By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
This year, 11 Iowa dog breeding operations made the Humane Society of the United States’ annual “Horrible Hundred” list of the worst puppy mills in the country. Only three states —Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska — had more inclusions. Iowa operations have been included in the “Horrible Hundred” list every year since the list began in 2013.
Facilities listed in the report were selected based upon a number of factors including, but not limited to, the number and severity of state and/or federal animal welfare violations (available via public records), Humane Society research and investigations, and whether or not the facility was believed to be in business at the time of publication.
The Humane Society describes a puppy mill as “an inhumane, commercial dog-breeding facility in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”
In its 2015 report, the Humane Society stated: “Dead or dying puppies, dogs with gaping wounds or infections, and dogs in the frigid cold with only solid ice in their water bowls, are just a few of the unacceptable conditions exposed in this year’s third annual report on problem puppy mills.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.” Pope Francis has shown compassion toward dogs during his papacy, including breaking the “no dogs in the Vatican” rule by allowing a guide dog onto the property in 2013 and subsequently blessing the dog. On the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi each year, many parishes host pet blessings in honor of the patron saint of animals.
Mary LaHay, founder and president of Iowa Friends of Companion Animals and Iowa Voters for Companion Animals, said Iowa is a breeding ground for disreputable breeders primarily because of its rural landscape, which offers “many opportunities for people to run these businesses out of the public eye. They wouldn’t stand up to public scrutiny; they have to be hidden.”
Sue Dyer, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Houghton, runs a small dog breeding business on her farm in rural Salem. As someone who says she tries to do things the “right way” by prioritizing the health and happiness of her dogs, she finds the existence of disreputable breeders in Iowa upsetting, but not surprising. “Some people shouldn’t be doing it because they don’t do it correctly. Good breeders detest those amongst them that keep dogs in filth and don’t have good veterinary care almost as much as the animal rights activists themselves.” She added that disreputable breeders perpetuate a stigma that all dog breeders are abusive.
LaHay believe state legislative action is necessary to protect the dogs and help disreputable breeders come into compliance. Iowa Legislature did pass a bill, HF 2280, in 2010 to allow for inspection of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-licensed mills by the Iowa Department of Agriculture. State animal welfare advocacy groups hoped that law would cut down on animal abuse, since it would theoretically increase the level of accountability. However, Iowa Friends of Companion Animals believes that this law didn’t work as well as intended, since the state agriculture department often defers complaints to the USDA. Subsequent “puppy mill” bills have been proposed since then, but none have passed.
Regardless of the state of legislation, LaHay said buyers can help the situation by making informed decisions. “When adding a pet to your family, always try adoption first, but if you must have a puppy, go to a kennel, get a tour of the facility — at least see where the mom of the puppy lives — and if you’re denied for any reason, don’t buy the puppy.”
She said a defining factor of a good breeder is one who insists on making direct sales transactions. “When I talk to responsible breeders, they tell me they want to meet the people who are buying the puppy, so they know they are going to a good home. They would want to know as much about the person buying the puppy as the person buying the puppy would want to know about the breeder.”
The Humane Society states that a prospective buyer should be wary if the breeder insists on delivering the dog in a neutral location. To see a checklist of things to look for when purchasing a puppy, visit the Humane Society’s website, http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/puppy_mills/tips/finding_responsible_dog_breeder.html.
LaHay hopes that, eventually, conditions in Iowa breeding facilities will improve, and that residents of the “proud agricultural state” will no longer need to be embarrassed by inclusion in Horrible Hundred lists. “Iowa can do better than this.”