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Associated Press
The APSCA is using photos like this one, taken in 2011 by a USDA inspector at a licensed commercial dog breeder in Boswell, Okla., in its campaign against puppy mills.

ASPCA using photos from USDA in puppy mill fight

– The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is bolstering its campaign against puppy mills by showing photos of sick puppies and harsh kennel conditions taken by the federal agency that licenses commercial breeders.

The organization has added 10,000 photos to its “NoPetStorePuppies” website showing dogs at breeders across the U.S. with matted hair, bloody stool, long nails, injured eyes and dental disease.

The pictures were taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the past few years and were obtained through a public-records request. The breeders were warned or given citations to correct the problems.

The ASPCA wants people to boycott puppy sales in pet stores and on the Internet, the places where most puppy mill animals are sold. It included the photos in a database that can be searched by breeder, license number or ZIP code.

“A lot of pet stores will say, ‘We don’t get pets from puppy mills, but from USDA-licensed breeders,’ ” said Cori Menkin, senior director of the ASPCA puppy mills campaign.

Rod and Lindsey Rebhan bought a miniature Australian shepherd for $1,000 at a Novi, Mich., Petland store in 2011. The newlyweds considered Jack “our first baby, our little boy,” Lindsey Rebhan said.

About a month later, the dog had its first seizure. After 25 seizures over the next four months, he had to be put down.

Because Jack’s epilepsy was so severe, vets said it was probably hereditary. The store refunded the sale price, but didn’t pay vet bills.

“I’m pretty sure it was hush money,” Lindsay Rebhan said.

If the couple had seen the website, they would never have been in the pet store, Lindsey Rebhan said.

Jack came from Evergreen Designer LLC, owned by Daniel Schlabach in Fresno, Ohio, according to purchase papers and the ASPCA website. Phone messages left for Schlabach were not returned.

In a reply to an email query, Petland Novi said it didn’t discuss customer claims because its customers are entitled to privacy.

The puppy mill fight started long ago. Agencies took up the cause as the number of pet owners telling heartbreaking stories of illness, death and costly vet care swelled. The sale of puppy mill dogs has been banned in some cities, including Los Angeles. Stores can sell shelter animals or hold adoption events on weekends.

The ASPCA and other animal welfare groups claim the way dogs are kept at some breeders – where they are producing hundreds of puppies at a time – cause chronic physical ailments, genetic defects or fear of humans.

Breeding females are overbred, kept in unsanitary, crowded cages without vet care, adequate food or water. When they can no longer breed, they usually are killed, experts say.

“Not all breeders run puppy mills,” Menkin said. “Breeders without violations typically won’t appear in the database, but if they’re only meeting USDA standards, and not exceeding them, then we would consider their operation a puppy mill.”

The database photos go back to 2010, and the number for each breeder varies.

“I have not studied it because it’s a waste of time,” said Karen Strange, a lobbyist for the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners. “Much of the information is old, and it’s a publicity stunt for the ASPCA ... and other radical animal rights groups to garner money from the unknowing public.”