By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
In West Point, Iowa, a large-scale, commercial breeding facility called the Stonehenge Kennel contains more than 800 dogs. Here, since 2015, more than 100 dogs have been found sick or injured; some had open lesions and could barely walk. As recently as December 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found multiple dogs there suffering from visible hair loss, crusty or dirty eyes and ears, swellings on their legs, paws, abdomens and several other painful issues. Violations like this have been documented at the massive facility again and again for over a decade. The Stonehenge Kennel has violated the USDA’s regulations frequently enough to land in our annual Horrible Hundred report five times.
It is because of puppy mills like the Stonehenge Kennel that we’re supporting the Puppy Protection Act (H.R.1624), which was just reintroduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa. and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.
The Puppy Protection Act would amend the Animal Welfare Act to require significant improvements to the standards of care required for USDA licensed dog breeders. Large-scale commercial dog breeders who sell to pet stores, brokers or online sight-unseen are required to obtain a USDA license, undergo regular inspections and comply with standards of care defined in the Animal Welfare Act. However, under the minimal standards now in place, breeders can keep dogs in cramped cages with scant protection from bitter cold or scorching hot weather. They can breed female dogs again and again until their bodies give out, even if the dogs have congenital defects that they could pass on to their puppies, generation after generation. And of course, once they are worn out, these mother dogs can be killed or sold at auction.
The Puppy Protection Act would require more spacious dog runs, solid floors instead of wire that injures dogs’ paws and feedings at least twice per day. Puppy millers would also have to make a reasonable effort to find retired breeding dogs a home or a rescue placement instead of just killing them.
There is a strong public health component to this legislation, too. Right now, the USDA allows commercial breeders to avoid taking injured or sick dogs to a veterinarian for hands-on diagnosis and care. This can lead to illnesses going unnoticed or incorrectly diagnosed and sick dogs treated for symptoms only, which could lead to outbreaks of zoonotic disease. Some of these diseases, such as brucellosis, giardiasis and campylobacteriosis, are not only dangerous for animals but harmful if transmitted to humans. Dozens of people have landed in the hospital after contracting a multi-drug resistant Campylobacter “superbug” from pet store dogs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which studied two different outbreaks of the disease from 2019 to 2021. If it becomes law, the Puppy Protection Act would address these problems by requiring prompt medical care by a licensed veterinarian.
We all know what dogs love: a comfortable napping spot, a romp in the grass, a kind touch and the safety and security of a caring environment. It’s astounding to think that thousands of dogs in USDA-licensed commercial breeding operations that sell to pet stores and online still have none of these comforts. As long as dogs continue to be bred in these large-scale facilities, we will be pressing local, state and federal legislatures to put animal welfare first because improving their quality of life is the right thing to do. Setting the animal welfare bar higher in this area should be common sense, and we’re confident that we’ll succeed in gaining substantial bipartisan support for it in the House.
You can ask your representatives to cosponsor the Puppy Protection Act, which would help save thousands of dogs from suffering. You can also help puppy mill dogs and other animals by urging your lawmakers to improve living conditions for animals under the Animal Welfare Act.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.