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Tag: amish

Program works with Amish in southern Indiana to improve breeding conditions


While Amish breeders are notorious for running puppy mills, some of those in southern Indiana are working with Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science to improve their breeding practices and, in the process, their reputations.

“It was time that we as breeders recognize that there are professionals out there that can help us and we need to involve them in our businesses,” said Levi Graber, a member of Odon’s Amish community who helps several breeders in the area.

Though the Amish aren’t known for reaching out, or letting people in, Graber contacted the university a few years ago about improving Amish-run breeding operations in the region. That led to a pilot program in which the operations are reviewed, and suggestions are made on how to improve them.

Already, those behind the program say, they’ve found that improving conditions and practices at the kennels leads to happier, healthier, better behaved dogs.

Under the program, which is open to non-Amish breeders as well, a set of voluntary standards will be created for breeders to follow, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

“Many folks hear about breeding and animal welfare and they don’t know what (breeders) actually do. They just want to put them out of business,” said Purdue’s Candace Croney, director of the animal welfare center.

Most dogs she and her team of researchers have observed have been in good physical health, Croney said, but some had room for improvement in their behavior. Some facilities’ dogs were loud and dogs became over-excited when they saw people, which Croney said indicated they weren’t used to seeing people often.

The research team advised those breeders to make sure something positive happens for the dogs, such as receiving a treat, every time someone comes into the kennel area. They also suggested letting the dogs out in the yard daily to exercise and socialize.

The changes made a big impact, Croney said. Over four months, the dogs in the kennel with the most behavioral issues became calmer when they saw people, and they physically looked better.

“We’ve seen a very positive impact on some of the things she recommends,” Graber said. “I’ve seen more contented, happy dogs.”

Once the trial program is complete, a third party will audit the breeders’ practices, Croney said.

Breeders who qualify will receive a certification that she said goes beyond the standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which cover areas such as housing, sanitation, food, water and protection against extreme weather and temperatures.

Graber said the community feels fortunate to work with Purdue and emphasized that the breeders don’t want to sell puppies that disappoint anyone.

Not all Amish-run breeding operations are like those that end up on the news, noted Dale Blier, who works for Blue Ribbon Vet & Supply in Odon and sells supplies to many breeders in town.

“The majority of dog breeders in Indiana treat their dogs the same way they treat making furniture: They want to be the best at it they can,” he said.

(Photo: A child sits with puppies at a breeding operation in Odon that’s working with Purdue’s Center for Animal Welfare Science program; by Levi Graber)

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.

93 dogs die in Amish breeder’s gas chamber

An Amish commercial kennel owner in New York rigged a hose up to a farm engine to euthanize 93 dogs that he had been ordered to have tested and treated for brucellosis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Depopulating” is how David Yoder, owner of Black Diamond Acres kennel in Romulus, described the process to a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector.

Yoder, according to a report on Philly Dawg, said he created an airtight chamber out of a wood whelping box (where nursing puppies are typically housed with their mothers) by fitting the opening with a metal door with a small hole for an exhaust pipe which was attached to a 3 horsepower farm engine.

He gassed “approximately” 78 adult dogs and 15 puppies in groups of five or six, then buried them, Yoder told a USDA inspector in July.

Yoder said he left the barn during the gassing because he had a headache from the carbon monoxide fumes.

“The manner of mass euthanasia caused potentially high levels of behavioral stress and unnecessary discomfort to all the dogs in the kennel,” said the USDA report, written by  inspector Andrea D’Ambrosio after a July 15 visit to the kennel.

It is against federal law for a licensed kennel owner to perform their own euthanasia.

Mary Anne Kowalski, a board member of the Seneca County SPCA, told Philly Dawg she was not aware of anyone from the USDA reporting the case to local authorities. The dogs were killed sometime after a June 29 inspection where Yoder had been ordered to get his dogs tested and treated for Brucellosis and before the inspector returned on July 15.

Kowalski discovered the report of the gassing on the USDA website, and reported the incident to the sheriff and district attorney in the hope that cruelty charges will be brought against Yoder.

“I hope these dogs did not die in vain,” she said.

Romulus, located 60 miles southeast of Rochester, passed an ordinance last year outlawing commercial kennels, or puppy mills, but Yoder was allowed to continue operating because his kennel was grandfathered under the new ordinance.

Yoder breeds poodles, Bichons, Maltese and Boston Terriers.

Nightline looks at puppy mills tonight

ABC’s Nightline tackles puppy mills tonight in a report that will focus on Amish breeders in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. The show airs locally at 11:35 p.m.

ABC Correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi and investigators from Nightline visited numerous commercial breeding facilities in the area, and the report includes an on-camera interview with a Mennonite breeder who allowed a tour of his facility, which houses about 200 dogs. The breeder, identified only as Ezekiel, says his dogs are healthy and happy, and says he doesn’t operate a “puppy factory. He also goes on about how much “safer” it is for the dogs to run in caged treadmills as opposed to outdoors.

The report also documents the work of  Main Line Animal Rescue, whose founder, Bill Smith, says female dogs at the farms live their lives producing litter after litter, then are disposed of — sometimes euthanized, sometimes shot.

There are about 300 licensed breeders in Lancaster County, and rescue workers estimate another 600 unlicensed facilities operate in barns and sheds, according to the ABC report. Those breeders go to great measures to avoid discovery. Smith says some even “de-bark” their dogs.

“The farmers, the Amish and the Mennonites, they pull the heads back and then they hammer sharp instruments down their throats to scar their vocal cords so they can’t bark,” he said. “So that way they can have 500-600 dogs in a barn and no one knows. As we said, it’s an industry of secrecy.”

Breeders can make upwards of half million dollars a year. The Amish breeders sell the dogs at auctions and the puppies often end up at pet stores.

“People are deceived,” Smith said. “They’re nice enough and they put down their money and they walk away with a dog and they don’t realize that there are 500 dogs in a barn … suffering horribly. So it’s something that people have to be aware of. They have to know that going in. When they buy these dogs, they’re keeping that going.”

(Photos: Mary Hunt Davis/Main Line Animal Rescue)

Pa. has chance to shed “puppy mill” image

Pennsylvania has long suffered the “Puppy Mill Capitol of the East” label, but Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff believes the state has a chance to turn that around — with the swift passage of House Bill 2525 this week.

Wolff urged Pennsylvanians to call their legislators and ask them to pass the bill quickly during the short legislative session.

(Here’s a list of Pennsylvania’s senate members. Here’s a list of house members.)

“Current Pennsylvania law allows dogs to be kept in cramped, stacked cages their entire lives with minimal care and no opportunity to exercise. It’s easy to see how the state has come to be known as the home of puppy mills. These conditions are legal, and the result is dogs that are physically and emotionally damaged,” said Wolff. “Pennsylvania owes it to every dog owner to ensure that the standards of care are raised for the sake of their dogs and families.”

By improving the minimum standards for commercial breeding kennels, the worst of which are called puppy mills, Wolff said Pennsylvania can better protect dogs in kennels and the families who welcome them into their homes.

Among other protections for dogs, H.B. 2525 doubles the minimum floor space for dogs, eliminates wire flooring, and requires access to an outdoor exercise area twice the size of the dog’s primary enclosure. Current law does not require dogs to ever be taken out of cages, much less given access to exercise areas.

The bill would require veterinary examinations for each dog at least once per year or during each pregnancy.

Current law treats all kennels the same, regardless of size or function. The proposed legislation would allow the health and welfare needs of the dogs housed in large commercial breeding kennels to be addressed

Wolff said widespread public support could help move the legislation forward. He said his office has received an outpouring of support for the bill in light of the recent shooting of 80 dogs in two Berks County kennels.

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