Puppy mills concern pet shelter supporters
Mary LaHay wants you to look around.
She says you'll find seven licensed breeders producing more than 390 puppies a year in Lyon County. A pair of Osceola County breeders keep more than 150 dogs per year.
Animal shelter staff members in Dickinson County hear about unlicensed dog breeders as well.
LaHay represents Iowa Voters for Companion Animals and is pushing Iowa lawmakers to adopt a bill with stronger restrictions on larger-scale dog breeding operations.
She and other animal lovers statewide say they have grown weary of the dire conditions some puppies are raised in.
"We've been trying to educate people but it just doesn't stick," LaHay said at a meeting among the staff of northwest Iowa animal shelters Friday, Aug. 29 in Milford. "Many of the breeders are violating the animal cruelty statute."
As of 2014, Iowa has nearly 220 large-scale licensed dog breeders, according to LaHay. The worst operations are often filthy and dark. The dogs live in kennels that are too small.
"Livestock conditions are honestly better," LaHay said. "It would make your stomach turn to know what goes on at the puppy mills. Many of the dogs don't see the light of day and never have grass under their feet. It's a huge burden and there's only so much we can do."
Because of the dire conditions the puppies were raised in, local shelter officials say the animals aren't as friendly as the owners would hope. Puppy mill dog owners quickly become frustrated and dump the pets on local animal shelters.
"I think others can attest to this, a lot of the dogs (from puppy mills) have behavioral and health issues and are often hard to place," said Jen Johnson, who works with the Emmet County Animal Shelter. "All those recessive genes (from inbreeding) are just being manifested."
LaHay thinks a lack of breeding regulations contribute to what she considers an uncontrollable problem in Iowa. Puppy breeding operations produce more than 15,000 dogs annually, according to her statistics. She says the numbers place Iowa No. 2 nationally in puppy mill production.
"What we see at the shelter level, the conditions the dogs are being bred is horrible," Johnson said. "It's really hard when we are trying to promote adoptions and we are competing with these mass breeders. I've seen Boston terriers that are blind, other dogs with diseases."
When local animal shelters can't take in the mistreated puppies because of space constrictions, they are often abandoned in rural areas.
Donna Erickson, with People for Pets in Spencer, said she'll occasionally get calls for help from sheriff's deputies.
"I've had a sheriff from 100 miles away call me and say 'what are you going to do about this?'" Erickson said. "We don't have room for 35 dogs. From a shelter standpoint there really is nothing we can do and no one wants to touch these dogs from puppy mills."
Johnson has attended animal auctions in an effort to save the pets. When puppies aren't bought at auctions they remain in the poor conditions of the puppy mills. She'd buy the animals and return them to her local shelter.
LaHay has focused on combatting puppy mills in Iowa since 2008.
"My initial involvement was for the welfare of the adult dogs," she said. "But as time has gone on, what has eclipsed that is the consumer protection issue. The puppies coming out of the mills being so sick and the owners are just stuck. The cost to others, such as animal shelters, taking care of these pets (is high)."
LaHay said breeders "are pumping faulty puppies into the consumer base and there's no way of holding the breeders accountable." She hopes legislation eventually gains traction in the Iowa House of Representatives.
"Although we are seeing improvements there is still a lot to do," she said. "Right now, the state of Iowa does not have any jurisdiction or oversight of these facilities. It's really complex and I won't pretend we have all the ideas. But we do have a lot of people in the state who care."
Friday's conversation took place at the Humane Society of Northwest Iowa shelter in Milford, where overcrowding is a growing concern.
"We've become overwhelmed locally because of these breeders," Johnson said.