Rural Iowa dog breeder charged with seven counts of animal neglect

By: - February 1, 2023 10:56 am

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)

The owner of a rural Iowa dog-breeding business was arrested Tuesday and charged with seven counts of animal neglect.

Henry Sommers, the owner of Happy Puppy on 141st Avenue in the town of Cincinnati, was arrested Tuesday by the Appanoose County Sheriff’s Office. Sommers, whose business has a long history of regulatory violations, was recently fined $12,600 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a string of violations over the past six years.

Henry Sommers, the owner of Appanoose County’s Happy Puppy dog-breeding operation. (Photo courtesy of the Appanoose County Sheriff’s Office)

Court records indicate Sommers, 83, is now charged with two counts of animal neglect with serious injury, an aggravated misdemeanor; three counts of animal neglect with injury, a serious misdemeanor; and two counts of animal neglect without injury, a simple misdemeanor. Sommers has yet to enter a plea in the case.

The charges stem from an investigation that began three weeks ago, when the sheriff’s office fielded a complaint of potential animal neglect at Sommers’ business.

During the investigation, officials observed four dogs living in what the sheriff’s office describes as “an unhealthy environment.” The arrest report indicates a deputy found feces in a food bowl, and “piles of excrement in with the dogs, as well as a pile of waste underneath them.”

A veterinarian allegedly determined that at least one of the dogs had a large abscess on one shoulder, and two of the dogs needed to be bathed and shaved immediately. According to the deputy’s report, the veterinarian reported having seen some of Sommers’ dogs on a previous occasion, and that one of the animals one had a lump on the stomach and the other had dental issues, both of which required surgical intervention.

Records obtained from the USDA and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the federal and state agencies that share oversight of commercial breeders, documented multiple regulatory violations and contributed to some of the charges being filed against Sommers, the sheriff’s office said.

In a written statement, the sheriff’s office added that it has referred all of its findings to the USDA and IDALS for their review with regard to Sommers’ commercial breeder license.

Court records indicate Sommers was released from the Appanoose County Jail on Tuesday after posting a cash bond.

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)

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

Last year, Anderson said, the sheriff’s office conducted an on-site visit at the Happy Puppy operation – also identified in state and federal records as Happy Puppies and Happy Puppys – in consultation with Iowa’s state veterinarian, who works at IDALS. “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.

Iowa’s animal neglect laws prohibit 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. 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.