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Hundreds of dog breeders uncovered in new puppy mill law

By Amanda Seitz - Staff Writer



A new law meant to give the state some teeth to punish unsafe puppy mills has revealed more than 250 high volume dog breeders and retailers have been operating, likely for years, in the state — including some in southwest Ohio.

Before this year, Ohio’s agricultural dog breeding market was largely unregulated.

But a state law signed by Gov. John Kasich in 2012 forced dog breeders who sell at least nine litters every year to register with the state by Jan. 1 and get state kennel safety and health inspections ever year. Dog retailers, the ones who sell dogs to pet stores, are required to register with the state now, but only get inspected if someone complains about their operation.

The new laws will help the state weed out puppy mills from good high-volume dog breeders, said Linda Tucker a regular volunteer at PAWS Adoption Center in Middletown, a pet shelter. She said dogs raised in puppy mills are often the result of inbreeding, aren’t socialized with pets or people and carry diseases.

“We’re not pretending that this is going to change everything or fix everything,” Tucker said. “But, especially since there’s money involved, making it possible for (state inspectors) to come out and see that there’s code enforcement, it’s a real plus to us.”

Before the program, Taylor had been one of the many critics of Ohio’s lax puppy mill laws. Now, she’s just glad to see some regulation in place.

Ohio Sen. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) called the state one of the nation’s “worst” for puppy mills when the legislation, which he proposed, passed the senate in 2012.

Dairy farms, beef and puppies

The new law has yielded a cluster of dog breeders and retailers working in rural, northeastern Ohio that have registered with the state.

A significant majority of puppy mill operations now registered are from Holmes County, which identifies as Ohio’s Amish County mecca, according to state records. Nearly 90 dog retailers and 60 dog breeders were registered under the new program.

“That area is an area that’s very strongly rooted in agriculture in the state of Ohio,” Simmerman said. “I think it’s a natural progression that we’ve got a lot of dairy farms, beef farms and now a lot of dog kennels.”

Only two dog breeders, one of them a dog retailer who sells to stores, have registered out of Butler, Clark, Darke, Greene, Preble, Montgomery or Warren counties, according to state records. The state is also still processing licenses for 55 remaining applicants but none of the outstanding applications appear to be operating in any of those counties, a spokeswoman said. High-volume dog breeders and retailers have been identified in only 13 of Ohio’s 88 counties so far.

Donald Landes, who owns a high-volume dog breeding operation in the village of Eldorado in Preble County said he believes the state law, and new requirements such as state inspections, will help Ohio’s dog breeders take good care of the animals.

“I think it is, it’s a lot more expensive than what we’re use to, we haven’t been use to an inspection,” Landes said. “But I really honestly think it’s a good thing. In the long run, it will help (the industry) do a better job.”

Landes said he’s sold small dog breeds from his farm since 2005. He uses word of mouth and places ads in local newspapers to sells his dogs. He said he’s never sold his pups to a pet store.

“We don’t look at ourselves as a puppy mill,” Landes said. “We thought it would be fun and decided to give it a try. We feel like we’re a dog breeder that’s trying to make a lot of people happy. Every individual we sell to, we know exactly who they are and work directly with them if they have any problems”

Another operation in the village of Arcanum in Darke County is registered as a high-volume dog breeder and retailer.

Tucker agrees that some high-volume dog breeders do a good job of producing healthy puppies.

“We understand that there are many different types of breeders,” Tucker said. “There are wonderful people who do a great job of breeding dogs. When you go into a pet store, unfortunately, most of the time, you’re dealing with animals that come from a factory — a puppy mill.”

Under the new law, dog breeders who violate the new standards face a $100 fine. Some animal advocates have called the state fines and penalties weak, when the bill first passed in 2012.

Officials with the state, however, say the law supports agricultural businesses while keeping pets healthy.

“This law is a very good balance between allowing this outgrowth of agribusiness to be able to stay in business in the state of Ohio and thrive, while at the same time putting some standards in place that provide for the proper care of animals in these facilities,” Melissa Simmerman, the state’s assistant veterinarian, said of the new law.

Dog breeders are also required to show proof of a veterinarian who will provide care for the dogs when they register with the state and pay fees ranging from $150 to $750 for licensing.

The state has budgeted $900,000 this year for the high-volume dog breeding and retailer program, which is run by officials at the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Those costs include start-up costs for the new program and the salaries and benefits for a supervisor and dog breeding inspectors, a spokeswoman with the department said. Right now, the state has three inspectors and will likely hire a fourth soon.

Work in progress

Although only two high-volume breeders have registered with the state in many of Ohio’s southwestern counties, there are bound to be more dog breeders still operating without a license, despite the new law, Mark Kumpf, the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center Director said.

Kumpf said the law requires breeders to self-report themselves to the state and some breeders, including those who might operate in southwest Ohio, could just be skipping out on the new requirement.

“Until (the state) gets a complaint, it’s very difficult to find these people,” Kumpf said. “Is it conceivable that someone has dogs in kennels? Absolutely. If you have 200 acres, it’s very easy to set up a kennel operation that no one will see, hear or smell no matter how close they get to your property line.”

Simmerman, the state’s assistant veterinarian, said she knows there are Ohio dog breeders who haven’t reported their business but state officials are willing to work with anyone who comes forward, even after this year’s Jan. 1 deadline.

“We figured this process would be slow to grow,” Simmerman of the registration requirements. “At this point in time, I’m very content with the number of applications. There’s no doubt in my mind that the number won’t grow and continue to grew as new people enter the business.”

Inspections on the dog breeder operations started at the beginning of February and no major violations have been found yet, Simmerman said late last week.


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