St. Louis, Mo., March 18, 2010 – Missouri is so overwhelmed by the number of puppy sellers that it can’t regulate the puppy industry properly, a statewide BBB study concludes.
“The Puppy Industry in Missouri,” which was released today, found that 30 percent of federally licensed dog breeders are located in Missouri, four times the number of breeders in the next highest state.
The study, which was sponsored by the BBBs in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, was undertaken because of the large number of consumers who complained that they bought ill puppies and the expenditure of thousands of dollars by purchasers for veterinarian fees that sellers refused to reimburse.
The study does not indict the entire dog-breeding industry. Rather, it is a look at the problems facing the industry as a whole, problems which have been acknowledged by the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
The southwest section of Missouri is the hub of the puppy industry, the study noted. A puppy broker, Hunte Corp., which reportedly buys and sells about 90,000 puppies per year, is located in the small town of Goodman in the southwest corner of the state near the borders of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Those two states, together with Missouri, are among the top five states in terms of breeders licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Hunte, which delivers puppies to pet stores via 18-wheeler semis, has been the target of several suits filed by animal welfare activists and pet store owners alleging that the company delivered sick puppies.
The puppy industry is governed by the federal Animal Welfare Act and the Missouri Animal Care Facilities Act. They are administered by the federal and state Departments of Agriculture.
The BBB made the following recommendations:
- That both the U.S. and Missouri Departments of Agriculture more aggressively pursue penalties against repeat offenders.
- That Missouri consider raising annual licensing fees which have remained the same since the program of regulating dog breeders and sellers began 17 years ago.
- That in seeking a puppy, consumers also consider “adopting” a pet from an animal shelter.
- That Missouri consider legislation, if necessary, to streamline the process for penalizing repeat offenders, while still allowing for due process.
Missouri law mandates annual inspections of the state’s 1,800 licensed dog breeders, plus animal shelters, pet stores, intermediate handlers and dealers. And there are the numerous unlicensed breeders subject to enforcement action. But there are only 13 inspectors, who also are assigned other duties. State auditors have repeatedly pointed out that the state does not inspect all dog breeding facilities annually.
In pointing out the inefficiency in pursuing breeders who are in violation of the law, the study cited the case of Tim King Jr., who operated the Doo Little Kennel near Rolla, Mo. Federal inspectors found 103 violations during seven inspections in less than two years before significant action was taken by authorities. The USDA license of another breeder was cancelled and reinstated three times before being cancelled a fourth time.
The study listed the following marketplaces where consumers can purchase a puppy:
- From an online breeder. This is perhaps the most risky of the choices. Consumers must beware of the provisions in the contract he or she must sign. Said one breeder on its Web site, “We have considered a contract to cover all of the above, but have yet to read one that is not 90% in favor of the breeder/seller. Actually not worth the paper they are written on.”
- Classified ads. This source also poses problems unless the prospective buyer can view the kennel and the puppy’s parents. A breeder may ask the consumer to meet him or her in a parking lot to view the puppy so that the consumer can’t view the kennel.
- Pet stores. There are numerous reports of puppies being purchased at pet stores that were ill or became sick shortly thereafter.
- Animal shelter. Consumers may adopt a pet from a shelter, although the animal may be older than what is sought.
- Auctions. These are geared more to the breeder seeking additional stock to breed or sell.
A Massachusetts woman told the St. Louis BBB that she purchased a puppy from a Poplar Bluff, Mo., breeder. The puppy died five days later of parvovirus, but not before the woman had spent $1,050 in medical bills, she said. The breeder told the BBB that she would refund $500 for the cost of the puppy when she could afford it, but only $50 of the veterinarian costs because the contract stated the breeder was not liable for veterinarian costs.
A Henderson, Nev., woman told the Springfield BBB that she had bought a Yorkshire terrier from a Springfield pet store for $1,400, but within a week she discovered the puppy had parvovirus. “Treatment of the puppy consisted of four days of hospitalizations costing approximately $3,000,” she said. The company refused to honor the warranty and gave her the runaround at both the local and corporate levels, she said.
Citing a survey in which 40% of the 50 states responded, the study found that inspectors in Missouri must inspect twice as many kennels as their counterparts in other states.
On the legislative front, a battle is looming between those who are promoting a ballot initiative to put stricter rules on breeders, and those opposed to such additional regulations who are pushing a constitutional amendment. Both measures may wind up on the ballot this November. Contacts:
Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org
or Chris Thetford, Director of Communications, 314-645-3300, email@example.com