Puppy mill compromise drove hundreds of breeders out of business; inspectors still find problems

(KPLR) - From reported sick dogs to kennels without a dry place for puppies to lay down, violations continue piling up at some Missouri dog breeding facilities. Meanwhile hundreds of large breeders have closed over the last five years.

Kristin Akin recently bought a Goldendoodle puppy from a large breeder called Cornerstone Farms in Curryville, MO.  The Missouri Department of Agriculture cited Cornerstone in October when inspectors noted dogs "did not have a dry place to lay inside the building."

Akin said she spent thousands nursing Kylie to health.  She said her new dog” …did not have any firm bowel movements so some kind of diarrhea that I figured was a parasite.”  Akin had no idea the breeder she paid more than $1,200, was repeatedly cited for sick dogs.

We visited Cornerstone Farms on August 5th.  I asked a man who drove out to meet us at the property line, “If we could get an answer about the Missouri Department of Agriculture reports.”  The man answered, “Yeah, they were just here yesterday.”  “How did it go?” I asked.  “It went good,” he answered.

The result was an 'Official Letter of Warning.’  We obtained the record from the Missouri Department of Agriculture, which generated six pages of violations including 'seven (dog) enclosures' with 'loose stool’ some 'containing blood.'  The inspection report documents 433 dogs.  Five years ago, voters demanded a cap on breeding dogs at 50.  It was called Prop B, the Puppy Mill Bill. Lawmakers gutted the law when breeders complained.  Cornerstone Farms owner Deborah Ritter said they have no problem caring for hundreds of dogs.

She explained, “We’ve never been investigated for harming an animal.  Animal rights people, who are only against every kennel on the planet, everybody who breeds a cow, everybody who has a chicken, they would tell you that we have.  We have not.  It`s not true.”

Governor Jay Nixon brokered a compromise between voters and legislators in 2011.  It allowed places like the Ritters’ to have more than 50 breeding dogs while mandating other changes.

Animal welfare activist Bob Baker explained how “kennels must be triple the size they were before the compromise.”

Space limits at that time were six inches larger than the size of the dog.  So, a dog the size of a beagle could spend its lifetime in the cage the size of a dishwasher for its entire existence.   Dogs must now be allowed outside.  Baker added, “Before, these dogs were cooped up in cages, stacked up on top of each other in barns never seeing the light of day.”  Baker said the new requirements forced most breeders out of business.  Missouri had 2025 puppy operations before the compromise.  He says now we have 825.

Baker explained, “These basic standards of care drove 1,200 people, the majority out of business. To me that was the most telling thing about what this industry had gotten to.”  He says inspectors cannot back down on those standards.  He recently compiled a list of more than 100 Missouri breeders with recurring problems. Cornerstone Farms made his list.  Missouri Agriculture inspectors re-visited Cornerstone Farms October 13th, generating a five-page report.

One item hit close to home for Kristen Akin.  An inspector noted a dog "scratching continuously."  The seemingly small problem led Akin to pay thousands in vet bills for Kylie.  Akin said her dog “…had horrific infections in both ears. Really severe. She was just itching nonstop all over.”

The Missouri Department of Agriculture will provide these inspection reports to anyone who asks.

For inspection reports and records, contact the Animal Health Division: (573) 751-3377

Animal.Health@mda.mo.gov