Sheriff launches investigation of Iowa dog breeder

By: - January 10, 2023 3:37 pm

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)

County law enforcement officials say they are investigating a rural Iowa dog breeder who is being sanctioned by federal regulators.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has fined Henry R. Sommers, who runs the Happy Puppy dog-breeding operation on 141st Avenue in the Appanoose County town of Cincinnati, $12,600. The fine stems from numerous citations for regulatory violations over the past six years.

Mindi Callison of the animal-welfare group Bailing Out Benji contacted Appanoose County Sheriff Gary Anderson recently about Sommers. Citing the evidence already collected by federal inspectors, she asked Anderson to consider charging Sommers with violating Iowa’s animal-neglect laws.

Anderson said Tuesday that his department visited Sommers’ operation last year and will visit again to determine whether the regulatory violations documented by inspectors rise to the level of criminal neglect.

“It’s definitely something we’re looking at,” he said.

Appanoose County Sheriff Gary Anderson. (Photo courtesy of Appanoose County)

In 2022, he said, the sheriff’s office was contacted by an animal-welfare group in New York about the issues uncovered by USDA inspectors. That led to an on-site visit and a consultation with Iowa’s state veterinarian, he said.

“The state veterinarian said at that point in time that the violations did not rise to the level of the criminal violations in the Code of Iowa,” Anderson said. “But since that time we have received more information and we’re assigning a deputy to go out there and, obviously, do an investigation as to whether there are now any violations of the Iowa Code.”

Iowa’s animal-welfare laws include a prohibition on animal neglect, which is a simple misdemeanor for first-time offenders. In cases of injury, the crime is considered a serious misdemeanor, and in cases of serious injury or death, the offense can be elevated to an aggravated misdemeanor.

The animal neglect law prohibits individuals from failing to provide basic necessities, such as food, drinkable water, veterinary care, sanitary living conditions that are free from excessive animal waste, and adequate protection from the elements.

Sommers was cited for failing to provide adequate veterinary care to his dogs in September 2019, September 2021, January 2022, April 2022 and August 2022.

The more serious offense of animal abuse, in which a person intentionally or recklessly acts to inflict on an animal an injury, serious injury, or death can be charged as a serious or aggravated misdemeanor.

An outbuilding at the Happy Puppy dog breeding operation run by Henry Sommers in Appanoose County, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of the Appanoose County Assessor’s Office)

In her letter to the sheriff, Callison wrote that her organization believes Sommers is violating state law and asked that any animals on the property be seized and handed over to a nonprofit animal shelter so they can be examined while the investigation is ongoing.

Callison noted that in 2022 alone, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship inspected Sommers’ operation numerous times and, on nine occasions, found that Happy Puppy was out of compliance with minimum standards. Sommers’ history of failing to comply with regulations, she said, goes back at least a decade.

Callison provided the sheriff’s office with detailed USDA and IDALS inspection reports for the past two years and highlighted the regulatory violations – such as a lack of veterinary care, a lack of drinkable water and unsanitary conditions – that appear to correspond to elements of Iowa’s animal-neglect law.

Sommers could not be reached for comment.

He 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.

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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.