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Iowa ranks third worst in the country for problem “puppy mills” that breed and raise their dogs in “inhumane and unsafe conditions,” according to a report issued this week by the Humane Society of the United States.
The Humane Society’s annual “Horrible Hundred” report uses state and federal inspection reports, undercover investigations and complaints from the public to identify problem dog breeders that allegedly fail to provide their dogs and puppies with adequate care.
Iowa ranks third with 11 problem “puppy mills,” according to the report. This is the eighth straight year that Iowa has ranked close to the top of the list. Missouri was ranked first, with 21 dog-breeding businesses identified by the society as problematic, while Ohio was ranked second with 16.
The report estimates there are 10,000 puppy mills across the country. In 2020, Bailing out Benji — an Iowa-based nonprofit organization focused on education and legislation — estimated there are 360 puppy and kitten mills in Iowa.
These businesses often produce large numbers of animals in unsanitary and inhumane conditions that could include small cramped cages or insufficient shelter and protection from heat and cold, and surfaces filthy with feces and urine, the Humane Society report said.
The organization also noted that the dogs born and raised in such operations are often neglected and animals purchased from such operations could be sick, injured or inadequately socialized.
The Humane Society attributed the problem to weak oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act at commercial breeding kennels “continues to be nearly non-existent,” the report said, noting that in-person inspections of facilities in 2021 were even more limited due to the pandemic.
Additionally, the report states that breeders who are found to be in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport and by dealers or breeders, face next-to-no penalties.
“For at least three years in a row, the USDA has failed to revoke a single dog breeder license or significantly fine or penalize any problem dog breeders under the Animal Welfare Act,” according to the report.
Licensing and enforcement
As of 2019, there were about 287 commercial dog breeders licensed through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, according to Preston Moore, Iowa state director for the Humane Society of the United States. There were 253 dog-breeding facilities licensed through the USDA, some of which could also have been licensed through the state, Moore said.
State licenses typically are issued to commercial breeders who are single distributors — meaning they sell a puppy directly to a customer, said Angela Davis, a lawyer who is government relations counsel for the Iowa Pet Alliance, an Iowa-based nonprofit that advocates for stronger animal welfare laws through education and political engagement.
USDA licenses go to “third-party” commercial breeders, Davis said, that sell their animals to pet stores, online or across state lines.
Because there are two licensing entities, Davis said, there also are two separate oversight bodies operating in Iowa, which — in the simplest of terms — can allow some bad actors to slip through the cracks.
“That’s why Iowa Pet Alliance has been pushing for (the state) to take over the inspection of USDA facilities,” she said. “It is our opinion that there could be a lot more consistent enforcement” if done by state ag officials.
Unlike some others, Iowa doesn’t require all facilities in the state to have state licenses.
“The Legislature has done some really good work over the past few years updating Iowa’s animal cruelty statute and the humane condition requirements for companion animals,” Davis said. “Now we just really need to focus on consistent enforcement, so that these bad actors can’t continue their operations year after year in violation and without consequence.”
The Humane Society’s list names 11 Iowa breeders, one of which was Mystical Cockers in Kiron, owned by Ricky and Mary Brodersen.
In 2012, Mary Brodersen was sentenced to do jail time for 44 counts of animal neglect and ordered to pay nearly $3,000 in restitution after officials raided her home and seized 87 dogs and found the five dead ones, the Dennison Bulletin-Review reported.
During a Sept. 2020, animal welfare inspection by the USDA, she was found to be operating a breeding facility without a license. The inspection report said Brodersen stated she had 35 cocker spaniels and a litter of 4-week-old puppies. Nonetheless, a state license later was issued to Ricky Brodersen — her husband.
The Humane Society noted several concerns from the 2020 inspection, including that the dogs were kept in small, dirty 2-foot-by-3-foot cages, some of which were stacked two or three high — "classic puppy mill conditions."
"Although it is not necessarily illegal, permanently housing dogs in such enclosures is not a sign of a quality dog breeder …" the report said.
Moore said it’s this kind of animal treatment the Humane Society — along with several other advocacy groups — is trying to combat through legislation and education.
“These are some of, if not the most, vulnerable living creatures, and they require our care,” he said. “They require care from humans, they depend on us for their safety and well-being and they deserve to be treated humanely. We want to see state and federal entities take action and better enforce the regulations. We, don't want to constantly be in the top tier of every terrible animal welfare issues list that comes out.”
The remaining 10 breeders listed in the society’s report are:
• Ruth "Ruthie" Ewoldt of Furkids, in Toronto, Iowa
• Connie and Harold Johnson of Furbabies Forever, formerly CW’s Quaint Critters, in Melvin
• Steve Kruse of Stonehenge Kennel of West Point
• Kurt and Hollie Pille of St. Anthony
• Chris and Tammy Riddle of 6R Uplands Kennel in Gilman
• Tim Shimek of Shimek’s AKC Siberian Huskys in Waucoma
• Henry Sommers of Happy Puppys in Cincinnati, Iowa
• Vickie Ubben of Milo
• Charles Vogl of SCW Frenchies in Atlantic
• Anita Wikstrom of Unforgettable Schnauzers in Ames
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