ARL evacuates over 500 dogs from Iowa puppy mills

By: - November 4, 2021 4:12 pm

Odette, left, and Roxy, right, were rescued from an Iowa puppy mill. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa and other organizations have rescued over 500 dogs from Iowa puppy mill owner Daniel Gingerich. ARL officials said it was their largest rescue and the dogs are being treated and prepared for adoption. 

“All dogs are now safe, are being brought to health, and have been given a second chance at life,” said Tom Colvin, CEO of the Animal Rescue League.

Gingerich, who conducted business as Maple Hill Puppies, received more than 100 citations over two years for violating the Animal Welfare Act. He operated puppy mills at five sites in Iowa. Inspectors in September found very ill animals and dead dogs at the sites.

In an October court hearing, Gingerich said he had “bit off more than (he) can chew” and said he was willing to surrender the dogs. He agreed to first surrender the dogs in “acute distress,” and then gave up the rest.

ARL Animal Services Director Joe Stafford said many of the rescued dogs were immediately responsive to human care.

“From the time that these animals were removed from these very loud, overcrowded conditions on the scene … to the time that they were in the arms of somebody that they knew they could trust and would care for them, some of them immediately came out of their shells,” Stafford said. “Some of the puppies were wagging their tails.”

But Stafford said others, especially the adults used for breeding, would require far more rehabilitation before they were ready for adoption. He described them as dogs “who do not know how to be dogs.”

“These are animals that are forced to live a life of servitude,” he said. “So for those animals, they will require medical and psychological rehabilitation to be taught how to be pets.”

Many of the dogs remain at the ARL, but others were transported to shelters across the Midwest for care and eventual adoption. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals donated $100,000 to the ARL to help provide for the dogs.

A few of the friendlier rescue dogs attended Thursday’s press conference. Lilith, a husky with a cast on one of her front legs, and Roxy, a small spaniel missing an ear, trotted around the room, while husky Odette sniffed reporters’ cameras. Lilith gnawed on her leash, and Colvin explained that some of the rescue dogs were being trained to go on walks for the first time.

Odette, a husky rescued from an Iowa puppy mill, investigates a reporter’s camera. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Colvin, Stafford and ASPCA Senior Counsel Robert Hensley said reform was needed to prevent incidents of animal abuse in the U.S. Hensley proposed that the Animal Welfare Act require swift action, so breeders like Gingerich cannot keep operating for months after violations.

Hensley noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture already has the authority to confiscate animals in distress, suspend licenses and to make criminal referrals. 

“In this case, it seems like the agency at every turn decided to do something other than take one of those actions,” Hensley said.

Hensley also noted that the USDA imposed no penalties after Gingerich evaded inspections for his first year in operation.

As for Iowa laws, Colvin said the primary goal would be to strengthen cruelty laws. An Iowa Capital Dispatch investigation found that Iowa’s penalties for animal neglect are small and often go unpaid. 

“But I think it’s important to note that Iowa cruelty laws should not have ever had to take a role in this at all,” Colvin said, arguing that USDA is responsible for preventing abusive breeding facilities.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.