The Gingerich dogs make the case for puppy mill reform

November 2, 2021 11:05 am

This emaciated golden retriever was found inside a horse stall in an Iowa dog-breeding facility run by Daniel Gingerich. Federal officials say Gingerich placed dogs there in an effort to hide them from inspectors. (Photo from U.S. District Court exhibits)

The horrifying case of Daniel Gingerich, a Wayne County breeder on whose multiple properties hundreds of dogs were found in deplorable conditions —injured, ill, emaciated or dead — has many Iowans wondering how such a thing could have happened. He was, after all, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed breeder.

It’s hard to picture 1,000 dogs. It’s a lot. This isn’t a small family breeder or a quaint country kennel with a dozen dogs. This is a full-on industrial scale puppy mill and it is pretty clear that neither federal nor state regulation has made any appreciable difference in the lives of the animals there.

It amounts to this: We don’t have meaningful puppy mill enforcement in Iowa.

Hold USDA licensees to state standards

The plain and simple remedy lies with state action. In 2022, the state Legislature should quickly pass a bill to hold USDA-licensed breeders to the same standards as facilities that hold an Iowa license alone.

Current law says if you have a USDA license, you get a pass on Iowa’s rules and inspections. That’s wrong, and it makes no sense. Iowa’s rules are not onerous. We’re talking about things like “dogs must have a solid resting surface if they’re in a wire-floor cage” and basic temperature parameters so dogs don’t freeze or overheat to death.

There is no legitimate reason to give USDA facilities a pass here, especially since we’ve seen what passes muster for USDA licensure. (There are plenty of horror stories, including one concerning an Iowa breeder who threw a bag of dead puppies at a USDA inspector but still kept his license and still operates today.) If state inspectors had visited the Gingerich properties sooner, and laid eyes on the horrible scene, it’s likely that fewer dogs would have died.

Hire more inspectors

The state Legislature should also increase funding for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to hire more inspectors solely for the dog breeding industry. As it stands now, a handful of inspectors are tasked with visiting every facility that holds a state-license, not just dog breeders but all sorts of state licensed businesses within the agency’s scope.

This expansion follows the clear precedent set by the department’s hiring of a state veterinarian focusing on companion animal welfare and the adoption of improved welfare standards for state licensees over the last two years.

How do we fund more inspectors? This expansion can be paid for with stiff fines imposed on breeders with poor conditions and repeat violations. Increasing the fines for violations will most likely result in better compliance with the state standards. If breeders fail to pay the fines and continue to rack up violations, the state will have good cause to pull the licenses and shut the bad actors down.

Strengthen federal law

We also need federal action, and we encourage Reps. Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Cindy Axne and Randy Feenstra, along with Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, to take a leadership role. Congress should pass the Puppy Protection Act to ensure that the dogs in federally licensed breeding operations, not just in Iowa but across the nation, are given better protection. The bill would require licensed breeders to take sick and injured dogs to a veterinarian, feed dogs at least twice a day and protect them from harsh weather.

The Puppy Protection Act would also do away with stacked cages and wire floors at puppy mills and would require breeders to make a reasonable effort to find new homes for retired breeding dogs, rather than killing them. This is common sense stuff that Iowans support.

Agencies must work together

Finally, the USDA, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and local agencies must work proactively together, long before animal cruelty situations have spiraled out of control. In the Gingerich case, local law enforcement officials stated that the USDA didn’t notify them about the conditions its inspectors saw there for months. That’s one of the reasons things got so bad that many dogs suffered and died.

I’m fortunate to speak regularly with Iowans — everyday citizens and legislators alike — from all corners of the state. Increased animal welfare protections are sorely needed and wanted. The Iowans I hear from don’t want weak and ineffectual laws that protect or excuse bad actors. They don’t want to see surface-level changes that barely improve things at all. They don’t want loopholes that undermine enforcement.

Iowans want this fixed because there is not one among us who wants to hear about dogs suffering and dying. They want a reason to believe that responsible state agencies are taking steps to ensure that these abuses don’t occur. Let’s give them one.

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Preston Moore
Preston Moore

Preston Moore is the Iowa state director for the Humane Society of the United States. A lifelong Iowan and native of Clinton County, Moore currently lives in Cedar Rapids with his wife and three dogs. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @itsprestonm.