Who will let the dogs out of the Pratt puppy mill in Iowa?
That my seem like an odd question since Pratt’s puppy mill for all intents and purposes was closed by the state earlier this year. After ringing up violations for years for keeping her dogs in deplorable conditions, the dogs were auctioned off this past spring and Pratt reached a settlement with the state of Iowa, permanently relinquishing her Iowa breeders permit and paying a large fine in August.
Although she’s not allowed to breed and sell dogs, she’s still keeping dogs – 17 in fact – that are quarantined on her property. Her USDA license is still active, meaning she still gets federal inspections. And, at the most recent inspection on September 18, she was cited for 6 violations of the Animal Welfare Act. That means that Pratt’s dogs are still being held in deplorable conditions.
So, why are the dogs still on her property?
“There was nothing in the order that keeps her from owning dogs. She just can’t be in the business of breeding and selling,” says Mary LaHay, founder of Iowa Voters for Companion Animals. “So, the only way her dogs could potentially be taken away is if it can be proven that she’s in violation of our animal cruelty statute, 717B. I believe that can be demonstrated, but to pursue this is an arduous process; you need to convince the sheriff and the county attorney to move forward.”
LaHay adds that that is often difficult to do because it means they have to pay for the maintenance of the dogs for up to 10 days (the time in which a disposition hearing must take place) and that can get expensive. So, very few law enforcement agencies are willing to step in. The 17 dogs currently on the property are being quarantined for brucellosis.
Rescues that attended the auction on her property in April described her mill as one of the worst they had seen. Animal advocates had been keeping an eye on the place for years as USDA violations continued to grow, but the puppy mill stayed open. It’s part of the frustrating situation that is not uncommon when the USDA inspects dog-breeding operations. They’ll write up violations, but have little authority to do more.
“In every other walk of life, there are consequences if you keep violating the rules,” says LaHay. “If you get too many speeding tickets, you lose your license. If you’re caught driving on a suspended license, you’ll face additional penalties. That doesn’t happen in agriculture. The USDA is limited in enforcement capabilities and they are not required to turn their documentation over to local authorities.”
So, just like with earlier violations. The USDA is well aware of how bad the conditions are for the dogs still on the property. They keep coming back and writing her up and the violations continue to pile up. They are under no obligation to rescue or remove the dogs and little happens unless local authorities become involved.
“It would just seem at some point that it’s a no brainer to remove the dogs and shut her down for good,” adds LaHay. “I’d love to see a law in Iowa where the USDA or anyone that documents this type of abuse was required by law to pass the information on to local authorities. Agri-business continues to put up roadblocks on that to make it difficult to move forward.”
That is the problem that LaHay’s group faces in Iowa and many other groups hoping to more tightly regulate dog breeding also face – the strong agriculture lobby. Instead of separating the plight of companion animals and their breeding operations, they continually face the strong opposition from that group, placing dog breeding in with livestock like chickens, cows and pigs.
“The fact of the matter is that commercial dog breeding is legal and even though we would like it to be illegal, that is not going to happen,” adds LaHay. “What we can do is work to get stronger laws on the books and require better conditions for the dogs. And, of course, put teeth into those regulations so that it will really hurt dog breeders when they are out of compliance.”
In the meantime, the cold weather is setting in and there will be snow over the winter. Debra Pratt’s 17 dogs will continue to live in squalor. And, LaHay and other advocates in Iowa will continue to watch what is going on at Pratt’s puppy mill and talking to authorities in the hopes that someday, things will change and no more dogs will be forced to live on the property.
- The Pratt Case – Iowa shutter's Pratt puppy mill, but what took so long, Shutting down an Iowa puppy mill, Project Mercy, and Victor’s story.
- Puppy mill rescues – A dog’s eye view, Journey to being a dog andRescue of 93 dogs.
- Pet stores – Petland and the puppies in the pictures, 2 Puppies stolen from Petland: Who should face Charges?, Furry Babies sued, Online pet sales and Puppy Lemon Law.
- Humane programs – Dog Patch Pet and Feed
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