Legally Brief

Legally Brief: Neuter the Puppy Mills

Earlier in 2016, Animal Legal Defense Fund sent an undercover investigator to capture video at a puppy mill in McIntosh, New Mexico—Southern Roc Airedales—after receiving multiple complaints from the facility’s customers and visitors.

The video showed deplorable conditions: uncollected feces, dirty drinking water green with algae, often frozen, all in a tragic shantytown shelter where temperatures fall below 30 degrees at night. Trash and debris litter the “breeding facility,” while dogs with dirty, matted fur visibly shiver in desolate pens.

In sum, our investigator witnessed and recorded multiple, significant violations of the Animal Welfare Act. And still, in this heartbreaking setting, perfectly indicative of the operation’s priorities and motivations, Southern Roc’s representative offered to sell our investigator an Airedale puppy for $1,000.

Sadly, the state of Southern Roc’s facility are all too typical.

In fact, relative to other, larger puppy mills uncovered in the U.S., the conditions at Southern Roc’s operations are far from the worst. Contrary to common expectation, breeders in the US operate with little actual oversight or enforced regulation. Endorsements like “AKC registered” or “USDA licensed” mean next to nothing, especially about the quantity of dogs kenneled within an operation or about the quality of the care they receive after they enter the world.

While every major animal-advocacy and veterinary organization encourages adoption rather than purchase of companion animals, still more than one-fourth of dogs brought into American homes each year are purchased from breeders, most often as puppies.

This represents a huge for-profit market as well as an opportunity for unscrupulous breeders to operate puppy mills with little heed for the well being of their “products.” And because puppy mills routinely churn out unhealthy, miserable dogs, their dissatisfied buyers too often end up dumping those dogs into the nation’s overcrowded shelters.

The problem is egregious enough that over 100 cities and counties in the US have banned the retail sale of dogs and cats outright.

In this environment, Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to effect change on behalf of the Airedales at Southern Roc and, by extension, on behalf of all other dogs.

  • In late February 2016, using that undercover investigation video as evidence, Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against Southern Roc and its owner, Southern Sollars, seeking enforcement of the AWA. The complaint cites Southern Roc’s lack of an AWA license, its inability to meet the minimum standards of care for a breeding facility, and customer complaints of dogs purchased with “intestinal infections, bacterial infections, hip dysplasia necessitating hip replacement, and exorbitant veterinary costs incurred to treat these ailments.”
  • Also in February 2016, Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a motion for a summary judgment against the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, seeking to reinstate the stronger standards of care it stripped from the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s 2008 “Dog Law” after puppy mill operators complained about the law’s potential to drive up their cost of doing business. The “Dog Law” as originally written, requires nursing mothers and puppies to have unfettered access to outdoor exercise, but the amended law allows them to be caged continuously with only once-a-day access to an “exercise area.” And while the original law prohibits the use of wire-strand flooring, the amended law allows this notoriously painful material to be used. Mother dogs in such mills are generally bred twice a year, and they spend more than half of their lives in inadequate enclosures with painful flooring underfoot. We’re working to make sure Pennsylvania’s dogs get the protection intended by the law as written.
  • In October 2015, Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a class-action suit against Barkworks, a southern California pet store chain, alleging that the company had been orchestrating a scheme to defraud unsuspecting consumers by misrepresenting the health and origins of its puppies for sale. As with Southern Roc, Barkworks’ customers’ new puppies were falling seriously ill. Moreover, Barkworks had been telling those customers that its puppies were not from puppy mills and that they had been examined and treated by veterinarians prior to their sale. In the course of investigation, documents came to light showing that Barkworks had misrepresented known puppy mills as reputable breeders, going so far as to provide inaccurate breeder license numbers and addresses, fabricating breeding certificates, and lying outright about prior veterinary care.

Animal Legal Defense Fund’s legal experts are working every day to ensure that our nations animal protection laws are enforced and when they’re not, we take action.

The passing of pet-store dog-and-cat sales bans in over 100 cities and counties nationwide suggests that, alongside us and common sense, history is on the side of stronger animal protection laws. Adoption and spay programs are gaining momentum while we’re working to ensure that laws that protect our animal companions are strong, and enforced.


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