USDA fines Iowa dog breeder with long history of violations
This dog was photographed by a federal inspector during a 2021 visit to Henry Sommers’ Happy Puppy kennel in Cincinnati, Iowa. (USDA photo, courtesy of Bailing Out Benji)
A rural Iowa breeder who euthanized unwanted dogs with unauthorized stomach injections and then left the animals alone to die has been fined $12,600 by the federal government.
Henry R. Sommers, who runs the Happy Puppy dog-breeding operation on 141st Avenue in the Appanoose County town of Cincinnati, has been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for numerous violations over the past six years.
During an Aug. 16, 2022, visit, a USDA inspector cited Sommers for eight noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care; animal housing facilities; primary enclosures for animals; a lack of cleanliness, sanitization, housekeeping and pest control; and the veterinary care that was provided for dogs.
At the time, inspectors made note of a male Yorkshire terrier with numerous clumps of feces attached to his fur, and another Yorkshire terrier that had been treated with penicillin that had expired 17 months earlier. The inspector also observed that an enclosure housing two dogs had “a large amount of dried feces stuck to the upper area of the side panel, and a mold-like substance coating the feces.”
The inspector also found four containers, all unlabeled, for medication given to the dogs. One container, containing a liquid heartworm medication, was contaminated, as evidenced by a dead house fly floating in the container. The inspector also noted that dogs were not being seen by a veterinarian at least once every 12 months as required.
Sommers has been among the Humane Society of the United States’ “Horrible Hundred” – an annual, national list of dog breeders with serious violations – on at least five occasions.
Mindi Callison, founder of the Iowa-based animal-welfare organization Bailing Out Benji, said while she’s happy to see the USDA take enforcement action, more needs to be done.
She compared Sommers’ treatment to that of Daniel Gingerich, a former Wayne County breeder who was forced to surrender all of the dogs in his care after being repeatedly cited for major violations.
“We are very grateful that the USDA has issued this fine,” Callison said. “We only wish that the department would finally revoke the license of this extremely problematic facility and allow the animals to finally be rescued like what occurred with the Daniel Gingerich puppy mill case. Sommers has had more than 80 documented violations in the last decade, many of which directly pertain to the health and housing of the dogs in his care. Fines only go so far, at some point the USDA must take meaningful action and permanently revoke the licenses of facilities that refuse to do better.”
The $12,600 fine is based on three years of inspectors’ findings at Sommers’ breeding facility.
Among the violations cited by the USDA in its citation:
September 2019 – Sommers “failed to provide adequate veterinary care for animals” at his facility, the USDA alleged. An inspector observed a female Maltese chewing on her left flank, and noticed hairless, scabbed areas on one leg, at the base of her tail and behind one shoulder. The dog’s condition had not been noticed by Sommers and she was not receiving treatment.
March 2020 – Sommers failed to provide kennel enclosures with floors that protected dogs’ feet and legs from injury. Inspectors watched as one puppy’s feet fell through the openings of the wire-mesh floor inside one enclosure.
June 2021 – Sommers failed to have a responsible adult available to accompany an inspector on a tour of the facility.
September 2021 – Sommers failed to maintain an adequate program of veterinary care. A female Yorkshire terrier had a thick buildup of dark brown, organic material on her teeth, as well as inflamed red gums. A gray, female mixed-breed dog had a thick build-up of a dark brown organic material on many of her teeth, as did a male Maltese and a male Yorkshire terrier.
“When provided water, the majority of the dogs drank immediately, including one adult Yorkshire terrier that drank continuously for one and one-half minutes until it ran out of water. After the water bowl was refilled, the same dog drank for an additional thirty seconds.”
– USDA inspector
The USDA inspector also reported that Sommers’ method of euthanasia had not been approved by an attending veterinarian, and reported that Sommers was euthanizing dogs by injecting a drug through the dogs’ abdominal wall and into their stomach.
“He then places the dog back into its enclosure and returns later to ensure it has died,” the inspector reported. The instructions for using that type of drug indicate it is to be administered intravenously to ensure a rapid and painless euthanasia. Sommers was also cited for failing to replace the surfaces in his facilities that were worn or soiled and couldn’t be readily cleaned and sanitized.
January 2022 – Sommers was again cited for failing to maintain an adequate program of veterinary care. Inspectors made note of two dogs with teeth that were loose and covered with brown organic material. One of the two dogs had “very few remaining teeth,” an inspector reported.
A third dog had dark brown tartar build-up on “nearly the entire surface of upper left and right canine teeth and front teeth, holes at the base of one right upper cheek tooth, a small amount of blood along the gumline (and) a creamy white substance coating the upper and lower cheek teeth on both sides.” A veterinarian recommended anesthetizing the dog for removal of its teeth and prescribed antibiotics for gingivitis treatment.
The inspector also reported finding a female Yorkshire terrier with an abnormal condition of the left eye that had not been noticed until the inspection. Ten days later, a veterinarian performed surgery on the eye. Sommers was also cited for structurally unsound kennels that were not kept in good repair. The inspector noted that a hole cut in the wall of one wire enclosure was large enough that a dog could place its head or legs through the hole. In another enclosure, there was a sharp-edged, unattached strip of metal around the door frame.
The inspector also reported that two enclosures contained three dogs and carpet squares that were shredded into long strings, and a 12-week-old puppy was entangled in the strings as it ran around the carpet squares.
Sommers was also cited for failing to sanitize his dog enclosures at least once every two weeks to prevent an accumulation of dirt, debris and excrement. The inspectors said the interior and exterior of a box used by a puppy had “a buildup of brown material” coating almost the entire surface.
In addition, Sommers had failed to maintain copies of medical records for dogs and failed to make records available for inspectors to review.
March 2022 — The USDA inspector reported many of the same issues from previous inspections still existed, including the “strong odor of animal waste,” filthy conditions and excessive feces. Sommers reportedly admitted to the inspector that some of the feces could have been there “for weeks.”
April 2022 — Sommers was again cited for failing to maintain an adequate program of veterinary care. The inspector noted that one dog in need of dental treatment also had small open wounds that were bleeding along her left flank. In addition, a female Yorkshire terrier had loose teeth, reddened gums and a “grey substance” on her molars. Another Yorkshire terrier had a “majority of its teeth missing on both sides of the mouth,” with one remaining tooth that was loose and bloody.
Sommers was cited again for failing to keep his kennels in good repair, with the inspector pointing to a kennel gate with a broken wire that was protruding inward “and touching the faces, chests, and feet of two adult Yorkshire terriers.”
In addition, Sommers was cited for failing to keep his facilities free of any accumulation of trash, waste material and junk, with inspectors noting an excessive amount of clutter, rusty pieces of metal, nails, screws, tools, used syringes, rodent feces, hair, wood shavings, and other debris. Sommers was also cited for failing to make water available to all of the dogs., with an inspector noting that all of the water bowls used by 16 different dogs, including a female who was nursing a litter of three puppies, were dry.
“When provided water, the majority of the dogs drank immediately, including one adult Yorkshire terrier that drank continuously for one and one-half minutes until it ran out of water,” the inspector reported. “After the water bowl was refilled, the same dog drank for an additional thirty seconds.”
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