CEDAR RAPIDS — When a scraggly brown-coated dog named Louis was found wandering in Cedar County last fall, his hair was matted, nails severely overgrown, toes splayed and pus was coming from the nearly 13-year-old’s eyes and mouth.
Possibly a poorly bred poodle or a poodle-dachshund mix, Louis continues to be fearful of people, spins in circles — a self soothing technique from extensive time in cages — and has had two oral surgeries since coming to Last Hope Animal Rescue of Cedar Rapids, which has taken in numerous castoffs from commercial breeders in its 15 years of operation.
These conditions are telltale signs Louis is from a puppy mill, said Last Hope founder Sonia Brandley and dog intake coordinator Amanda Rushton. Another dog in their care, a proud looking golden doodle named Petros, who is 2 or 3, has symptoms consistent with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder, they said, adding he is another puppy mill reject.
“Usually what we are getting are discards, dogs with medical issues, and the breeder doesn’t want to care for them, they are done breeding them, or they’ve bred too many of the particular breed,” Brandley said. “We are paying for their careless breeding practices.”
Rescue organizations like Last Hope have been left to care for and absorb costly medical bills for animals raised in large-scale commercial breeding factories in Iowa and elsewhere. Brandley, Rushton and others, including Cedar Rapids City Council member Ashley Vanorny, want the city of Cedar Rapids to ban retail sales of pets sourced from large-scale commercial breeding mills. Such retail sales are not widespread in Cedar Rapids but the ban could help combat animal abuse and neglect cases.
Dogs from large-scale facilities typically don’t learn how to “behave like a dog,” encounter numerous medical and behavioral issues, are kept in poor conditions — often confined for much of their lives — and are treated inhumanely, Brandley and Rushton said.
“We feel really confident we can combat animal abuses, which have happened in Cedar Rapids, if puppy mills don’t have a place to conduct business in Cedar Rapids,” Vanorny said.
Bans happening across the country
Vanorny has been working with the Humane Society of the United States, which has helped cities across the country draft such ordinances. The Humane Society provided Cedar Rapids with a sample retail ordinance from Downers Grove, Ill., which prohibits retail sales of dogs, cats and rabbits unless the animals are from an animal care facility, animal rescue organization or a humane society. California became the first in the nation to adopt such a law, which went into effect statewide this year.
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“It is important that as a council member we not only consider things like public safety on behalf of our citizens but also animals,” the first-term council member for District 5 said. “We should set the bars we can as far as animal welfare and animal control. If we can prevent supporting puppy mills by policies of good practices for animal husbandry, we can set the tone for the good of our community.”
Vanorny said the city’s animal care and animal control division inevitably winds up caring for animals that have been neglected or discarded, so there’s a direct responsibility for the welfare of domesticated pets.
Vanorny said she hopes a proposal can come before the City Council by early summer.
Maria Johnson, a city spokeswoman, said staff will work with city attorneys to develop draft language, and the process will likely include discussion with potential stakeholders and public input. She said staff would be willing to speak about the matter when they are further along in the process.
Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson is also interested in crafting an ordinance at the county level but wants to wait for the city. He also noted some dog breeders in the county are doing it the “right way” and wants to make sure a county ordinance wouldn’t negatively affect them.
“We want to see what they do to make sure it doesn’t push problems out into smaller communities,” he said.
Local store sells from large-scale breeder
Pet’s Playhouse, 151 Jacolyn Drive NW, is the only retail pet store in Cedar Rapids identified by the Humane Society as selling animals from large-scale commercial breeders.
“This ordinance would make it so this store and any other store sources from rescues and shelters,” said Preston Moore, the Iowa director for the Humane Society of the United States. “This wouldn’t stop someone from breeding their own pet. That wouldn’t stop 95 percent of the typical breeders. This would stop the supply of puppy mill dogs in Cedar Rapids.”
He said the Humane Society believes responsible breeders want to meet the owner who is buying the animal, whereas breeders selling to pet stores or brokers don’t prioritize knowing where the animals end up.
Pet’s Playhouse sells puppies from Maple Tree Kennels in Alta Vista, Moore said. The Humane Society of the United States and others, such as a watchdog organizations Bailing Out Benji and Iowa Friends of Companion Animals, have identified Maple Tree as a large-scale commercial breeder. The owner of Pet’s Playhouse declined to comment but noted Maple Tree is licensed and annually inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture.
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Pet’s Playhouse has been hosting an annual K-9 fundraiser for several years and donated to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Cedar Rapids Police Department K-9 units.
Marvin and Joanna Newswanger started Maple Tree after making a puppy mill watch list in Lancaster, Penn., said Mindi Callison, executive director and founder of Bailing Out Benji. She reported the operation has more than 300 adult breeding dogs. Iowa Friends of Companion Animals reports the same number.
USDA inspection reports from 2015 to 2017 found no violations at Maple Tree, while inspection reports several years ago found violations. This may appear to be a positive trend, but Callison said it reveals the lack of enforcement by the USDA, which has also made it harder for the public to access inspection reports, she said.
“Unfortunately, every inch of this industry is shrouded in secrecy, which is why it is so important for cities and states to enact legislation that would protect the consumer before they unknowingly support one of these large-scale commercial puppy mills,” she said.
A message left for the Newswangers was not returned.
Petland in Iowa City is part of a national chain that has been criticized for sourcing from puppy mills. Moore said he has reached out to officials in Iowa City about crafting an ordinance but conversations have not gotten very far.
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