The announcement this week by the Humane Society of the United States brought to light new evidence of the systemic cruelty in the nation's commercial dog breeding kennels.
Read some of the "lowlights" from the chilling report - particularly among breeders in the country's largest kennels in the midwest - and it will remind you that many who engage in mass puppy sales care far more about the cash than the health and welfare of the animals in their kennels.
Below is a Michigan TV news report on one of the worst offenders in that state. It documents the difficulty officials have in shutting down kennels despite multiple citations and complaints from customers.
Although the number of commercial kennels in Pennsylvania fell dramatically after the passage of the 2008 dog law (from more than 300 to about 50), the state did not escape HSUS scrutiny.
We took a closer look at the Pennsylvania kennels named in the report and found three of the four operators had lengthy histories of violations of the dog law.
But with the revolving door of dog law justice, these breeders pay the small fines, clean up their acts for a time, and continue to sell puppies.
One need only review court dockets to understand what dog law is up against when wardens issue citations.
Breeders often hire attorneys to represent them - usually the work goes to Clymer Musser & Conrad, a Lancaster-based firm that has advertised that it specializes in defending the rights of dog breeders. Dog wardens - who know the dog law but are not attorneys - often serve as both police officer and prosecutor representing the Commonwealth.
If the breeder is found guilty, judges have wide discretion in the fines they levy. The stated range is $100 - $500, plus court costs but there are cases when the judge has issued fines as low as $50.
As a final indignity for dog law enforcement, Because of a decades old law, the judiciary takes all fine revenue over $70,000 to support its computer upgrades. Last year that amounted to $226,000. (A bill, sponsored by Bucks County Rep. Kathy Watson, passed the House to allow dog law to keep all fines, but it has since stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Montgomery County Sen. Stewart Greenleaf.)
In one case involving a kennel that made the HSUS list, breeder Reuben Esh of Runway Kennel in Gordonville, was cited and found guilty of ten offenses in the last five years. He was fined a total of about $1,000. That's roughly the price of one Havanese puppy. For breeders a $100 fine is the cost of doing business.
At JRs Kennel in Quarryville, operator Jacob Glick was cited three times in 2012 and 2013 for records violations, having a filthy exercise area and having no health certificate for dogs imported from other states. His total fines from Magisterial District Judge Stuart Mylin? $150.
Ronks Kennel, in Ronks, owned by Sam Fisher, has been cited repeatedly since 2010 and the bureau has refused his license for 2014. Fisher's son has a legal kennel license to operate a kennel by the same name on an adjacent property.
The fourth kennel named in the report was Deep Run in Lebanon County owned by Dale Weaver. He was cited this year for failing to provide evidence that his dogs had received a veterinary exam every six months as required and was found not guilty.
"In the last six years tougher laws have been in place for puppy mills, yet when the state enforces the law they hit roadblocks in certain courts," said Tom Hickey, a member of the Dog Law Advisory Board. "Some judges are not taking animal abuse seriously. The judges need to understand that Pennsylvanians are taking it seriously and expect them to."
But dog law is now implementing a more powerful tool in its tool box: civil penalties. Under the dog law the Department of Agriculture has the authority to issue fines of up to $1,000 a day. Before last year it was rarely used.
In 2013 the dog law office issued civil penalties totaling $30,000.
The offenders were:
Triangle Pets, in Allegheny County, (the now-shuttered animal control facility that falsified records regarding the animals it took in.) was fined $22,000.
Tait's Bassetts, in Centre County, failed to make necessary upgrades to operate as a commercial kennel and was fined $5,000
Rocky Creek, a broker kennel in Mifflin County, was fined $3,000 and subsequently closed. Dog wardens determined the operator was taking in almost 300 more dogs per year than listed and importing them from other states with no health certificates.
In 2014, so far, the office has issued fines against Larke Labs in Blair County ( $6,000) and Pampered Pups in Lawrence County ($6,300).
Both were found to be selling more dogs than their kennel license allowed, among other violations.