IOWA (KWWL) – The state of Iowa has found itself near the top of a list it doesn't want to be on: the worst for puppy mills. The Horrible Hundred report from the Humane Society of the United States lists Iowa as third worst in the country.
The Humane Society publishes the report annually. It can be found here. The report takes a sampling of puppy mill citations and the conditions inside of them.
It's important to note that Charity Watch, a non-profit watchdog group, gives the Humane Society of the U.S. a “D” rating for their spending habits.
On the Horrible Hundred report, Iowa has 11 puppy mills listed, only beaten by Ohio with 16 and Missouri with 22.
"There's a very big disconnect between how the puppy mill views the dog and how the family that gets one of those puppies views the dog,” said John Goodwin, Senior Direction of the Humane Society's Stop Puppy Mills Campaign.
Compared to past years, this year's report looks at state citations. Goodwin said they were noticing a sharp drop in citations from the federal level. However, there is still a catch to using state records. Some states are lax on their enforcement, especially during the pandemic. This means Iowa might not really be third worst, but could be better at taking note of problem breeders.
"States who, frankly, were doing a better job of enforcement ended up with more entries in the report. In some instances, it could be that Iowa inspectors were doing a better job than the federal inspectors,” he said.
Back in 2018, more than 150 Samoyed dogs were rescued from a puppy mill in Worth County. The dogs were then split across shelters to be rehabilitated before finding their forever home. Cedar Bend Humane Society in Waterloo was one of the shelters to take in the dogs. Dogs from these situations often come with a wide swath of problems.
"A lot of times we see some very serious medical conditions. They're emaciated, they're matted, eye issues, overall unhealthy,” said Amber Lang, Cedar Bend Medical Supervisor.
She was there for the Samoyeds. She said taking in dogs like those costs a lot of money.
"It comes down to funding and donations. We ask the public for help because we can't do it alone. When we try to fix everything, it does require a lot of money on our end. It puts a huge stress on our shelter and our funding,” she said.
Solving the issue of puppy mills and bad breeders isn't easy. It would require stricter enforcement and tougher laws. Groups like the Iowa Pet Alliance work with the good breeders and lawmakers to lobby for stronger animal welfare laws to try and stop Iowa's puppy mill problem.
"What we're trying to do is create more communication and more uniformity as far as enforcement goes,” said Angela Kenyon Davis, an attorney representing Iowa Pet Alliance.
Who oversees breeders in the state of Iowa is a bit murky and depends who the dogs are being sold to.
"If you are selling puppies to a third party, to a pet store or sight unseen online, you go through the USDA for a license to do that. Smaller commercial breeders in the state go through a state licensure program through IDALS,” Kenyon Davis said.
IDALS is the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The USDA's enforcement is currently governed by the Animal Welfare Act, dating back to 1966.
"Under the Animal Welfare Act, there aren't always enough inspectors to hold those bad actors accountable. The state level oversight is minimal of those facilities,” she said.
While Iowa legislators have put forward some bills to protect animals kept as pets, it still isn't enough to stop the mills. They sometimes move around, even across state lines. Enforcement typically isn't a criminal charge, instead it is a fine.
Until puppy mills are stopped, shelters like Cedar Bend will continue to take in the animals lucky enough to be rescued.
"What we generally get are the dogs that have been in the facility for quite some time. A lot of times, it's unsocialized animals with medical conditions that have gone on for quite some time,” said Lang.
There's also an issue of “puppy laundering.” That's where puppy mills funnel dogs through fake non-profits and adopt them out as “rescues” while charges huge fees and pocketing the profits.
Tom Miller, Iowa Attorney General, sued two of these puppy laundering groups in recent years and won the case.
On the national level, there is some forward action happening to protect animals from abuse. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Puppy Protection Act. It would modify the existing Animal Welfare Act. It adds additional requirements for dealers. It has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.