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Puppymill law uncovers hundreds of breeders in Ohio

A new law meant to give the Ohio a way to punish unsafe puppy mills has revealed more than 250 high volume dog breeders and retailers have been operating, likely for years.

Before now, Ohio’s agricultural dog breeding market was largely unregulated.

Gov. John Kasich signed in a state law in 2012 forcing dog breeders who sell at least nine litters every year to register with the state by Jan. 1 and get state kennel safety and health inspections ever year. Dog retailers, the ones who sell dogs to pet stores, are required to register with the state now, but only get inspected if someone complains about their operation.

Ohio Sen. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) called the state one of the nation’s “worst” for puppy mills when the legislation, which he proposed, passed the senate in 2012.

The new law has yielded a cluster of dog breeders and retailers working in rural, northeastern Ohio that have registered with the state. A significant majority of puppy mill operations now registered are from Holmes County, which identifies as Ohio’s Amish County mecca, according to state records. Nearly 90 dog retailers and 60 dog breeders were registered under the new program.

Only two dog breeders, one of them a dog retailer who sells to stores, have registered out of Butler, Clark, Darke, Greene, Preble, Montgomery or Warren counties, according to state records. The state is also still processing licenses for 55 remaining applicants but none of the outstanding applications appear to be operating in any of those counties, a spokeswoman said. High-volume dog breeders and retailers have been identified in only 13 of Ohio’s 88 counties so far.

Donald Landes, who owns a high-volume dog breeding operation in the village of Eldorado in Preble County said he believes the state law, and new requirements such as state inspections, will help Ohio’s dog breeders take good care of the animals.

“I think it is, it’s a lot more expensive than what we’re use to, we haven’t been use to an inspection,” Landes said. “But I really honestly think it’s a good thing. In the long run, it will help (the industry) do a better job.”
Landes said he’s sold small dog breeds from his farm since 2005. He uses word of mouth and places ads in local newspapers to sells his dogs. He said he’s never sold his pups to a pet store.

“We don’t look at ourselves as a puppy mill,” Landes said. “We thought it would be fun and decided to give it a try. We feel like we’re a dog breeder that’s trying to make a lot of people happy. Every individual we sell to, we know exactly who they are and work directly with them if they have any problems”

Under the new law, dog breeders who violate the new standards face a $100 fine. Some animal advocates have called the state fines and penalties weak, when the bill first passed in 2012. Officials with the state, however, say the law supports agricultural businesses while keeping pets healthy.

“This law is a very good balance between allowing this outgrowth of agribusiness to be able to stay in business in the state of Ohio and thrive, while at the same time putting some standards in place that provide for the proper care of animals in these facilities,” Melissa Simmerman, the state’s assistant veterinarian, said of the new law.

Dog breeders are also required to show proof of a veterinarian who will provide care for the dogs when they register with the state and pay fees ranging from $150 to $750 for licensing.

The state has budgeted $900,000 this year for the high-volume dog breeding and retailer program, which is run by officials at the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Those costs include start-up costs for the new program and the salaries and benefits for a supervisor and dog breeding inspectors, a spokeswoman with the department said. Right now, the state has three inspectors and will likely hire a fourth soon.

Although only two high-volume breeders have registered with the state in many of Ohio’s southwestern counties, there are bound to be more dog breeders still operating without a license, despite the new law, Mark Kumpf, the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center Director said.

Kumpf said the law requires breeders to self-report themselves to the state and some breeders, including those who might operate in southwest Ohio, could just be skipping out on the new requirement.
“Until (the state) gets a complaint, it’s very difficult to find these people,” Kumpf said. “Is it conceivable that someone has dogs in kennels? Absolutely. If you have 200 acres, it’s very easy to set up a kennel operation that no one will see, hear or smell no matter how close they get to your property line.”

Simmerman, the state’s assistant veterinarian, said she knows there are Ohio dog breeders who haven’t reported their business but state officials are willing to work with anyone who comes forward, even after this year’s Jan. 1 deadline.

“We figured this process would be slow to grow,” Simmerman of the registration requirements. “At this point in time, I’m very content with the number of applications. There’s no doubt in my mind that the number won’t grow and continue to grew as new people enter the business.”

Inspections on the dog breeder operations started at the beginning of February and no major violations have been found yet, Simmerman said late last week.

The state has received 264 applications for dog breeding and retail licenses. Of that, the state is still reviewing the status of 55 applications. None have been denied. Here’s a breakdown, by county, of the dog retailers and breeders approved in each county:

149 - Holmes
18 - Coschocton
10 - Tuscarawas, Wayne
7 - Knox
6 - Richland
2 - Fulton, Darke
1 - Ashland, Ashtabula, Carroll, Licking, Preble