Judge balks at puppy mill owner’s request to send 453 dogs to Indiana

By: - October 18, 2021 1:20 pm

This dog, allegedly suffering from heat stress, was found in an Iowa dog-breeding facility run by Daniel Gingerich. (Photo from U.S. District Court exhibits)

A federal judge has denied, for now, a request by Wayne County dog breeder Daniel Gingerich to transfer all of his dogs to an Indiana organization, and warned him he appears to be in contempt of court.

The warning from U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose came during a hearing Monday morning on Gingerich’s request to transfer all of his dogs to the Love Pet Project, a self-described “rescue” organization based in Zionsville, Indiana.

During the hearing, it was revealed that Gingerich still has 453 dogs in his possession, not the 189 that was specified in a court papers filed last week by his attorney, Michael Byrne of Mason City.

Byrne explained to the court that the confusion stemmed from “poor wording” on his part, noting that the lower count included only adult dogs and excluded all of the puppies.

The judge noted that when Gingerich arrived at the federal courthouse for an Oct. 8 hearing, his driver appeared to be drunk and had urinated on the street in front of the courthouse. Gingerich was an hour late for that hearing, having traveled to Des Moines that day from his sister’s home in Ohio.

Dog breeder Daniel Gingerich arrived at the federal courthouse in Des Moines on Oct. 8, towing a large trailer of the type that’s often used to transport animals. His driver appeared to be intoxicated and urinated in the street, according to a federal judge. (Photo by Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Gingerich is currently facing sanctions from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for more than 100 violations of Animal Welfare Act. On Oct. 8, he was ordered to surrender all dogs in his possession that were in acute distress and in need of medical care.

At the time, Gingerich signaled a desire to give up all of the dogs he had, but said financial constraints prevented him from doing so. “I owe $600,000 on these dogs,” he told Rose. “I would love to wash my hands of the whole deal.”

On Friday, Byrne filed a motion with the court seeking permission for Gingerich to transfer all of the remaining dogs to the Love Pet Project. Attorneys for the USDA objected to that idea on Monday, saying that due to his past actions Gingerich cannot be trusted to decide where the dogs now go.

The government’s lawyers argued the dogs should be routed to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, which they described as a well-vetted organization that has the staff and resources to take in 453 dogs.

Rose asked Byrne why his client objects to the ARL taking custody of the dogs.

“He simply prefers that the ARL not have involvement in the taking of his property while working with the USDA,” Byrne told the court. “He believes they would be more than adequately cared for in the Love Project.”

Mary Hollingsworth, an attorney with the Department of Justice, questioned the Love Project’s history.

“On their website, there are a large number of ‘designer’ puppies up, you know, for exorbitant fees,” she said. “The defendant is a bad actor here. I think we have pretty well established that. His personal preference to have these dogs shipped off to an organization we know nothing about – out of state and out of sight of the various governmental entities that have an interest in this case and in these animals – I think is a little troubling.”

“Ms. Hollingsworth, I agree with you,” Judge Rose said, noting that it appeared Gingerich was already in contempt of court for not having followed her previous orders.

“I am not going to allow the surrender of these dogs to this unvetted, out-of-state project that the defendant has hand selected and has a number of red flags associated with it,” Rose said. “So my question at this point is, legally, what do I have the authority to do? Do I have the authority to order all of the dogs turned over to ARL?”

‘There’s almost no oversight.’

Byrne acknowledged that his client has not complied with some aspects of the court’s previous orders, such as turning over specific records associated with his dogs, but said that’s because some of the records don’t exist. He said his client is continuing to care for the dogs and will continue to do so as long as they remain in his custody.

“If Mr. Gingerich truly does care about these animals, then he should care about them getting the best care possible,” Hollingsworth said, adding that Indiana has no regulatory framework that’s comparable to what Iowa provides for dog breeders.

“There’s almost no oversight,” she said. “The only requirement is a spay-and-neuter requirement. There are a number of red flags here. The organization that the defendant proposes charges about quadruple the fees that most rescues charge. We have no idea whether they’ve handled a large-scale rescue like this before. What we do know is that the ARL, which the ASPCA and everyone knows, has handled many large-scale rescues.”

At Monday’s hearing, Gingerich acknowledged that one of the sick dogs in his care was recently taken by one of his employees to a veterinarian Rose had specifically barred from treating any of the dogs.

“OK,” Rose said, “It sounds to me like there is no dispute that there are still dogs breeding; that there are still puppies being acquired by birth; that there are dogs dying without following the rules that I set about notification of those deaths within 72 hours; that we still don’t have the veterinary records produced that the defendant was directed to produce on request; that we now have, based on his own admissions, knowledge that the dogs are being mislabeled by breed; that they are being treated by the veterinarian that I said should not be used to treat them; that he falsely presented those dogs as other people’s dogs; and we have information that two of his managers have resigned since all of this started … Certainly, it sounds like there’s no dispute that he is in contempt of my orders.”

Rose said that given those circumstances she believes she has “the right to take his animals” and have them turned over to the ARL. Addressing Byrne, she said, “Give me the argument as to why I don’t have the authority to do that.”

Byrne said he believes that on the contempt issue his client has a right to an evidentiary hearing at which he can call witnesses.

Rose agreed to schedule a hearing for later this week, with the time and date still to be decided.

She then cautioned Byrne about Gingerich returning to the courthouse given what transpired at the last hearing he attended in person, on Oct. 8.

“We had significant issues,” Rose told Byrne. “He was not only more than an hour late for the hearing, he arrived with a driver who appeared to be intoxicated, who urinated on the street in front of our courthouse, who threw garbage onto the front lawn of our courthouse, and who then engaged in a dispute with our court security officers. So, whoever it was that transported the defendant last time had better not be in the same frame of mind this time or we’re going to have more than one criminal contempt hearing happening. Is that understood?”

“It is understood, your honor,” Byrne replied.

Sheriff had to assist with relocation efforts

According to the Department of Justice, Gingerich was less than cooperative last week when government officials attempted to seize the dogs that were deemed to be in acute distress.

In a brief filed with the court Monday, DOJ lawyers claimed Gingerich “was defiant and uncooperative” when two USDA veterinarians arrived at one of the Wayne County breeding operations on Oct. 13.

When the vets identified two adult dogs with “severe eye conditions,” Gingerich replied that his own veterinarian had given the animals “a clean bill of health,” but then couldn’t provide any records to that effect. When asked when the exams had taken place, he allegedly responded, “I don’t know.”

Once the inspection was completed and the USDA moved to take the dogs judged to be in acute distress, Gingerich demanded to speak to a DOJ attorney, then had his driver move a vehicle so that USDA officials no longer had him in their line of sight. Concerned that he was doing something to one of the dogs, the USDA officials then moved their own vehicle to an area where they could watch him.

When told the ARL was on the way to transport the sick dogs, Gingerich allegedly “stormed off” and then returned to say his own veterinarian was “on his way,” adding, “No dog is leaving until my vet examines them.” A county deputy then had to escort the ARL representatives onto the property to facilitate the removal of the dogs.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship recently fined Gingerich $20,000 and suspended his Iowa license for 60 days, although that suspension has yet to take effect.

State and federal records indicate Gingerich does business under the name Maple Hill Puppies and that he has been operating kennels or breeding facilities in 10 different locations throughout Iowa.

Records suggest that at one time, he had at least 1,000 dogs and puppies on hand. “At a minimum, hundreds of dogs have vanished in the last few months from (Gingerich’s ) possession,” Department of Justice lawyers have told the court.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.