Abbey Benifiel, director of the Humane Society of Perry, arrived in Milan, Mo., about 8 a.m. Aug. 6 after the three-hour drive from Perry. The motive for her pilgrimage was an auction of more than 500 dogs owned by Vincent LoSacco, the commercial breeder who faces almost 1,000 charges of animal cruelty and health-related violations at his five retail outlets in New Jersey.
LoSacco first came to the attention of New Jersey authorities last winter after more than 60 dogs were found inside an unheated transport van that was parked overnight behind his Just Pups store in Paramus, N.J. Further investigation revealed widespread abuse and neglect.
LoSacco’s Just Pups shops in New Jersey were supplied with animals from his Just Pups kennel in Missouri. When New Jersey state and local authorities forced the closure of all but one of LoSacco’s retail stores, the embattled breeder moved to sell his Missouri puppy mill in an auction billed as a “total kennel dispersal.”
Benifiel’s effort paid off, and she made the long drive back to Perry accompanied by six dogs bought at the auction, which was managed by Missouri-based Southwest Auction Service, one of the state’s largest dog auctioneers.
Commercial dog breeders are licensed and regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and, in Iowa, by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS).
“This guy’s been notorious for years,” Benifiel said of LoSacco. “It was a big operation. Because of his legal issues surrounding the pet stores that were closed and his problems with the USDA, I guess he decided that it would be better to cease operations and sell off the dogs in order to cover his legal expenses and his USDA fines.”
Benifield said that “Missouri has the largest number of commercial breeding establishments in the United States. They have the most puppy mills. Iowa is number two.”
The phrase “puppy mill” is often applied to a commercial dog-breeding facility with substandard conditions.
“The problem with commercial breeders is people see the cute puppies,” she said, “but they don’t see the horrible conditions that these dogs live in. If you go to a pet store or buy a dog online, all you’re seeing is the cute little puppy. You don’t see the parents that never get out of their cages. Most of them never see a vet. They have rotting teeth. They’re full of mats. Their toenails are so long that they look like daggers. We’ve got dogs that come out of some of these places that are missing eyes, that have broken jaws, that have almost no teeth, and the teeth they do have are so rotted they might as well not have any at all.”
Puppy mills thrive in Iowa and Missouri “because of a lack of regulation,” she said, “a lack of inspectors.”
The situation in Missouri began to change in 2011, when voters there barely passed Proposition B, the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act, which stiffened the regulatory regime for commercial dog breeders and improved the living conditions for the animals, including requiring more cage room, a turnout area for exercise and a veterinary care plan.
“Iowa has none of that stuff,” according to Benifiel. She said the rule for minimum cage space in Iowa, which is also the USDA standard, requires a cage to permit a dog to move six inches to one side and six inches above. “In other words,” she said, “all that has to be provided in Iowa is that the dog can stand up and turn around. That’s it.”
The number of commercial dog breeders in Missouri sued under Proposition B has tripled since its passage, and the resulting civil fines have also surged, according to the office of the Missouri Attorney General.
As a result of Proposition B, the number of licenses issued to commercial breeders has dropped almost by half, and many breeders have sold off dogs, keeping the state’s two largest dog auction companies busy holding monthly sales.
Benifiel said the Humane Society of Perry buys dogs at Missouri auctions once or twice a year. She said commercial dog breeders send most of their stock to retail outlets in large urban areas, some in the Midwest but most to the east and west coasts “because that’s where the largest market is.”
Her advice for would-be dog buyers is simple: “If you can’t see where a puppy was born and bred, and if they won’t let you see both parents, walk away.” Buyers can also contact the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to find out whether a breeder is licensed and how many animals are on the breeder’s property.
Benifiel was a proxy buyer for one dog for Pug Partners of Nebraska, but the other five came to Perry and are currently in foster care and available for adoption. The funds used to purchase auction dogs does not come out of the Humane Society of Perry’s general funds, she said, but is donated money earmarked specifically for buying dogs at auction.
For more information about the Humane Society of Perry or to adopt one of the lucky Missouri dogs for an adoption fee, call 515-240-7581.
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