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Animal Advocates, Dog Owners Lament Iowa's "Puppy Mill Problem" and Seek Legislative Action

Courtesy of Animal Rescue League of Iowa
Adopted dog, Bear, in front of the Iowa Statehouse

Animal rights advocates define puppy mills as large-scale commercial breeders where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. According to the Humane Society’s “Horrible Hundred” report, ten of the nation’s worst so-called puppy mills are in Iowa.

Credit Mehul Gala

“We have over 200 breeders in our state, and honestly, I would say a majority of the breeders do a good job of maintaining the standards that are set by the USDA and the Iowa Department of Agriculture,” says Scott Wilson of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. “But there’s a percentage of them that fail these standards over and over and over again.”

The Humane Society report specifies failed standards, stating that: "Over the 12 month period since we published our last report, USDA inspectors have continued to find conditions just as horrific as those in our prior reports, including dogs with open wounds, emaciated dogs with their ribs and spines showing, and dogs with moldy food, dirty water and filthy cages."

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer looks into trends leading to Iowa's continuous low marks for dog breeding abuse and neglect, as well as what advocates are pushing for at the local level and at the Iowa Statehouse.

Haley Anderson, executive director of Iowa Voters for Companion Animals, plans to present two policy proposals to Iowa lawmakers in the upcoming 2019 legislative session. She’d like to see stronger language in the chapter of the Iowa code that addresses abuse, neglect, and torture of animals “other than livestock.” She says this would make it easier for law enforcement to take a proactive approach on abuse cases. She would also like to push for greater regulation and enforcement of the commercial dog breeding industry.  

“Without strong laws, regulation, and enforcement, animals suffer. And this is what we’re seeing with the puppy mill situation here in Iowa,” Anderson says.

Mindi Callison, executive director of Bailing Out Benji, seeks to raise awareness about the issue as well. Callison manages 20 teams in 15 states, and she is working with various city councils in an attempt to have the issue addressed at a local level. This year, her team put together a series of "puppy mill maps" by state.

Dog breeder and president of the Iowa Pet Breeders Association, Nancy Magnusson, also joins the discussion. She says the current standards for licensing and the way the USDA deals with violations are adequate, and that the problem lies with unlicensed breeders.

“I think there are some substandard facilities out there, but I don’t think it’s to the extreme of what the public [thinks],” Magnusson says.

She suggests that prospective puppy buyers check breeders’ references.

“Google them and then ask for an inspection report,” she adds.

During the conversation, guests also respond to the new USDA policy of redacting breeder names and addresses in FOIA-requested animal welfare inspection reports – information that used to be publicly accessible on a searchable database.

Program note: Many animal rights advocates claim that pet stores are part of the problem - that they buy puppies from problematic breeders. No Iowa pet store owners were available or willing to come on this program to discuss where they buy their animals from.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River