Circumventing California Puppy Mill Ban

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a class-action lawsuit against a network of individuals and businesses who conspired with California pet stores to sell puppy mill dogs mislabeled as “rescues.”


March 13, 2023

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On December 16, 2021, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a class-action lawsuit against a network of individuals and businesses who conspired with California pet stores to sell puppy mill dogs mislabeled as “rescues.” The suit alleges that Midwest puppy mill broker JAKS Puppies and its owners Jolyn Noethe and Kimberly Dolphin, funneled dogs through fake animal rescue organizations Rescue Pets Iowa, Bark Adoptions, and Pet Connect Rescue, and worked with other associates and pet stores to profit off of puppy mill dogs despite California’s ban on such sales. The practice is known as “puppy laundering,” a term coined by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office in a 2019 lawsuit against some of the same defendants. The California plaintiffs are consumers who bought puppies under the mistaken belief they were rescues. They bring claims under the federal anti-racketeering statute (RICO) and California consumer protection laws. The plaintiffs and class representatives, Rebecca Carey and Cody Latzer, are represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, and Smith & Lowney PLLC, a Seattle-based class action firm. Documents obtained by the Animal Legal Defense Fund confirm thousands of puppies entered California misrepresented as rescue dogs — injured consumers are encouraged to contact the organization.

Since California’s puppy mill sales ban came into effect in 2019, JAKS and its associates have been using several fake rescues to launder thousands of commercially bred puppies to pet stores throughout California. Through a network of fake rescues and hidden payments, JAKS and others deceived consumers into believing that they were adopting rescue animals. In fact, the breeders from which JAKS selected the puppies it sent into California operate some of the worst puppy mill facilities in the country, according to government inspection reports.

The lawsuit includes a RICO claim, in addition to several state law claims, because the various defendants created or participated in an illegal scheme intended to deceive regulators and consumers into believing dogs sourced from commercial puppy mills were rescue animals —allowing the defendants to profit off the illegal sales. The laundering activities crossed state boundaries, with defendant puppy transportation company Subject Enterprise transporting dogs from the Midwest to California pet stores and secretly carrying payments from the pet stores back to JAKS. To carry out this scheme, the defendants violated mail and wire fraud laws and actively laundered money, among other activities.

The defendants involved in the scheme identified in the lawsuit include JAKS Puppies, Inc., Jolyn Noethe, Kimberly Dolphin, Russell Kirk, Rescue Pets Iowa Corp., Two Brothers Having Fun LLC doing business as The Pet X Change, Bark Adoptions, Stephanie Vaughn, Ana Diaz, Pet Connect Rescue, Inc., Ray and Alysia Rothman, Subject Enterprise, Inc., Coda Subject, Micada Inc. doing business as Animal Kingdom, and Adam Tipton.

California was the first state to pass a pet retail sale ban in 2017, with Maryland and Illinois following suit. Many major cities have instituted similar laws, including Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Who is being sued, why, and under what law? Brokers, sham rescues, interstate transporters and pet stores under Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Statute (RICO), California Unfair Competition Law, California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and other state laws for carrying out a multistate puppy laundering scheme to circumvent California’s puppy mill ban.

What court is the lawsuit filed in? U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Why this case is important: The California puppy mill ban was enacted to prevent consumers from purchasing animals who came from a puppy mill such as those from which J.A.K.’s — one of the country’s largest puppy mill brokers – sources its dogs. However, the scheme carried out by the defendants has thwarted the law and allowed those involved to continue selling puppy mill animals to unsuspecting consumers throughout California.

The term “puppy mill” generally refers to a large-scale commercial dog-breeding facility where the emphasis is on profits over the welfare of the dogs. The goal of puppy mills is to produce the largest number of puppies as quickly as possible, without adequate regard for animal care.

The dogs are generally kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions. They often lack good food, clean water, and veterinary care. The mother “breeder” dogs may give birth to multiple litters per year throughout her adult life. They, and aging father dogs, will regularly be abandoned or killed when they are no longer “useful” to their breeders.

As a result of the breeding practices of puppy mills, it is common for puppy mill dogs to suffer from genetic and hereditary conditions and deadly diseases. Additionally, many puppy mill dogs experience behavioral and psychological problems throughout their lives from lack of early socialization and being weaned too young.

Puppy mill dogs also compete with stray and abandoned dogs in animal shelters. It is estimated that 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year in animal shelters throughout the United States.

No More Puppy Mills

Puppy mill operators maximize their profits by producing large numbers of puppies as quickly as possible. As a result, unsanitary conditions, disease, and neglect are rampant. Sign our pledge to boycott puppy mills. Together we can end this cruel industry.

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