Iowa puppy-mill dogs were sold at ‘Luxury Puppies’ and other upscale retailers
Dogs bred by former Iowa puppy mill operator Daniel Gingerich were sold this year to stores that market themselves as upscale pet retailers, with names like Star Pups, Vanity Pups, Royalty Puppies, Luxury Puppies and Diamonds and Doggies. (Photo from U.S. District Court files; animal-transfer document courtesy of Bailing Out Benji)
Before federal authorities moved to shut down a rural Iowa puppy mill, hundreds of dogs that were bred and sold in what prosecutors called filthy, dangerous conditions wound up at upscale pet retailers in Florida, New York, Nevada and other states.
Using federal veterinary records, the Iowa-based nonprofit Bailing Out Benji has tracked 498 of the dogs sold by Wayne County puppy mill operator Daniel Gingerich in 2020 and 2021. Those records show that many of the dogs wound up at out-0f-state stores that market themselves as upscale pet retailers, with names like Star Pups, Vanity Pups, Royalty Puppies, Luxury Puppies and Diamonds and Doggies.
Only one of the 27 stores contacted by the Iowa Capital Dispatch was willing to comment on their purchases from Gingerich’s Maple Hill Puppies. Most of the store managers said their shop’s owner, whom they declined to identify, would have to answer any questions and was unavailable to speak to a reporter.
The exception was Sean Lee, who said he owns Puppy Town in Las Vegas, which appears to have purchased 20 dogs from Gingerich between January and August of this year. He said while he has owned the business only since Oct. 1, the previous owner still buys all the dogs for the shop.
Puppy Town ensures that all of its dogs have the appropriate veterinary records and vaccinations, Lee said, but he doesn’t believe the former owner ever reviews the publicly available inspection reports on the facilities where those dogs originated.
“But, yes, we would like to know whatever those conditions are,” he said. “We want our puppies to be healthy because, you know, we want our customers to be happy with a healthy puppy.”
Puppy Town’s website advertises dogs at prices of up to $5,000 each, with financing available.
The veterinary records used by Bailing Out Benji to track the 498 dogs suggest that Gingerich didn’t sell to any Iowa retailers, with virtually all of the animals routed to out-of-state stores in groups of one to a half-dozen. But those records are very likely incomplete. Federal inspectors have cited Gingerich repeatedly for failing to keep adequate records that would accurately show where his dogs wound up.
“I attribute the lack of in-state records to the fact that Gingerich is a horrible record keeper,” said Mindi Callison of Bailing Out Benji, pointing out that U.S. Department of Agriculture records suggest Gingerich and another individual in Iowa exchanged more than 600 dogs in 2021 alone. None of those transactions appears in the veterinary records disclosed by the state in response to requests from Bailing Out Benji, she said.
As for the out-of-state sales that are publicly documented, the records show that many of Gingerich’s dogs went to Florida and New York stores. Last year, stores in those two states imported more than 12,000 puppies and kittens from commercial breeders, Callison said.
“In most cases, the consumer is not given the name of the breeder of their puppy until after the purchase,” Callison said. “This stops them from being able to do their research before they buy.”
Some states have attempted to crack down on puppy mills by placing restrictions on retailers. Arizona, for example, now has a law that prohibits pet stores from selling puppies purchased from breeders with numerous regulatory violations.
But despite that law, an Arizona store called “It’s a Puppies (sic) World” purchased dogs from Gingerich in May of this year, after the Iowa man began racking up major regulatory violations.
“Our research has shown that the state is not enforcing that law at all,” Callison said, adding that another Arizona store, Animal Kingdom/Puppies N Love, bought dogs from Gingerich in 2020 at a time when he was avoiding state inspections.
A Florida store called Petland bought from Gingerich last year and this year, Callison said, although it claims never to buy from puppy mills and to have researched all of the breeders who supply it with dogs.
Earlier this month, Gingerich agreed to surrender his last remaining 513 dogs and agreed to a permanent ban from engaging in any federally licensed animal-welfare activities. That agreement resolved a civil case in which the USDA sought to shut down Gingerich’s dog-breeding operations due to dozens of animal-welfare violations.
Gingerich has not been charged with any criminal violations of Iowa’s animal welfare laws, despite the USDA alleging that he “repeatedly failed to meet the minimum standards of care for his dogs on adequate nutrition, potable water and veterinary care, resulting in unnecessary suffering and death.”
Dr. Heather Cole, a supervisory veterinary medical officer for a division of the USDA, stated in a recent declaration to the court that she has “never encountered a licensee who has this high of a level of chronic and repeat noncompliance across every category of Animal Welfare Act requirements.” Cole added that Gingerich’s facilities “are the all-around least compliant facilities” she has ever encountered.
The USDA claims that in order to avoid oversight and inspection, Gingerich had attempted to hide sick dogs from the agency’s inspectors. In one instance, federal inspectors directed Gingerich to seek immediate veterinary care for a dog found in poor condition.
Instead of doing so, inspectors reported Gingerich tried to hide the dog during follow-up inspections, in part by placing the animal in what the USDA called “a filthy horse stall” that was covered in a “thick layer of dirt, horse manure, and dog feces.”
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