Clear the Shelter

People made their way to Lawrence Humane Society in August during Clear the Shelter, a nationwide event.

Staff at the Lawrence Humane Society had been given a heads up that inspectors were coming with a truck full of dogs. But what they saw that day last January still alarmed them.

More than 50 Yorkies were brought into the shelter after being seized by state inspectors from a breeder in Kansas. They were covered in their own feces, with matted hair, overgrown nails, mammary tumors and teeth infected so badly they would need to be extracted.

“It was horrifying,” said Tia Ezell, manager of the shelter’s foster care efforts. “The dogs were covered in their own feces. We stayed hours late vaccinating them and most of them ended up with no teeth.”

Those at the Humane Society wish such cases of abuse or neglect by bad breeders were unusual. But Kansas has one of the worst records in the country for breeders that violate federal care standards.

In its latest annual report, the U.S. Humane Society found Kansas was tied for second with Ohio and Pennsylvania for the most violations on its “Horrible Hundred 2017” list for “most problematic puppy mills.” Missouri was ranked number one.

Puppy mills are run by breeders who maximize profits by continually breeding female dogs with no recovery time and then selling the puppies to pet stores or through advertising. Students and others who wind up adopting “puppy mill” dogs often have to deal with physical and behavioral problems.

“In a puppy mill, dogs are often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs — and it is not unusual for cages to be stacked in columns. When female breeding dogs reach a point of physical depletion and can no longer reproduce, they are often killed,” according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The Horrible Hundred 2017 report is based on new and recurring violations of USDA standards at puppy breeding and puppy brokering facilities. In 2016, Kansas was ranked third on the list, with 14 puppy mills in violation. This year Kansas was down to 12 puppy mills on the list, but is still among the highest in terms of substandard living conditions, wire cages and thorough veterinarian checks.

Lawrence Humane Society Executive Director Kate Meghji and other animal advocates said some breeders get away with continually violating the law year after year because state laws are weak in terms of requiring animals to be well-treated, and enforcement officers don’t have access to records of previous violations or veterinary records.

The state has three inspectors and 332 licensed animal breeding facilities which include hobby, retail and animal breeders, said Jason Walker, public relations director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, which oversees the inspections.

Efforts to bolster requirements in the Kansas Pet Animal Act, the overarching law that dictates the conditions for breeding dogs, cats and other animals, have repeatedly failed in the state legislature. Advocates seeking changes will try again next year to amend the two-decade-old law, but aren’t overly optimistic. Opponents have argued that more stringent rules aren’t needed to ensure animals are well-fed and cared for — the market and consumers ensure that — and more regulations will hurt breeders’ businesses.

Meanwhile, the care of seized animals who have been mistreated often falls to shelters and to the people who adopt them.

Hunter Waldrop, a 24-year-old University alumna, saw these long term effects in her dog Tucker when she adopted him from Lawrence Humane Society. Tucker was among the 50 Yorkies who had been seized from the Kansas puppy mill.

“When I met Tucker he was very, very scared and would only cower,” Waldrop said. “I knew at the time he was a puppy mill dog, and that he was in fairly bad condition when they found him. I didn't know about his intense phobias, that later came out.”

Tucker still suffers from intense separation anxiety and has struggled with being socialized, but Waldrop said he has done a “180 degree turn,” since she first adopted him.

“At first he was afraid of everyone, he would not play with toys and he would not let anyone hold him except me,” Waldrop said. “Now he’s doing great and his favorite food is french fries. He can smell them from outside of the car or all the way across the house — this is not a joke.”

Meghji said her staff was able to save all of the Yorkies that had been seized last January. Most of the dogs ended up with severe emotional issues, but were adopted by families in the Lawrence community.

Edited by Forest Lassman