Animal-welfare group calls for criminal charges against Lee County puppy mill

By: - April 17, 2023 5:11 pm

Steve Kruse’s Stonehenge Kennels in West Point, Iowa, has been repeatedly cited for failure to provide adequate veterinary care, and the USDA recently suspended Kruse’s license. The dog pictured here is one of those that federal inspectors alleged was in need of veterinary care. (Aerial photo courtesy of Bailing Out Benji. Inset photo taken by USDA inspector, courtesy of Bailing Out Benji.)

Animal welfare advocates are asking Lee County officials to consider filing criminal charges against one of Iowa’s largest dog breeders.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended the breeder’s license of Steve Kruse, whose Stonehenge Kennels is located at 2345 Highway 16 in West Point.

In its notice to Kruse, the USDA said the 21-day suspension was based on the agency’s conclusion he had willfully violated Animal Welfare Act regulations and was failing to meet the minimum standards for licensing.

For years, Kruse has operated one of the largest dog-breeding businesses in Iowa. As of March, he had 718 dogs at his rural Lee County location, according to federal inspectors. In recent years, he has been cited for numerous violations and repeatedly appeared on the Humane Society of the United States’ annual list of the nation’s 100 worst dog breeders.

In December 2015, Kruse received a 21-day USDA license suspension after throwing a bag containing two dead puppies at a USDA inspector.

During a March 7 inspection of Stonehenge Kennels, inspectors cited Kruse for several violations, including a repeat violation for providing inadequate veterinary care.

Dogs housed at a kennel owned by Steve Kruse of Stonehenge Kennel in West Point, Iowa. The photo was taken by a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector in 2021. (USDA photo courtesy of Bailing Out Benji)

In response to the USDA’s decision to suspend Kruse’s license, Mindi Callison, the founder of the Iowa-based animal-welfare group Bailing Out Benji, wrote to Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber and Lee County Attorney Ross Braden last week and asked them to consider charging Kruse with violating Iowa’s animal welfare laws.

Callison alleged Kruse is currently breaking the state law governing the mistreatment of animals and has formally asked the sheriff and prosecutor to investigate Stonehenge Kennels.

She also asked that the remaining animals at the business be seized and handed over to a legitimate nonprofit animal shelter. The USDA’s published findings, as well as inspection reports and photos, make a “strong case for animal neglect and cruelty charges,” Callison told Weber and Braden.

Callison noted that the USDA’s findings of four direct violations and 14 non-critical violations have affected at least 80 animals at Stonehenge. She provided Weber and Braden with copies of the relevant USDA inspection reports, as well as photos taken by federal inspectors.

Weber and Braden could not be reached for comment Monday.

In the past, Sheriff Weber has worked with licensed breeders in the county in an effort to crack down on the  unlicensed breeders operating in Lee County.

“I want to talk with the lawful breeders in our county,” Weber told the Pen City Current last spring. “I want to sit with them and pick their brains about this. These black-market breeders become competition and the legit breeders abide by the law.”

He told The Hawk Eye that “our commercial breeders that do this professionally in our county, the big ones, we don’t have any trouble with. Because they’re monitored by the state and they welcome us to their facilities whenever we want to stop by.”

Weber’s comments followed the arrest of David and Gina Sams of Argyle, who were alleged to be confining more than 80 dogs and dozens of hamsters inside their home. The couple allegedly sold the dogs online, through the online service Puppy Finder, while operating under the name Sams’ Angel Pies.

Deputies and animal-welfare organizations seized 42 of the couple’s dogs, and a similar number of hamsters. They were each charged with seven counts of animal neglect.

Pursuant to a plea bargain, three of the counts were later dismissed and David and Gina Sams each pleaded guilty to four counts of simple-misdemeanor animal neglect. They were each sentenced to a 40-day suspended jail sentence, and each was ordered to pay $1,710 in fines, plus $1,460 in court costs and $1,500 in restitution.

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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.