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Rescue groups paint a sad story of Iowa’s puppy mills

By KATIE WILLIAMS, Messenger staff writer

March 15, 2009
Messenger News

A 6-year-old SharPei was sold at auction after she had been deemed useless at an Iowa puppy mill last November. She had been caged so long she was crippled.

She was known only as No. 248. Her owners didn't even give her a name, said Lin Sorenson, a member of Iowa Voters for Companion Animals.

Miracle, a poodle, was rescued from an Iowa puppy mill and sent to Hearts United for Animals based in Auburn, Neb., Sorenson said. The veterinarian who spayed her after her rescue found dead puppies that had been inside her for so long they had hardened. Her uterus had ruptured, probably because of medication she was given to force labor, said Sorenson.

Article Photos

-Submitted photo
Albert, shown after being rescued from a puppy mill, was in bad condition.

Dogs with stories like these - and worse - are told over and over by rescue groups.

Now, they want to do something about it, said Sorenson.

"Puppy mills are in business to produce mass quantities of puppies to primarily sell to a broker or distributor," Sorenson said.

Female dogs are bred every heat cycle - usually starting with their first. Breeding is commonly continued until their bodies wear out, said Sorenson. To save money, the breeders often use small cages with very little protection from the elements, feed substandard nutrition and give little, if any, medical attention.

Mary LaHay, director of Iowa Voters for Companion Animals, said most puppy mills are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"The title 'USDA licensed' can be deceptive," she said. "It's not always a good thing."

An organization that needs approval of a government department doesn't mean it is held to high standards that people often think they are, she said.

"These dogs are stressed, emaciated and underfed. They're often kept in small wire cages that barely comply with the Animal Welfare Act."

LaHay said the Animal Welfare Act only requires that a dog in a cage have 6 inches of space above it and around it.

Judy Hintzman, with Keeshond Lovers United, in Lawrence, Kan., said many dogs have so little interaction with humans they don't trust them.

"There is such a lack of socialization that the dogs that are rescued from puppy mills will have trouble forming a bond with humans," she said. "They would rather form a bond with another dog."

There are so many dogs rescued from puppy mills that it is often difficult to find care for them in the same state that they were rescued, she said. Keeshond Lovers United takes dogs from five of the surrounding states, including Iowa.

Traci Seltz, a former breeder of champion Dalmatians, in Badger, said puppy mills are a problem, even in Webster County. She warns potential buyers to ask a lot of questions.

"A breeder should welcome you to the facility and let you see the parents and where they were raised," she said. "It should send up a big red flag if they don't."

She said a responsible breeder should know the history of the breed, the individual puppy's pedigree and should ask a lot of questions too.

"Backyard breeders are in it for the money," Seltz said. "If you hand them the money they will hand you the puppy."

She said in her 15 years as a breeder she has turned down more than one potential buyer because she had doubts if the breed was right for the owner or the owner would give it a loving home.

"A responsible breeder should also be willing to take the dog back, no questions asked," Seltz said. "If something happens where you can no longer afford the dog, the breeder should care enough to want to find a second owner rather than have the puppy sit in a shelter."

She said another red flag is if the breeder has more than one breed of dog.

"If you saw what went on in puppy mills you would be appalled," she said. "The cages are crammed, usually more than one dog per cage; they're sitting in their own feces - it's just disgusting."

A person may be tempted to rescue a puppy just to give it a better life, but that isn't fixing the overall problem, Seltz said.

"Backyard breeders run on a supply and demand basis," she said. "By purchasing a puppy you are making room for another puppy. You have given them more money to buy more breeding stock only to save one puppy."

Sorenson said if a person wants to rescue a puppy, they should get one through a rescue group instead.

Contact Katie Williams at (515) 573-2141 or



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