Saturday, February 16, 2013

When is a breeder a puppy mill?

Too frequently in dog news, there are stories that hurt my heart.

Not everybody feels the same way about dogs. I get that. Not every breeder feels the same way about their dogs, and I get that too. But there should be an accepted baseline, you know?

There are the sorts kinds of things that bring the AKC under fire, as the New York Times reported last week. The AKC evidently has a total of 9 people for the entire country, to carry out inspections of this sort. And that's only if somebody calls them in, I daresay. The AKC is a breed registry, and a pedigree database. That's really it. They claim to be an animal welfare agency, and I know that they are a registered not for profit, but what is the point at which welfare is called into question? How many puppies makes a puppy mill? How much poop needs to pile up before conditions are  considered bad enough? How many cages, stacked or otherwise?

Well, there's a kennel in Fauquier County, Virginia who recently had a pretty abominable inspection. Even so, the owner, Irina Barrett, was not required to surrender her dogs. She might not. She has Dobermans, which is what brought the story under my nose, but also Great Danes, Boxers, and French Bulldogs. Many of the dogs in her care were in plastic crates and unable to get out of their own filth. None had access to water. I don't think available food was mentioned in any of the articles I've read either.

According to, there was a preliminary hearing that was not about animal abuse, but rather land use. Apparently Ms. Barrett's kennel operation was a zoning offense, and there is debate as to whether she should be granted a license. If nothing else, her neighbors complain about hearing 16-20 barking dogs of an evening. Based on the reports of a court-appointed county inspector, I feel Ms. Barrett should be restricted from owning animals ever again, but they haven't asked me. Among other things, Ms. Barrett has had two litters starve to death (I'm not sure which breed they were, but really, it doesn't matter), which is unconscionable. has a many page article that is very in depth on the topic, in which Ms. Barrett claims that she is not a puppy mill. Looking information from Ms. Barrett's various breed sites, I have to wonder what, exactly, she considers a puppy to be. Combing through the Doberman site, one can get a tally of 26 litters, totally 180 puppies, between 2006 and 2012. And that's just the Dobermans, folks. For the Great Danes, it's 10 litters and 66 puppies. According to the article, she has Boxers as well.

Just having a single Doberman puppy about did me (and my fiance and my house) in. 26 litters? Some of which were on the ground at the same time? How do you pay enough attention to each puppy? How to you keep those puppies from chewing your house apart? How do you clean up after that many puppies? Socialize them, vet them, care for their cropped ears....the list goes on. If you have employees, okay fine, but she doesn't. Again, by her own admission, she cannot hire employees to work at the property because the conditions are too bad.. But then there's the responsibilities that are the earmarks of a good breeder: would Ms. Barrett be able to care and provide for any of those dogs, should the owners return them? Would Ms. Barrett have the time to give her puppies' owners the support they might need, with regards to ear care questions, health questions, etc. Considering the dogs most recently found in her care were in dank, waste riddled conditions, some of them emaciated and covered in sores, many with various kinds of worms, I somehow doubt it.

Ms. Barrett surrendered twelve dogs after her inspection, by the way. But her application for the zoning license reflects that she wants to house 20 Dobermans and 6 Great Danes. I cannot countenance owning twenty six personal dogs. Those litters that she told the inspector starved to death? It was because she was too busy to hand raise them, since she had so many dogs. I opened this post saying I was heartsick, but I keep going back to that detail, and it makes me want to throw up. And cry. And hug Elka. The inspector's report is embedded in the article, and reflects that she had something like fifty dogs in her care at the time of the inspection.

Again, she was not served with a compliance notice, and not required to surrender any dogs.

The hearing was delayed until March 7, pending review. My understanding is that by the initial hearing on February 7, the committee was receiving a number of calls and something like 400 emails from all over the country, decrying the conditions in Ms. Barrett's facility. I do hope that means she isn't granted a permit.

It would be nice if the AKC would in fact step in and do something when stories like this develop, wouldn't it? It would lend credibility to the claim that they are an "animal welfare organization", wouldn't it?

The twelve dogs that Ms. Barrett released are in the Middleburg, VA animal shelter. Should you be inclined to make a donation for their care, the information is

Middleburg Humane Foundation
P.O. Box 1238
Middleburg, VA 20118
Phone: (540) 364-3272
Fax: (540) 364-3405


  1. That NYT article definitely had an anti-putre-bred dog agenda. I wonder if they plan to do a similar article on "rescues" that have dogs in deplorable conditions and are usually exempted from inspections or standards. At least when the AKC discovers issues, it punishes the person to the extent that it can.

    So you think 26 litters over a 6 year period is too many? I don't. That is a little over 4 a year. Yes, it is a lot of work but I don't think the number is excessive. I also don't think owning 26 personal dogs is too many. Maybe that woman has issues, maybe she doesn't, but I would say the number of dogs one owns depends on the kinds of dog, property and facilities.

    I am not making excuses for the cases you write about. If there are issues, they need to be dealt with. But it doesn't follow that no one is capable of having multiple litters or multiple dogs.

    1. I DO think that 4 litters a year is too much, and that's why I found a small hobby breeder when looking for a puppy. My breeder has 1 litter every 12-18 months. Puppies are born in the house and handled/socialized from the day they're born. I was able to interact with mama dog before the puppies were born. All dogs had good to excellent hip and elbow ratings for 5 generations. Again, these were important to me and I was willing to pay for it.

      As an Animal Control Officer I DEFINITELY feel that 26 personal dogs is too much. I can't see how one person can give the individual attention needed properly train or socialize that many dogs. I also imagine that cleaning, feeding and medicating that many dogs would be impossible. I realize that some people can successfully care for more dogs than me (my limit is 3) and often see people with 5-6 healthly, well-socialized dogs. Even the actively showing/breeding kennel owners I know don't keep more than 10-12 dogs, and they have helpers and/or paid assistants that come in regularly!!

      As for rescues, some of the worst hoarding situations I've seen were listed as "rescues" or "sanctuaries."

    2. Field trainers routinely have that number of dogs they care for and train themselves. Well cared for, accomplished dogs.

      I know many people who may have four + litters a year. Again, well socialized and healthy puppies.

      And you know good and excellent hip ratings do not guarantee your dog will have them. The over all dog is what is important. Any breeder who focuses on one health clearance would raise a red flag for me.

  2. It would be nice if the NYT also wrote about "rescues" that have been discovered in horrible conditions. I don't think they will, unfortunately. It's funny how widespread an anti purebred sentiment will be, yet people love designer breeds. Or they think that dogs "with papers" are stuck up nonsense. I mean, sure I have a platonic idea of what dog shows and health testing are supposed to be, and I know some of that is unrealistic....but surely having some notion of that is better than just using the same male you have with every female you have, on every heat that will take.

    Some people can handle 26 personal dogs in their homes and properties. If you have two litters starve to death because you have too many dogs, that's too many dogs and litters. I know that puppies can do downhill awfully fast, but it seems like one would take them to a vet or something, somebody who can help them, if you know that's how things are going.

    How many litters is "too many" doesn't and shouldn't have one rule. It depends on the breeder, his/her dogs, and his/her capabilities.

  3. People like this Lady shouldn't have any animal. I've got tears in my eyes as I read about the plastic crates and this poor dogs.

  4. I think it's pretty clear that THIS woman in THIS situation is in way over her head, and no she shouldn't have any dogs. The fact that she had them in such terrible conditions tells me that. There are people who can handle that number of dogs and keep them in decent living conditions, but I'm not one of those personally. I'd have to hire a staff to help me take care of them all. I think what each person can handle is different. The breeder we got Kuster from has four or five litters a year, but there are people waiting on those puppies before they're even conceived, and with good reason. She's producing sound, stable working dogs.

    The thing about the AKC that bothers me is why they continue to let breeders ruin great breeds. Look at the GSD's that they trot into the show ring. Those dogs look like their back ends are going to fall off on their giant flipper feet! That's NOT how they're supposed to look. The Pekinese is another example. Look at the dogs bred a hundred years ago to now. The dog who won Westminster last year couldn't even make a full victory lap around the ring. That is ridiculous! And the Affenpincher who won this year was the result of a father/daughter breeding. Why won't somebody stand up and say this is wrong?

    1. You really need to blame the parent breed club for this and not the AKC. The AKC just registers dogs. The parent breed club sets the standard for the breed and sometimes you get people who are in charge of the breed club who want to inject their personal preference/opinion for the standard. It can and does change breeds. We are having a bit of this issue with Chesapeakes, but a few of us are trying to raise an alarm. I wish more breeders within our breed would also speak out, but you know there are politics involved as in everything.

    2. Oh and father daughter breeding is line breeding. Some don't like it, but I don't have an issue with it.

  5. No matter if we are talking about a breeder, a rescue, or a hoarder - the bottom line is, if you are so busy that animals under your care starve to death - then you are in way over your head. I hope the dogs that are in the shelter find good, loving, responsible homes.

  6. Anyone who thinks AKC "registration" means anything about the quality of the breeder has a lot to learn. Papers don't mean squat. people really have to research their breed AND their breeder before getting a puppy (or better yet, go to a shelter and rescue instead!). That woman clearly shouldn't have so much as a GOLDFISH in her care. I wish the AKC could/would do something, but really, it's more Animal Control's responsibility. I wish the AKC would at least have standards people had to meet to register litters, but if they've got only 9 people to do inspections etc, it's hard to see that ever happening.

    As for what showing has done to breeds ... I agree with Houndstooth! Show GSDs make me ill. And Pekes ... jeez, don't get me started on those. Also bulldogs. If your dog is incapable of doing any sort of job (GSD), you are doing it wrong. If your dog cannot walk easily, can't breathe easily (Peke), you're doing it wrong. If your dog can't be born or have babies without a C-section, and must be impregnated through artificial insemination pretty much exclusively (Bulldogs), you're doing it wrong.

  7. It seems to be the underlying issue in terms of coming up with reasonable ideas of animal welfare. I of course have my own opinions about what constitutes a breeding facility and what the best conditions are. I think sometimes we may have to start with something very basic and build from there.

    It would seem to me the AKC could do something about getting more inspectors though.

  8. I've been wanting to comment on this ever since I first read it. I am appalled and disgusted that nothing has been done to stop this woman from breeding dogs permanently. She let two litters die??? How absolutely horrendous. Is this the kind of human being who should be allowed to continue? Augh!

    As defined by the Humane Society of the United States, "Puppy mills are breeding facilities that produce purebred puppies in large numbers. The puppies are sold either directly to the public via the Internet, newspaper ads, at the mill itself, or are sold to brokers and pet shops across the country.

    The documented problems of puppy mills include over breeding, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, poor quality of food and shelter, lack of socialization with humans, overcrowded cages, and the killing of unwanted animals. To the unwitting consumer, this situation frequently means buying a puppy facing an array of immediate veterinary problems or harboring genetically borne diseases that do not appear until years later.

    Sadly, some dogs are forced to live in puppy mills their entire lives. They are kept there for one reason only: to produce more puppies. Repeatedly bred, many of these "brood bitches" are killed once their reproductive capacity wanes. Thousands of these breeding operations currently exist in the United States."

  9. As an added note, I find the AKC disgusting. Their response to the NY Times article was complete smoke and mirrors. They never produced specific evidence to refute the claims in the article, but rather talked about technicalities. Nice try AKC. Why don't you stand up for dogs and the good breeders?