Dogs rescued from alleged 'puppy mill'

Friday, December 24, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Nearly 150 dogs, many of them purebred, were rescued Thursday from "deplorable" and frigid conditions at a breeder's home outside Macomb in southwest Missouri, authorities said.

Working off a citizen complaint, rescuers said they found "row upon row of wire cages with dirt bottoms" and disintegrated tops that exposed the animals to the elements. They also found feces-covered food and bowls of frozen water.

Kathy Warnick, president of the St. Louis-based Humane Society of Missouri, called it an "emergency rescue" from an "alleged substandard puppy mill."

"In these freezing temperatures, this is a life-threatening situation," she said.

The Humane Society, the Douglas County Sheriff's Department and the Douglas County Animal Welfare League rescued 147 dogs, including Saint Bernards, Great Pyrenees, mastiffs, cocker spaniels, shelties, Pomeranians, basset hounds and a pug. They also found an undetermined number of dead animals, as well as living dogs that are deaf, blind, or suffering serious health conditions.

Warnick said the owner, a woman, surrendered the animals to the Humane Society after being served with a warrant for their removal. She has not been charged with anything, but Det. Vernon Johnson of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department said authorities were investigating.

The animals were taken to St. Louis for veterinary evaluation and care, and to be adopted, eventually.

The Humane Society says Missouri ranks No. 1 for the number of dog breeding facilities and the number of animals produced. Warnick said Missouri produces one-third of all puppies sold in the nation's pet stores.

Just last week, a state audit said dogs are being left at risk of death and illness because inspectors do a poor job of citing breeders for health and safety violations.

The audit faulted the Missouri Department of Agriculture for failing to complete annual inspections of all licensed animal facilities, overlooking health and safety violations that some inspectors considered "nitpicking" and not imposing or collecting many fines. The audit also said the state could do a better job of coordinating with federal inspectors, who tend to cite more violations.

The Agriculture Department said its main problem is a lack of money and staff.

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