Animal Law

Suspected Puppy Mill Shut Down: 600 Animals Rescued

By Shulamit Shvartsman, Attorney

Margaret Boyd, 72, is the owner of a kennel in Kaufman County, Texas. She's suspected of running a puppy mill after nearly 600 dogs and cats were rescued from her property.

It All Started with a Phone Call

Mrs. Boyd was concerned that her puppies were not selling well and she needed money, so she called the Humane Society of Cedar Creek for help, and asked for enough food to feed 400 puppies. This tipped off officials, who obtained a search warrant for the kennel property. On August 11, the Sheriff's deputies and the Humane Society entered Boyd's property, where they found hundreds of mistreated animals who were living in poor conditions. The majority of them are chihuahuas, poodles and other small-breed dogs.

Representatives said most of the dogs were living in their own waste and many were underfed. The Humane Society says the animals were in some of the worst conditions it's ever seen. The animals were taken to a temporary shelter about 20 miles away. Three dogs died after being rescued and several others have skin or foot diseases.

The animals were taken away, or "seized" from the Boyds. A hearing will be held to determine custody of the animals.

The Humane Society is trying to get custody of the animals. The Humane Society is the nation's largest and most effective animal protection organization.

The Charges

Mrs. Boyd is facing animal cruelty charges. She hasn't yet been charged with operating a puppy mill, but it's still an ongoing investigation by the Kaufman Sheriff's Office. Running a puppy mill is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and one year in jail.

Boyd's Response

"There is no way that my animals have been abused, hurt or mistreated. They have been my life for 50 years," said Boyd. She and her family have been breeding dogs for 50 years and have never mistreated their pets. "They are my life. They sleep in bed with me," explained Boyd "I got 10 to 15 that sleep in bed with me every night."

Boyd is fighting to get the animals back. A court hearing is scheduled and both she and the Humane Society plan to ask for custody of the animals. "If loving the animal is a criminal, then maybe I'm a criminal," she said. "Because I work 6 o'clock in the morning until 11:30 at night taking care of these animals." Officials state that there is no possible way that the Boyds alone could have handled taking care of all of the animals in their possession.

What Is a Puppy Mill?

There is no legal or standardized definition for a puppy mill, leading to subjective standards. The Humane Society defines puppy mills as "facilities that are in the business of breeding and selling animals in large quantities and where the conditions are beyond substandard. They place greater importance on their profit than the welfare of the animals. Puppies from mills frequently have congenital defects and behavior problems..."

Is Running a Puppy Mill Illegal?

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the breeding and handling of dogs. They enacted the Animal Welfare Act (the Act) which lists and encompasses several categories of businesses that handle dogs, including:

  • Pet dealers who import, buy, sell, trade or transport pets in wholesale channels
  • Pet breeders who breed for the wholesale trade, whether for selling animals to other breeders or selling to brokers or directly to pet stores or laboratories
  • Laboratory animal dealers, breeders, bunchers, auction operators and promoters of contests in which animals are given as prizes
  • Hobby breeders who sell directly to pet stores are exempt from licensing if they gross less than $500 per year and if they own no more than three breeding females

The USDA issues licenses under the Act after inspecting kennels to determine whether or not applicants meet minimum standards for housing and care. Among the requirements are:

  • Minimum amount of space for each dog
  • A shelter
  • A feeding and veterinary care program
  • Fresh water every 24 hours
  • Proper drainage of the kennel, and
  • Appropriate sanitary procedures to assure cleanliness

The USDA licenses more than 4,500 animal dealers, the bulk of them dealing in wholesale breeding and distribution of dogs and cats. The Act doesn't cover commercial breeders who sell directly to the public, and many animal welfare advocates believe that additional regulations are needed to assure buyers that breeding dogs are treated properly in these kennels. Some states have passed kennel licensing and inspection laws, but several attempts to amend the federal Act have failed because they placed a huge burden on responsible breeders.

In addition, the Act does not define "commercial kennels" or "puppy mills." The American Kennel Club (AKC) also doesn't define "puppy mills" but does label a commercial breeder as one who "breeds dogs as a business, for profit" and a hobby breeder as "one who breeds purebred dogs occasionally to justifiably improve the breed, not for purposes of primary income." The AKC does not license breeders, but they do inspect breeders who sell AKC-registered litters.

What Will Happen Next and What Can You Do?

The Humane Society says the custody hearing will determine what happens next. The animals aren't ready for adoption yet, however, they're being treated for any diseases they have.

If you suspect that a local kennel is running a puppy mill, contact your local humane society and health departments and describe the conditions you have seen. Humane societies can investigate based on reports from the public. Health departments can deal with threats to public health from fecal contamination, dead dog bodies and other possible threats.

To avoid buying a dog from a suspected puppy mill:

  • Check the USDA Web site to see if the kennel has a federal license; the USDA keeps a list of licensed facilities If your state has a kennel licensing law, contact that department as well
  • If the kennel advertises AKC registered puppies, contact the AKC registration department online or call (919) 816-3563. Since the mid-1990s, AKC has revoked registration privileges from breeders who violate care and conditions standards along with those who violate recordkeeping regulations. An AKC inspector will also report a substandard kennel to USDA or to local authorities

    For more information, you can visit the Humane Society's Web page and the USDA's Web site.

    Questions for Your Attorney

    • If I raise purebred animals and sell them, do any state or federal regulations apply to my activities? What are the penalties if I fail to follow the law?
    • If I buy a pet that came from a puppy mill and it develops genetic health problems, can I sue the retailer or the puppy mill breeder for the veterinary bills and other damages arising from my pet's illness?
    • Do the police have to follow up and investigate claims of suspected inhumane or illegal pet breeding operations? Is this area of the law a low priority for law enforcement?
    • If I ask a retailer about the origin of a pet I want to buy and I'm not given correct and true information, do I have any recourse? Would my pet have to become sick before I'd have any sort of legal claim based on misrepresentation of the pet's health and history?
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