Ohio has a massive puppy mill problem. Despite previous attempts to eliminate the suffering of breeding dogs for profit, the pain continues, and the stories keep coming.  

One example is the story of Stella, a Shar Pei rescued from a puppy mill in Shelby, Ohio in 2012.  Malnourished and missing a lot of her fur, Stella suffered from painful eye issues while living in rusty wire cages. More than 50 other Shar Peis and over 200 Chihuahuas also suffered from the same mistreatment and lack of care.

Fast forward to 2018, and one beagle in an Ohio puppy mill dies from extreme cold in early January.  Then, in March, we learn of Hope, a three-legged Golden Retriever rescued from an Ohio puppy mill.  A veterinarian amputated her leg to save her life, and now her rescuers will begin the long and challenging work of trying to rebuild her spirit.

Unfortunately, there are tens of thousands of Stellas and Hopes in Ohio — the second largest puppy mill state in the country.

In 2017, Ohio finished second in The Humane Society of the United States’ Horrible Hundred list, with 12 Ohio mills included in the report due to egregious animal welfare deficiencies.  These facilities were cited by state or federal agents for dogs in immediate need of veterinary care and for selling underage puppies. They were cited for exposing dogs to dead puppies, for filthy and unsafe enclosures, and for insufficient and dirty food and water.

The Commercial Dog Breeders Act, passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 2012 and effective in 2013 was supposed to fix this problem for Stella, but it’s clear that it didn’t work.  Why not?

First, a law is of no value if we can’t enforce it, and, with nearly 900 breeders on the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s action list, we’re learning that it’s difficult to determine if a breeder meets the criteria to be licensed and inspected.  This enables hundreds, perhaps over a thousand, puppy mills to escape the oversight necessary to enforce the current law.

Second, the standards of care don’t meet what a dog needs to live a healthy life.  Dogs still live in rusty wire cages far too small for them, they don’t have access to fresh food and water, and they continue to be under socialized.  

What can we do about the puppy mill problem in Ohio?

We can enact The Ohio Puppy Mill Prevention Amendment.  This amendment improves upon the Commercial Dog Breeders Act and addresses the core issues. It sets the proper foundation for raising the standards of care — and enforcing them — for dogs in Ohio’s commercial breeding facilities.

How will The Ohio Puppy Mill Prevention Amendment improve lives for dogs in Ohio?

This amendment simplifies the licensing threshold by making it clear when a breeder needs to be licensed: they have eight or more breeding (un-spayed) females.  That’s it. No other qualifications. The inspector can see when they’re on site that the breeder meets the licensing or doesn’t.

The current threshold is that the breeder sells at least nine litters and 60 puppies in a calendar year.  That’s impossible to see when on site, and easy to manipulate the records.

Once licensed, the standards of care become meaningful and enforceable because it’s easy to spot an infraction. Some of the improvements include:

  • Unstacked, indoor, solid floored-cages with increased size standards.  
  • Clean water and food
  • Unfettered access to outdoor exercise
  • Protection from extreme temperatures

Inspectors can easily see any of these violations when onsite during an inspection.

Additional improvements include: 

  • Proper veterinary and dental care
  • Safe breeding practices, including genetic testing
  • Socialization with humans

Interactions with and visual appearance of the dogs will be easy to recognize, and the records will be more difficult to manipulate.

There’s one last significant element of the bill that is important to share.  Anyone who wants to sell 15 or more dogs in Ohio must source these dogs from breeders that meet these same standards of care, no matter where the dogs are born.  If someone wants to sell 15 or more dogs from Missouri in Ohio, the Missouri breeders must meet these same standards.

We can make these improvements reality for tens of thousands of dogs throughout the state if we work together.  

Stop Puppy Mills Ohio, a grassroots initiative, is in the process of collecting the signatures needed to be on the ballot this November.  

What can you do to help end puppy mills in Ohio?

  • Make sure your friends and family don’t buy from a pet store or online breeder.  Adoption is the best way to help end the puppy mill problem, but if you do buy a dog from a breeder, please be sure you’re working with a responsible breeder.  Here’s how you can find a responsible breeder.
  • Sign the petition to get this amendment on the November 2018 ballot.  Check out the Stop Puppy Mills Ohio Facebook events page to find an event where a volunteer will be collecting signatures.
  • Volunteer to collect signatures.  Collecting signatures is a great way to get involved, meet new people, and ensure that we put an end to the unnecessary suffering of dogs in Ohio.  It’s easy to do, and it’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had to-date in my animal advocacy journey.

When I’m out collecting signatures, I have yet to meet someone who thinks puppy mills are a good idea or who is proud that Ohio is the second worst puppy mill state in the country.  But puppy mills still exist in unacceptable numbers. Let’s work together to create a more humane Ohio. An Ohio we’re proud of – an Ohio that is free of puppy mills. – Chris Niehoff

Photo credit:  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Chris Niehoff is a Central Ohio animal advocate who volunteers at the Franklin County Dog Shelter, is a District Leader Volunteer for the Humane Society of the United States, and a Central Ohio Volunteer Coordinator for the Stop Puppy Mills Ohio campaign.