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Popping in on some Amish pups

I was on my way to see an Amish man about a dog.

Not because I want another dog — Ace is more than enough, especially during our current nomadic phase — but because I wanted a first-hand glimpse of what an Amish-run breeding operation is like.

I’ve always been puzzled by the disparity — that a seemingly peaceful and simple people could be breeding and raising dogs under conditions as horrendous as those that have been described in recent years.  The most recent horror came out of an Amish puppy farm in New York, where a breeder, rather than have his dogs treated for possible brucellosis, killed them all using a hose-and-tailpipe home-made gas chamber.

In Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, for more than a decade, reports have surfaced of despicable conditions at Amish puppy mills, and while Pennsylvania has begun to crack down on the larger scale operations, plenty of smaller ones remain.

Passing through Pennsylvania Dutch Country, I placed a phone call to Pine Tree Kennels, which I knew to be an Amish owned kennel and which was advertising “American Bulldogs” on the internet. I left a message that I was in the area and would like to see his pups.

Minutes later, my call was returned by kennel owner David Fisher and, even though he wasn’t home, arrangements were made for me to drop by his farm, where his children would show me the pups.

He said that if I saw one I liked, I could pay and take the pup with me, and he’d send me the paperwork later. “Do you have the money now?” he asked. The bulldogs pups were listed at $875, though there were two runts he was willing to let go for $650. “I don’t think that they are sick, it’s just that sometimes you get runts.”

Asked what the paperwork consisted of, he said it was the pups’ registration with the National Kennel Club — an outfit some critics describe as a paper mill for puppy mill dogs. Breeders not willing to abide by the more stringent rules and guidelines of the American Kennel Club, often register their dogs with the NKC instead.

A honking horn brought Fishers children out of their farmhouse — or at least half of the nine he has, and they showed me both the bulldogs and another litter of blue heeler-border collie mixes that they retrieved from a building obscured behind trees and bushes.

They seemed happy to show off the dogs (and to have their own pictures taken well), lifting the pups up two at a time and carrying them from their enclosures. Both pups and kids were adorable — and Fisher’s operation, at least that part of it that’s visible from the road, didn’t seem too horrendous at all.

Then again, it’s not, from all appearances, what it used to be.

Fisher’s operation outside of Lykens, in Dauphin County, was once larger scale, and state inspections reports reveal repeated violations — things like feces not cleaned up, rough and sharp edges and, perhaps most disturbing, worming syringes being used as chew toys. 

n 2009 Fisher pleaded guilty to 14 counts of dog law violations in 2009 (three of which were later withdrawn), including failure to keep kennel in a “sanitary and humane” condition, refusal of entry and selling underage puppies. In Feb. 2010 he was sentenced to six months probation for refusal entry to an inspector, selling underage puppies and failure to mantain a sanitary kennel.

On my weekend visit, Fisher’s scaled down operation seemed cleaner and more organized than the inspection reports of recent years portrayed it.

I checked out the bulldogs as their mama paced back and forth inside an enclosure — and I did like the solid white runt the best. When I asked Fisher’s young son which dog was the best he picked up the white puppy. ”You mean the nicest? This one.”

In an adjoining pen a blue heeler — who the children said lost one her legs in a mowing accident — barked, while another one, the mother of the hybrid pups, sat stationed atop a dog house.

Her puppies were kept in a shack all but hidden from view, and when I asked to see them, all the children ran back there, each returning with one or two in the crooks of their arms.

It was a bucolic scene, with beautiful kids and beautiful pups — and one that belied the increasing mound of evidence shedding a bad light on Amish breeders.

I got a chance during my visit to talk to Amy Worden, who writes the “Philly Dawg” blog for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is probably the best place to keep up with the latest news and developments pertaining to puppy mills in Pennsylvania.

As she explained it, the state is introducing the law in stages, and granting waivers that allow some larger scale operations to keep running. Overall though, in the past few years, the number of puppy mills has dropped from 300 to around 100.

Worden thinks that, in addition to those who have gotten out of the business or moved, other Amish breeders have scaled down to avoid the regulations. The new law has its gray areas, she said, but it goes along way to ensure that huge puppy mills will become history in Pennsylvania. “Clearly, nobody’s going to have 800 dogs or more, as was case in the past.”

Worden said the Amish were persuaded to start breeding dogs by outsiders, who pushed the concept as a way the farming families could make some supplemental income — important when one has a family as large as Fisher’s.

Critics say — and it’s probably a generalization — that the Amish view dogs as livestock, but watching Fisher’s children with the dogs, though they did sling them around pretty casually, there seemed to be genuine affection.

With fewer than 25 dogs on hand, Fisher is not subject to the regulations contained in Pennyslvania’s new dog law, which was passed in 2008, though many of its provisions have yet to kick in.

Other than that, the only solid conclusion I reached is that the Amish can be pretty persistent salesmen — at least Fisher is.

He called me before we had gotten a mile away from his farm, and has called me 15 times since.

Comments

Comment from jonathan gilbert
Time September 21, 2010 at 9:52 am

Any reputable breeder will show you all the buildings as well as the mother and father dog. If they only brought out the dogs, they are obviously hiding something..

Comment from Bill Smith
Time September 21, 2010 at 10:41 am

Yes, the children seem to show the animals genuine affection – until they try to debark them, perform do-it-yourself Caesarians on the poor dogs, or kill them for failing to produce large litters.

Comment from Sue
Time September 21, 2010 at 11:00 am

Thank you.

Comment from Pamela
Time September 21, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Puppy mills are such an important issue.

One small point–are you sure the Fishers are Amish? From the clothing (and the note that Mr. Fisher called you several times) I’d guess they were Mennonites. There’s a lot of fine distinctions in people’s religious beliefs. But it’s important we be accurate if we want stories about backyard dog breeding businesses to get needed attention.

Thanks for the interesting post.

Comment from manuel
Time September 21, 2010 at 5:05 pm

I admire their way of life and culture yet I’m disgusted by the horrific way they treat their breeding stock (dogs).

Comment from onewhoknows
Time September 21, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Mr. Smith, not all kennels are bad, although if you admitted there were good ones that would hurt your bottom line now wouldn’t it?

Comment from Canine Professional
Time September 21, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Mr. Smith would like you to belive that everyone who breeds dogs in any capacity is Satan incarnate. While I personally wouldn’t buy any dog or puppy from anyone who isn’t testing the parents for hereditary diseases before breeding, wasn’t breeding to the breed standard, and doesn’t insist on having the puppy back if I can’t keep it, which are hallmarks of the minimum requirements to be considered a RESPONSIBLE breeder, I don’t feel it is fair to take away the rights of people who want to do that. It’s liek telling people that they are forbidden from ever eating fast food because it isn’t good for them. It is a personal decision, and while I work hard at educatinig people about responsible breeding and responsible ownership, in the end, it is not my right to demand they use the knowledge I try to impart. Not argueing that there aren’t a FEW substandard breeders who keep their place filthy, their dogs sickly, and are inhumane, but the reality is, you find them in people that breed ONE dog as well as those that breed 200. There are significant laws now in place, and proper enforcement of them is ALL that is needed. Mr. Smith’s portrayal of breeders is inaccurate at best, and I won’t go into the fact that he seems to think it is appropriate to go all the way to OH in a private jet, spend thousands of dollars buying breeder’s dogs at auction, then come back and illegally pursue abuse charges against the breeders who were selling the dogs because they were driven out of business by his misleading propaganda. Imagine how much REAL good all that money spent on that trip *could* have done.

Comment from Anne’n'Spencer
Time September 21, 2010 at 8:40 pm

I’ve discovered that “well known facts” are often neither. But based on a fair amount of childhood time spent in Lancaster County, one “well known fact” I would’ve asserted was that Amish males, no matter what their age, do not wear buttons on their shirts. Their reason for this goes back to the foundation of their religion, when buttons were the hallmark of the German soldiers who made the lives of their ancestors so miserable. And they really, really, really don’t like to be photographed or to have their children photographed. So I’m left wondering who these people are. Where was the children’s mother during this whole exchange?

One thing is certain: Pennsylvania needs to continue their crackdown on these puppy mills.

Comment from Two Pitties in the City
Time September 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm

I’m still astounded people will pay that much for their dog, especially when there are so many great dogs already out there. No wonder we’re so overpopulated with dogs if some people are actually paying these prices.

Comment from jonathan gilbert
Time September 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

@Canine Professional…” a FEW substandard breeders” ??? Mr Smiths brief post was spot on with regards to this Menonite family and to think otherwise is 1-having no knowledge 2-you are a breeder albeit a good one 3-naive. Your comment abot significant laws leads me to believe you are a breeder. I have no problem with good reputable breeders, I do have a problem with your FEW comment

Comment from Sheila
Time September 22, 2010 at 10:59 am

The reference to the dogs killed for suspected brucellosis is beyond misleading; it is outright wrong! While the method used to kill the dogs was less than humane, they needed to die. This disease is basically uincurable and is transmissible to humans and other species as well as from one dog to another.

Bison and elk in the Rocky Mountain states are killed on suspicion of brucellosis, lest the disease be transmitted to cattle. Brucellosis causes lack of fertility, abortions and stillbirths, and CANNOT be cured by antibiotic treatment, only temporarily suppressed.

Comment from alice smith
Time September 22, 2010 at 11:41 am

those “outsiders’ are called the federal government who encouraged all farmers to breed pure bred dogs.. and Mr. Smith.. can you please prove your continuing allegations of “debarking” and home c sections?? just once?? even on e tiny time.. just because we share the same last name does not make us “kin”

Comment from Betty
Time September 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Yes, Fisher is indeed Amish and yes, the Amish males wear buttons and even denim, or muted blue shirts. The buttons must be plain and they are. And last, Amish children are photographed regularly and don’t shy away from it. Great Blog post and accurate, too. The PA inspection reports don’t lie, even if the Amish do.

Comment from alice smith
Time September 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm

wow I just reread this.. a “treatment’ for Brucellosis?? The treatment for his deadly and HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS disease is euthanasia..while you may not agree with the method.. all of these dogs had to be euthanized.. brucellosis is not only deadly to dogs.. but is transmittable to humans..please do not publish that this can be ‘treated’.. it cannot

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time September 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Thank you so much, Betty

Comment from limerrill
Time September 22, 2010 at 2:22 pm

quoting Bill Smith;
“Yes, the children seem to show the animals genuine affection – until they try to debark them, perform do-it-yourself Caesarians on the poor dogs, or kill them for failing to produce large litters.”

Please tell me that you have made an error in your statement, or are you now saying that Amish children are the true perpetrators of all the ‘rumored’ cruelty that YOU accuse them of.

Comment from Monica McLaughlin
Time September 22, 2010 at 2:59 pm

The Yoder dogs were killed by the breeder without having been tested. There was no proof that they had brucellosis. He killed them in a horrific manner over a period of 3 or 4 hours in sets of 5 or 6 dogs while those waiting to die watched the others die. Meanwhile, he left the barn because he had a headache and felt sick from the fumes.

Comment from Dr. Rosset
Time September 22, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria of the genus Brucella. These bacteria are primarily passed among animals, and they cause disease in many different vertebrates. Various Brucella species affect sheep, goats, cattle, deer, elk, pigs, dogs, and several other animals. Humans become infected by coming in contact with animals or animal products that are contaminated with these bacteria. In humans brucellosis can cause a range of symptoms that are similar to the flu and may include fever, sweats, headaches, back pains, and physical weakness. Severe infections of the central nervous systems or lining of the heart may occur. Brucellosis can also cause long-lasting or chronic symptoms that include recurrent fevers, joint pain, and fatigue. There is no vaccine available for humans. Presently it is recommended that animals with this disease be killed as it will spread. You can treat but it will come back again and again.

Relapse may occur, and symptoms may continue for years. As with tuberculosis, the illness can come back after a long period of time.

Comment from Anne’n'Spencer
Time September 22, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Well, I guess times change for all of us–just more slowly for some of us. Next thing you’ll be telling me is there isn’t a “Plain” department in the department store in Lancaster full of things like cotton and wool fabric in dark tones, straw and felt hats with wide brims, and other articles necessary for plain living. Is there even a department store in Lancaster, or is it surrounded by malls? Sigh.

Comment from lowell1
Time September 22, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Brucellosis can be transmitted to people. It is NOT “treatable.” See the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) article here:
http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/zu/javma_233_6_900.pdf — “Treatment of brucellosis in nonhuman animals is rarely recommended or effective when undertaken”
As for the tailpipe/gas solution, it is one many Humans opt for in committing suicide. Gas is one of the two accepted methods by the Supreme Court for executing criminals given the death penalty. So I fail to see that the individual in question did anything evil. Could they have opted for purified gas or a vet visit? Sure. It’s unlikely that it would have been significantly more humane when one figures in the necessity of hauling the dogs in and terrorizing them by strapping them down for an injection. Opting to use gas was not as inhumane as the writer seems to think.
Lowell1

Comment from Anouk
Time September 23, 2010 at 12:35 am

A responsible breeder would never, ever consider selling anyone a dog unless he or she had asked the potential purchaser questions about the purchaser’s lifestyle. I also doubt that Mr Fisher would take any of the dogs back if the purchasers were unable to keep them for whatever reason and find new homes for them.
I’m relieved that Mr. Fisher has scaled back his operations, but I still would have wanted to see inside that shed. Ultimately to any puppy farmer, a dog is just a way of making money. Either buy a dog from a reputable breeder who gives a damn about where his or her puppies end up, or adopt one from a shelter.

Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time September 23, 2010 at 2:53 am

I have been traveling and late to reading this blog. OMG, thank you JW and Ace for this expose where we would not get first-hand this type of glimpse from anywhere else. I am so conflicted on where we get our “next” dogs?? Must they always be “accidents” that we rescue from shelters or foster homes? Or are the rare but sincerely accidental mixed breeds retrieved from ads in newspapers and internet? For those who insist on AKC or the like registrations (?!), are its breeders responsible and ethical? Does it matter to the new owner? How I hate this! I have 4 dogs and will always have 3 to 4 dogs at any time in my life, I think. The dog world has become so complex and totally, disregardlingly capitalist, and now apparently including the Amish, that I truly don’t know where my next long-lived, beloved, adored and cherished pet may come from when I am ready. I no longer know who, nor how, I can trust any source for any new pet. Thanks again JW. You have truly stirred the pot and EDUCATED here.

Comment from jonathan gilbert
Time September 23, 2010 at 9:03 am

I have no issues with responsible breeders–they show you the parents–they show you the lineage–they show you all the building in their operation–they show you the vet files–they provide refernces and they interiview extensively all potential customers. ANY breeder that does not, is running a puppy mill or is a smaller backyard breeder. There is no gray area-its black or white. It amazes me how some of the posters here think of themslves as dog lovers when in fact you are just uneducated or choose to live your life with blinders on. Do the research.

Comment from Anne’n'Spencer
Time September 23, 2010 at 9:17 am

Eighteenpaws, I think that if a purebred dog is what someone wants, the first stop could be with a breed-specific rescue group. I’m not ashamed of my great love for hounds, and I’ve become quite a Beagle lover, and I think the breed rescue groups are working with their hearts in the right place. They’re also very interested in acquainting prospective adopters with both the good AND bad points of whatever breed it is, so that adoptions will be successful.

I can’t think of too many reasons for needing a dog “with papers,” but if that’s what’s wanted, there’s a way to go about it. First stop would be the AKC. Yep, I know all about the AKC, but one of the things they do is serve as an umbrella for local and regional clubs made up of people who fancy this or that breed. It’s among these local people that you can often find the truly caring breeders. There are a lot of pitfalls and things to look out for–too many to go into–but if I were looking to get a dog from a breeder, I’d want to look for:
1) Someone who is interested in all aspects of the dog–not just its outward appearance. Good health, freedom from genetic problems, temperament–all are important.
2) Someone who has taken time to begin to socialize the puppies, getting them used to children, other dogs, large groups of people, the mailman, whatever.
3) Puppies who are completely ready to leave their mother–not just weaned, but beginning to be accustomed to family life.
4) As someone has said, you should be able to meet and see Mom and the other littermates. Dad may be somewhere else, as females are often taken elsewhere to be bred to a particular father–it’s your right to know who and where. References should be available–people who own a dog from the breeder. You should be able to visit and inspect the place where the dogs live.
5) I wouldn’t take a dog with any provisions. Agreements are sometimes advanced that say, “I’ll sell you the dog, but I want her bred a year from now to a particular male, and I want the pick of that litter.” Not a good idea for average dog lovers.
6) Watch out for health guarantees. Nobody can guarantee health. The best that can be done is to pick sound parents and provide veterinary care.
7) A breeder who cares won’t put any pressure on you. If you need to sleep on it, that should be fine. They may want to know particulars of your home and lifestyle. They may want to come and visit you. All fine.

It’s a lot. There are people out there who are passionately devoted to a particular breed and who want to advance all aspects of it–not only conformation but disposition, soundness, good health, and temperament. I broke with a longstanding family tradition when my husband and I rescued a mutt shortly after we were married. I’ve never been sorry, and rescue will always be the way to go for me.

Comment from Betty
Time September 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm

To Lowell1: Since when is euthanasia by injection “torture and inhumane”?! One person gently holds/cradles the animal to comfort him or her while the vet releases the solution into a vein. It’s painless and humane. I should know, in 30 years I’ve held 8 of my very senior (15-17 years old) dogs and cats (all adopted from shelters) in my arms until their heartbeat slows to a stop and they draw their last, shallow breath. Gassing in the manner this Amish farmer used was indeed one of pain, panic and yes, torture. Tragically, you anti-humane radicals will never see the light.

Comment from jonathan gilbert
Time September 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm

@Anne’n'Spencers ..well thought out and said.

Comment from Canine Professional
Time September 27, 2010 at 1:39 pm

@jonathan gilbert- Since you seem concerned about my personal resume, here it is: 3 years as kennel manager of an animal shelter..one that takes ALL comers, regardless of whether there’s room, as well as investigates cruelty reports, 5 years as a college-trained veterinary technician, 15 years as a professional groomer, 20 years as a shelter volunteer, as well as running a breed-specific rescue, and 20 years as a show exhibitor of dogs. Your condescending attitude indicates your own lack of professionalism and experience.

Comment from alice smith
Time October 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Monica.. it does not matter if all of the dogs were tested.. ALL dogs in a kennel with a confirmed brucellosis even in one animal must be killed.. You knowledge is incorrect.. dogs in the kennel ( including stillborn pups) were infected.. why is it that when a kennel gets a deadly disease and kills the dogs that is a crime.. but when a “shelter” kills a whole shelter full of cats due a respiratory disease that is CURABLE no one says a word..when parvo ( also treatable) hits the “shelter” and all dogs are killed.. nothing is heard.. no outcry.. no crime .. no charges.. and these diseases are TREATABLE..

Comment from alice smith
Time October 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm

oh and Monica.. what do you think happens in the “shelter”.. do you think dogs and cats do not see others die.. do you not know that in some “shelters” animals dead bodies are stacked up in the same room where each animal is killed.. no crime there though.. right.. no crime at all..

Comment from Anonymous
Time October 16, 2010 at 8:29 am

looking at the pictures, i would say that family is”make-believe” amish.

Comment from Anonymous
Time January 15, 2011 at 9:41 pm

For some actual facts about the Amish, including their means of profit in the canine industry, please visit:

http://www.banohiodogauctions.com/
http://www.facebook.com/AmishTruths

Comment from Tiersa B.
Time September 9, 2014 at 11:48 pm

I purchased a “Goldendoodle” from Mr. Fisher and even toured his barns and sheds where the dogs are kept. Phineas is the best dog I’ve ever had and they are very caring Amish people. Please don’t lump them into a stereotyped puppy mill! While its true he did have some pen violations, that doesn’t make him a bad breeder.

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