Puppy mill update: Iowa still leads the nation in both violators and citations
Wolf Point Kennel, located in the Warren County town of Ackworth, was cited for six regulatory violations in March. The dogs pictured here were photographed during a 2021 inspection of the business. (Main photo via Google Earth; inset photos by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors, courtesy of Bailing Out Benji)
Iowa continues to lead the nation in the number of regulatory violations committed by puppy mills.
During the first quarter of 2023, federal inspectors cited the nation’s licensed dog breeders for 303 violations. Of those, 107 were committed by Iowa breeders.
The 107 violations were committed by 26 different Iowa breeders, which means Iowa also leads the nation in the number of puppy mills that were cited by regulators during the first three months of 2023. The No. 2 state, Missouri, had 31% fewer puppy mills cited for violations than did Iowa.
The data also shows that some Iowa breeders, after being cited for violations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, surrendered or canceled their license, then obtained a new license for the same operation — a process that has the effect of obscuring their past history of violations.
“It is a huge loophole within the USDA’s program to allow licensees to cancel their license when they have a problematic history, only to obtain a new one at the same address,” said Mindi Callison, founder and executive director of Bailing Out Benji, a national animal-welfare organization based in Iowa. “This isn’t fair to the consumer who might be trying to do their research before they buy a dog, and it isn’t fair for the animals who keep suffering in these sub-par, neglectful facilities. We need the USDA and Congress to close this loophole now and hold bad actors accountable.”
Bailing Out Benji collects the data on dog-breeders violations from the USDA, then compiles and analyzes it on a quarterly basis. The data shows the five states with the most breeders cited for violations January through March 2023 are:
Iowa: 26 breeders
Missouri: 19 breeders
Ohio: 17 breeders
Wisconsin: 11 breeders
Indiana: 9 breeders
In addition to the 26 Iowa breeders cited for violations in the first quarter, one breeder with a history of violations was criminally charged with neglect.
Henry Sommers of Happy Puppies in the Appanoose County town of Cincinnati was cited for violations in all four quarters of 2022. He canceled his license in the first quarter of 2023 after county officials charged him with seven counts of animal neglect.
During their investigation, Appanoose County officials observed four dogs living in what the sheriff’s office described 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 had a lump on the stomach and the other had dental issues, both of which required surgical intervention.
Sommers has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. A pretrial conference in the case is scheduled for June 14.
The 26 Iowa breeders and the violations for which they were cited in the first quarter of 2023 include:
Ilen and Wanda Koedam of Koedams Kountry Kennels in Rock Rapids: At the time of their Feb. 16 inspection, the Koedams had 261 dogs and were cited for three noncritical violations. The inspectors alleged there were 25 dogs on the premises that lacked any identification, and 10 puppies that had yet to be weaned were being housed in enclosures with holes in the flooring through which their feet and legs were falling. Also, there were no records indicating when 125 dogs might have been given the required annual testing for heartworm.
Amos and Eugene Bontrager of Cantril Kennel in Keosauqua: On Jan. 4, USDA officials tried, but failed, to conduct an inspection of the Cantril Kennel. The Bontragers were cited for one noncritical violation pertaining to the USDA’s inability to gain access to the property. “There was no answer at the house or the kennel,” the inspector reported. “I called and left a message to licensee’s work phone. Receiving no responses, I left the facility at 2:39 p.m.” Due to the USDA’s inability to conduct an inspection, it’s not known how many dogs are at the site.
Scott Swanson of S & J Kennels (Site No. 2) in Ollie: On Feb. 1, USDA officials tried and failed to inspect the kennel and Swanson was cited for one noncritical violation pertaining to the USDA’s inability to gain access to the property. “The inspector arrived at the facility and knocked on the door,” the inspector reported. “The inspector sent the licensee a text message and called and left a message. The licensee replied and stated that he was not available for the inspection. The inspector then left the facility.”
The inspector returned two months later, on March 29, and cited Swanson for one direct violation pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care, plus three noncritical violations pertaining to recordkeeping, housing facilities and the primary enclosures for dogs.
The inspector found that a male French bulldog named Buzz had been injured in a fight with another dog, Lucky. One of Buzz’s feet was swollen and a large section of hair, skin and the underlying tissues was missing. Part of his large paw pad had been torn off and blood coated the hair of the foot. “Several large injuries are also located along the left side of the dog’s spine,” the inspector reported. “A section of skin had been torn from the dog’s back and is still attached to one of the affected areas. The hair coat surrounding the wounds is stiff and contains a hard dark colored material.”
The inspector also examined Lucky, a female French bulldog. She had two large wounds on the outside of her left front leg and the center of each wound was dark red with fresh blood in the surrounding area. “Numerous small puncture wounds were also identified along the outside of the right hind leg and fresh blood is located around many of these wounds,” the inspector wrote.
Swanson told inspectors the two dogs were injured in a fight three weeks prior, adding that he had not consulted with a veterinarian about the injuries and had not created a treatment plan that was approved by a veterinarian.
There were 36 dogs on the premises at the time of the inspection. Swanson had been previously cited for violations during inspections in the second and fourth quarters of 2022.
Heath Meyers of Century Farm Puppies in Grundy Center: At the time of this March 1 inspection, Meyers was cited for one direct violation pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary and four noncritical violations. The inspector made note of a spaniel with matted ears that had poor dental health, with some of her teeth completely encased in a hard, brown buildup. The inspector also observed a poodle that was repeatedly shaking his head due to both ear canals being blocked by a buildup of hair and dark brown organic material.
In addition, the inspector described a Bichon that was observed “hopping around” with its right rear leg held up in the air due to a toe pad that was partially torn away. The dog was also in poor dental health, with some teeth that were loose and their roots exposed. Meyers or his representatives were “unaware” of the dog’s condition, the inspector reported.
Other problems related to the physical environment were cited. There were 353 dogs on site at the time of the inspection. The facility’s records indicated there were 283 adult dogs on hand, but only 225 adult dogs were counted. The USDA issued Meyers a warning as a result of the March 1 inspection.
Barbara and Martin Hammen of S.R.K. Kennel in Jolley: At the time of their Feb. 15 inspection, the Hammens were cited for one noncritical violation. The kennel was found to have canceled its license in 2021 and then continued selling dogs without the required license for interstate commerce. “The owner said they were not breeding the Bernese mountain dogs, but a posting on Puppies.com shows they put up two Bernese mountain dog puppies for sale in December 2022,” the inspector noted. “Puppies from at least three St. Bernard litters have also been posted in the last year.”
The Hammens were then granted a new license, and on March 23, the USDA issued the Hammens a warning – which can be a precursor to a license suspension — stemming from the Feb. 15 inspection. The Hammens then canceled their newly acquired license.
Carla Couchman of C & L Puppies in Weldon: During her Dec. 30, 2022, inspection, Couchman had 111 dogs on hand and was cited for three noncritical violations. “Four enclosures throughout the premises have a buildup of grey-to-brown grime on the metal doors and the plastic walls around the metal doors,” the inspector reported. “The buildup of grime indicates that daily spot-cleaning is not taking place. Without daily spot-cleaning and required sanitization the disease potential can increase for the five adult dogs in those enclosures.”
In addition, some of the enclosures featured metal self-feeding receptacles with no lids covering the feed available to the 19 dogs who ate from them – increasing the potential for water, pests and mold to contaminate the feed.
Dennis and Donna Van Wyk of Prairie Lane Kennel in New Sharon: At the time of this Jan. 12 inspection, the Van Wyks were cited for six noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care; recordkeeping, housing facilities; the sheltered housing for dogs; incompatible grouping of dogs; and inadequate veterinary care for the dogs.
“One adult female dog and five puppies are housed on raised plastic flooring,” the inspector reported. “Nearly the entire surface of the flooring is coated in dried feces. The dogs cannot move about the enclosure without coming into contact with the feces. The licensee stated the enclosure had last been cleaned a few days ago.”
The inspector also made note of an excessive amount of rodent droppings. “A buildup of rodent feces is located on surfaces throughout the interior of the large-breed sheltered building,” the inspector wrote, adding that there were “rodent feces on top of the dog enclosures, in slide-out trays under empty enclosures, on the flooring of empty enclosures, and on the top of feeders in empty enclosures. A dead mouse and rodent feces were observed next to the access door inside an empty enclosure. Seven dogs are housed in this building.”
The inspector also reported finding two German shepherds that were confined to an enclosure that was not tall enough to allow them to stand or sit in a normal position. “When the dogs are standing or sitting, their heads touch the top of the enclosure and their ears cannot be held in the normal upright position but must be flattened out to the side or folded back against the head,” the inspector wrote, adding that the dogs were “moving about the enclosure with their heads slightly ducked down.”
The Van Wyks reportedly had each adult dog examined by a veterinarian in April 2022, but there was no written documentation of the exams or their results. There were 57 dogs on hand at the time of the inspection.
Elias H. Mast of Shady Ridge Kennels in Bloomfield: At the time of this Feb. 28 inspection, Mast was cited for five noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care. His records indicated the business’s veterinarian had conducted a “visual examination” of all the adult dogs in June 2022, but there were no records on hand indicating a physical examination of the dogs had been performed. There were 41 dogs on hand at the time of the inspection. Bailing Out Benji says it has records indicating Mast sells to pet stores in at least six states.
Helene Hamrick of Wolf Point Kennel in Ackworth: At the time of this March 14 inspection, Hamrick was cited for six noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care, recordkeeping, the housing facilities, the dogs’ primary enclosures, and the veterinary care for the dogs.
The inspector noted a male Bichon and a male poodle each had significantly matted hair. The poodle had “clumps of matted hair” across the top of his head and around his tail. Although the kennel claimed to be grooming dogs every three months, the poodle was 6.5 months old and had yet to be groomed.
Several issues were identified with the physical environment, with the inspector noting that numerous enclosures had a damaged threshold between the doggie doors, with a metal covering that was broken, creating sharp points and jagged edges the dogs could step on. There were 59 dogs on the premises at the time of the inspection.
Henry and Mary Beth Detweiler of Detweiler’s Kennel in Fairbank: At the time of this Feb. 13 inspection, the Detweilers were cited for one noncritical violation pertaining to the improper identification of dogs. There were 22 dogs on the premises at the time of the inspection.
Jake Kruse of K & E Kennels in Salem: On March 8, USDA officials tried, but failed, to conduct an inspection of Kruse’s kennels. “Inspectors knocked on door of house, called and left message, honked horn of car, spoke with an individual at the facility who stated no one was available for the inspection,” the USDA report reads. “Inspectors then left the facility.” Kruse was cited for one noncritical violation pertaining to the USDA’s inability to gain access to the property. Bailing Out Benji reports that federal records indicate Kruse sells to pet stores in at least 18 states.
Jeff Wagenbach of Timbercreek Puppies in Burlington: At the time of this Feb. 27 inspection, Wagenbach was cited for five noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care; the housing facilities; and the veterinary care provided for the dogs. “The licensee has not been testing the dogs for heartworm or intestinal parasites,” the inspector reported. There were 59 dogs on the premises at the time of the inspection.
Jeremy Steiner of Stonyridge Puppies in Burlington: At the time of this Jan. 23 inspection, Steiner was cited for one noncritical violation pertaining to housing facilities. “There is loose dog food kibble on the floor,” the inspector reported, “and there are rodent feces mixed in.” There were 69 dogs on hand at the time of the inspection.
Jerry Troyer of Chariton: At the time of this Feb. 15 inspection, Troyer was cited for four noncritical violations pertaining to the veterinary care provided for the dogs. “The dogs are not receiving the required physical exam by the attending veterinarian every 12 months,” the inspector reported. “Documentation showed that some of the dogs had received physical exams from the veterinarian in June 2021.” Also, Troyer was using invoices from his veterinarian to document treatments and procedures the dogs had undergone – but many of those invoices failed to identify the dog that received the treatment. There were 28 dogs on hand at the time of the inspection.
Kyle Holtkamp of Donnellson: At the time of this Feb. 13 inspection, Holtkamp was cited for five noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care; the incompatible grouping of dogs; and inadequate veterinary care. “The program of veterinary care is incomplete and the vaccination information for adult dogs is missing,” the inspector reported. Bailing Out Benji has records indicating Holtkamp is selling dogs to pet stores in at least three states, although the February inspection was his first since 2020. There were 73 dogs on hand at the time of the inspection.
Linda, Stanley and Bethany Korver of Orange City: At the time of this Feb. 15 inspection, the Korvers were cited for 10 noncritical violations – an unusually high number. The violations pertained to the method of identifying dogs, recordkeeping, housing facilities for dogs, watering, cleaning, the sanitization of certain areas, overall housekeeping, pest control, and the veterinary care that was provided for the dogs.
The inspector noted a mixture of water, bedding material and animal waste that was collecting near a hut used to house five dogs. “At least two water receptacles had an algae-looking substance on the interior surface of the water receptacle,” the inspector reported. “When the water becomes contaminated, it is no longer considered to be safe to be consumed.”
Also, the inspector noted that bird droppings were accumulating on top of gates, metal pans, rubber buckets, metal fencing and a storage table that came into contact with dogs. “The facility has no current, effective pest-prevention program in place,” the inspector reported.
In addition, 27 of the 34 dogs that were on hand had no record of physical examinations, heartworm treatment or vaccinations for rabies. According to Bailing Out Benji, federal records indicate the Korvers are selling dogs to a Nebraska broker named Crittersville.
Mark Wehling of North Winds Kennel in Monona: At the time of this Feb. 15 inspection, Wehling was cited for five noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care, the methods used to identify dogs, the housing facilities, the lack of an approved exercise plan for the dogs, and the veterinary care that was provided for the dogs.
Six adult dogs were behind on their vaccines and the facility was storing vaccines that had expired. Also, 18 adult dogs were in need of a dental cleaning, but had not received them and had no scheduled appointments for a cleaning. There were 53 dogs on hand at the time of the inspection.
Marvin E. Hershberger of Twin Pines Kennel in Bloomfield: At the time of this Feb. 21 inspection, Hershberger was cited for one noncritical violation. The kennel was storing vaccines at 51 degrees rather than the 35- to 46-degree range recommended to ensure efficacy. There were 14 dogs on the premises at the time of the inspection.
Melvin Yoder of Locust Creek Kennel in Seymour: At the time of this Feb. 15 inspection, Yoder was cited for three noncritical violations pertaining to the incompatible grouping of dogs and the veterinary care provided for the dogs. According to Bailing Out Benji, federal records indicate Locust Creek Kennel is selling dogs to pet stores in at least six states. There were 40 dogs on hand at the time of this inspection.
Merlin Yoder of Oak Brook Kennel in Drakes Ville: On Jan. 9, USDA officials tried, and failed, to inspect the kennel and Yoder was cited one noncritical violation pertaining to the USDA’s inability to gain access to the property. “The inspector arrived at the facility at 1:15 pm and knocked on the door to the house, honked the car horn, called the phone number and left a message, and then waited 30 minutes,” the inspector reported. “The inspector then left the facility.”
The day after the attempted inspection, Yoder allegedly had a veterinarian examine each of the 20 adult dogs at the facility – but the results of those examinations were not documented. Inspectors returned on Jan. 23 and cited Yoder for failing to keep adequate medical records.
Natalie Connally of Kutabays in Pella: On Jan. 5, USDA officials tried, and failed, to inspect the kennel and Connally was cited one noncritical violation pertaining to the USDA’s inability to gain access to the property.
The inspector returned on Jan. 24 and cited Connally for seven noncritical violations pertaining to the outdoor housing facilities, the feeding of 13 dogs, the watering for six dogs, and veterinary care. Prior to that visit, the kennel had not been inspected since 2020, despite a history of past violations.
In at least 10 outdoor dog enclosures that contained a total of a total of 21 adult dogs, the shelters were deemed to be too small to accommodate the dogs. “In several of these enclosures, the dogs are significantly taller than the shelter and are unable to sit or stand inside them in a normal position,” the inspector reported.
“The facility uses wood shavings to cover the floors in the dog enclosures,” the inspector added. “In at least two enclosures, containing a total of six adult dogs, the wood shavings are completely saturated and no clean and dry shavings remain. The licensee thought it had been several days since the shavings had been cleaned out and replaced … The food receptacles for the puppies are heavily contaminated with wood shavings making it difficult for the puppies to consume the food without also consuming the shavings … One enclosure, containing one adult male Australian shepherd, has no water in the water bucket. Only dry wood shavings were observed in the bucket … In at least two other enclosures, containing a total of four adult dogs, the water in the buckets is heavily contaminated by a thick layer of wood shavings making it difficult for the dogs to drink water without also consuming the shavings.”
In addition, the kennel had no records to show the dogs had been vaccinated, dewormed and treated for heartworm as the owner believed. There were 99 dogs and cats on the premises at the time of the inspection.
Orla Nisley of Rolling Organic Acres in Edgewood: At the time of this Feb. 21 inspection, Nisley was cited for two noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care. There were 90 dogs on the premises at the time of the inspection.
David Horning of Ionia: At the time of his Feb. 28, inspection, Horning was cited for one direct violation pertaining to the kennel’s attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care. Five dogs and one deceased puppy were affected by that violation, the USDA reported, and there were also five noncritical violations cited.
The inspector found one three-week-old Boston Terrier puppy that was much smaller than its littermate and had a thick, white discharge from one eye that she couldn’t keep open. The puppy also had a very large head, as well as continuous tremors and “open, red, raw sores on her hind paws.”
The inspector also reported finding a Shih Tzu with matting at the corners of his eyes that so severe it was difficult to even see the dog’s eyes. The dog also had a significant buildup of hard, brown material on its teeth and his gum tissue had receded and exposed the roots to some of the teeth.
Horning allegedly tried to shave the dog’s face during the inspection and accidently cut the skin below the left eye creating “a large, flapping, red, open wound,” the inspector reported. The inspector found a dead puppy underneath the kennel’s elevated enclosures. Horning had not noticed the puppy.
The inspector also made note of a Bichon with excessively long toenails and opaque, yellow-green discharge from one eye; a different Bichon with poor dental health, long toenails and matted hair throughout its body; and a female cocker spaniel with severely matted hair on its legs, ears and face. The inspector also noted Horning was not testing dogs for heartworm as required was not keeping records of any vaccines for distemper, parvovirus or Bordetella.
There were at least 104 dogs on hand at the time of the inspection. Horning received an official warning from the USDA as a result of the Feb. 28 inspection and has since canceled his license.
Steve Kruse of Stonehenge Kennels in West Point: At the time of this March 7 inspection, USDA officials cited Kruse for one direct violation pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care – a violation that affected 17 of the dogs. He was also cited for one noncritical violation pertaining to veterinary care. Inspectors returned on March 14 and cited Kruse for two noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care.
The USDA then suspended Kruse’s license for 21 days. Stonehenge Kennels is one of Iowa’s largest dog breeding operations and Kruse allegedly sells to pet stores throughout the country using brokers located in Iowa. Kruse was also cited for violations in the second, third and fourth quarters of 2022.
Tom and Carla Steffensmeier of T & C Steffensmeier Kennels in West Point: At the time of this March 8 inspection, the Steffensmeiers were cited for 12 noncritical violations – an usually high number. Those violations pertained to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care, the housing facilities, the primary enclosures, the feeding of dogs, cleaning, sanitization, overall housekeeping, pest control, and veterinary care for the dogs.
The inspector noted that an adult female dog had a hairless, swollen area on the left back paw, which was red and discharging fluid. The staff had not noticed the dog’s condition and no treatment was being provided or planned. In a room for large-breed dogs, at least two overhead water lines were broken and leaking water directly into the enclosures that housed three dogs.
Also, numerous feeding devices used to provide food for 20 of the dogs were broken and in serious disrepair. “Approximately 36 feeders accessed by 35 adult dogs contain insects on the food in the feeders,” the inspector reported. “The insects are approximately a quarter-inch in length and are crawling on the food.”
The inspector also reported “a large amount of waste materials” on the concrete floors, writing: “The waste material was most pronounced at the end of the room where the pipes place the waste in the gutter … Rodent feces are located on top of the drainage pipes and surrounding the waste material on the floor.”
In the room housing the golden retrievers, the inspector noticed the ammonia level increased toward the end of the room where the waste material was building up on the floors beneath the dog enclosures.
In addition, the inspector observed an adult golden retriever anchored to the floor of its enclosure due to its foot being stuck in an opening of the floor. “The left back toes were observed by the inspector to be through the hole in the lattice flooring and the dog was unable to release it,” the inspector reported. “The dog would pivot its body around the left hind leg but would not pick up the foot or walk around the enclosure. The licensee pushed the dog’s foot out of the opening and the dog was able to then walk around the enclosure.”
The inspector also made note of a rodent infestation: “In the feed room, along the floors and on a pile of broken feeders, there was a large amount of rodent feces. The pile of broken feeders contained old, moldy food and organic matter. Additionally, a live mouse was found in the entry way between all of the adult-dog rooms. The mouse ran behind the open door to one of the dog rooms and the inspector observed an adult mouse with what appeared to be a litter of baby mice behind this door.”
There were 225 dogs on hand at the time of the inspection. The Steffensmeiers sell to pet stores in at least 12 states, according to federal records obtained by Bailing Out Benji.
Troy and Jody Grant of Critter Haven Exotics in Thornton: At the time of this Jan. 18 inspection, the Grants were cited for two noncritical violations pertaining to the attending veterinarian and inadequate veterinary care; and cleaning, sanitization, overall housekeeping and pest control. The Grants told the inspector they do not clean the dog enclosures during the winter months, and the inspector noted there was a buildup of brown organic material on the tin-sided walls and the floor, creating a potential health hazard.
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