audience. The conversation was at times tense, but always respectful.

The Dog Merchants-3DI watched in awe and did my best to encourage every moment where a standard “attack line” from the purebred or rescue side was shot down by the other, and to steer the conversation back to the notion of how dogs are bought and sold—which is neutral territory in this particular war of words. Nobody has ever written a book that comes at dog issues from the angle of following the money, so nobody has canned attack lines ready for that conversation. Dog lovers on both sides of the divide actually have to think a little before they speak, and when they start to think from this slightly different perspective, they ultimately realize they have more common ground than they previously believed.

By the time that 90-minute event in Chester had ended, the dog lovers in the room had discussed everything from whether U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations are sufficiently strong to protect dogs on commercial-breeding farms to ways that legislators might think about beginning to define the term “responsible rescue” in our society.

The woman sitting in the back eventually unfolded her arms, and she talked openly about some problems she believed exist in the breeding community. She also seemed to realize that the rescue-minded people in the room were dealing with some of the exact same problems. 

When it was over, most of the people bought a book so they could learn more about the actual issues that so many dogs face. The librarian thanked me and said my talk was one of the most thought-provoking events they’ve had in a while.

She also congratulated me on maintaining a level temperament, which I have to tell you, is not an easy thing. My natural state is to be a fighter, too. An incredible level of tenacity is required to even get a book like The Dog Merchants published in the first place. I do know how to throw a punch. I’m simply choosing not to swing my fists, even when jabs are coming directly at me. 

A still shot from my recent appearance on "Business Insider."
A still shot from my appearance on “Business Insider,” talking about legal dog auctions.

The Dog Merchants in Randolph

Last night, my talk at the Randolph library started out the opposite of the one in Chester from last week. This time, the crowd of people who knew one another and had come as a group was even bigger, but this time, they were from the rescue community. A few everyday dog lovers had also taken seats, mixed in among the many women wearing T-shirts from the rescue groups where they volunteered.

One lone woman sat in the back and listened quietly and intently, and she let all the rescuers who all knew one another say their piece, as they had clearly come to do. The lone woman listened, along with everyone else, to my explanation of Chapter One in The Dog Merchants, which tells the story of a day inside America’s biggest legal dog auction—where breeders and rescuers alike bid on the same exact dogs.

The lone woman watched as even the most knowledgeable rescuers in the room quieted down, because many of them were learning about a part of the dog business they had no idea even existed, let alone that was part of “their side” of the issue when you look at it from the angle of following the money.  

Lively conversation then ensued, about real issues: about whether there are any meaningful regulations at all for small-scale breeders and rescuers; about whether there is any real way for consumers to figure out whether they’re doing business with a responsible breeder or rescuer; about whether and when it is necessary for public safety to euthanize some dogs in our shelters.

After about an hour or so of thoughtful debate and conversation, the lone woman in the back raised her hand to speak.

australian-cattle-dogShe said she has been volunteering at a shelter because she thought it was the right thing to do, but that the shelter workers all make her feel bad because she bought a dog from a breeder. She said her children have allergies and she wanted to protect their health, but she also didn’t want them to grow up without a dog, so she went to a breeder for the dog she has in her family, and then she volunteered at the shelter to help all the other dogs too.

This woman said the shelter workers told her she was a bad person, that she should have drugged her children to save a homeless dog even if her kids were allergic to him, that a dog died because of her decision to go to a breeder, that she was a horrible human being.

She looked me in the eye from across the room and said, “Your book came at just the right time for me, because you are not saying it’s bad to go to a breeder. You’re only saying it’s bad to go to a bad breeder.”

And I said, “Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. Breeder is not a bad word. You are a good mother, and you are a good person. You wanted to protect your children and you wanted to have them grow up with a dog. Those are wonderful things, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

The lone woman started to cry.

Her eyes welled with tears because I’d had the simple decency to tell her that she was not a bad person for having sought out a hypoallergenic dog and then volunteered at a shelter. 

And then several of the rescuers in the room turned to her and tried to comfort her. “She’s right,” they said of me. “You’re a good person. You care about your kids and you care about the dogs. You are trying to do the right things.”

And then a number of the rescuers started talking about how not all rescues are good, and how maybe the shelter where the lone woman was volunteering needed to change some of its ways too. Quite a few of the rescue-minded people in the room had horror stories to share of adoptions gone horribly wrong.

A screen shot from the home page of DogMerchant.com.
A screen shot from the home page of DogMerchants.com, which I built using nearly the whole first advance check that I earned writing The Dog Merchants book.

Many of those same people then thanked me not only for writing The Dog Merchants book, but also for building the website dogmerchants.com, where all dog lovers can rate breeders and rescuers alike, to help all of us dog lovers share information about which sellers we can trust.

And then we all talked about the pending “pet store puppy mill ban” in New Jersey, a piece of legislation that is highly contentious within the breeding and rescue communities, a piece of legislation that is meant to become a model for the entire United States.

We talked about the language that is actually in the “pet store puppy mill” bill, and what it would mean for good and bad rescuers, as well as good and bad breeders, right across the board. One very activist rescuer sitting in the front row in her rescue T-shirt—a woman who had been involved in promoting the bill’s passage—said she was going to go back and look at the language one more time, to make sure she’s actually supporting what she thinks she’s supporting. She wants to support the overall cause of rescue, which is great, and she wants to put what she calls disgusting “puppy mills” out of business, which is also great. But she doesn’t want to hurt the responsible breeders, and she doesn’t want to send rescue-minded buyers to the least responsible “rescuers” who move sick or dangerous dogs into unsuspecting people’s homes. 

I agree with her 100 percent.

That activist woman had walked into the room at the start of last night’s talk with three pre-purchased copies of The Dog Merchants that she had asked me to autograph before the evening even began. She had asked me to dedicate one of them to the Morris County Board of Freeholders, the lawmaking body in this part of New Jersey, because she wanted them to know that local dog lovers care about these issues and will vote on them.

The librarian finally came in to kick us out because they were closing for the night. I received thunderous applause, and then a few people waited for me in the parking lot to talk even more.

We stood there last night, first in the haze of dusk and then in the full-on dark, in a library parking lot, talking about ideas that might help so many dogs on the breeding and rescue sides alike. 

And I felt wonderful because I knew that, just maybe, a new ray of light was actually starting to beam awfully brightly. If I continue to do my job correctly in the mass media, while I am promoting my book, then that light just may dawn soon all across America.

 

The Dog Merchants-3DIf you’d like to read The Dog Merchants bookyou can order a copy here.

If you’d like to add your voice to the conversation, feel free to comment on this blog, or come share your views on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’d like to schedule a live or Skype event in your own hometown bookstore, library or living room, then you can reach me here.