WISCONSIN (WAOW) -- It's hard to imagine a member of your family living in filth, without food or medical care but it happens every day in puppy mills.
Crandon investigators recently found twenty-five dogs during a bust in Crandon. Six of those dogs were pregnant. John and Jackie Johnson have each been charged with fourteen counts of animal mistreatment. They have not been arrested or appeared in court. Their first appearance is set for May 25th.
Right now, there are no regulations for dog breeders in Wisconsin but that will soon change.
"Absolutely horrific. The worst thing I've seen in my life." That's how Chuck Wegner describes setting foot in a puppy mill and he's seen his fair share.
"The conditions in those mills, just deplorable. The whole object is to produce as many puppies as possible for the least amount of time, effort and expense."
Wegner runs the Clark County Humane Society. Records show, Clark County has the largest number of puppy mills in Wisconsin's 72 counties.
I first sat down with Wegner April 26th. Then, only one puppy mill dog was in the shelter. Not even two weeks later, six more dogs were dropped off. They were all in desperate need of medical care.
Kirsten Franke, DVM, works for the Fox Valley Humane Association. She says, "Typically, we see severe skin infections. These dogs come in extremely matted because they haven't been given basic grooming or veterinary care. Sometimes the teeth are held into the mouth by hair and rotted food. So, when we take away the big rotted food and hair mess the teeth just fall out."
Now, state leaders are fighting back. In 2009, then-Governor Jim Doyle signed the "Puppy Mill Bill" or Act 90. It's a law regulating dog breeders.
Eilene Ribbens says, "Because Wisconsin regulates nearly every other business, including the person who does your nails and Christmas tree farmers, it seemed absurd that we didn't have a regulatory environment on people who are producing an animal that will come live in your home for ten, twelve, fourteen years."
Ribbens was instrumental in helping pass the law. She's head of the Wisconsin Puppy Mill Project. She started it back in 1997 after buying a dog from a pet shop, only to find it was bred in a mill.
Act 90 says, 'Breeders who sell more than 25 dogs a year or from more than three litters need a state license.' Breeders will also be inspected and need to meet specific requirements laid out in ATCP 16. Those are the rules to the law and they go into effect June first.
Ribbens says because puppy mill breeders know their leash is getting shorter, many of them have already closed up shop.
"We actually started seeing some of these operations starting to close already in 2010 and we're seeing it continue into this year. So, we've been able to absorb these dogs."
That's exactly what's happening in Clark County. Since the start of the year, more than 100 mill dogs have been brought in. And after weeks, months and sometimes even a year of extra care and attention, they'll find homes.
Here are some tips for avoiding puppy mills from the ASPCA:
Do Not Buy Your Puppy From a Pet Store
That puppy who charmed you through the pet shop window has most likely come from a large-scale, substandard commercial breeding facility, commonly known as a puppy mill. In these facilities, parent dogs are caged and bred as often as possible, and give birth to puppies who could have costly medical problems you might not become aware of until after you bring your new pet home.
Make Adoption Your First Option
If you're looking to make a puppy part of your family, check your local shelters first. Not only will you be saving a life, but you will ensure that your money is not going to support a puppy mill. There are many dogs waiting for homes in shelters all across the country—and an estimated one in four is a purebred! Your second option is breed rescue. If your heart is set on a specific breed you haven't been able to find in a shelter, you can do an Internet search for a breed-specific rescue organization.
Internet Buyers, Beware! Buying a puppy from the Internet is as risky as buying from a pet store. If you buy a puppy based on a picture and a phone call, you have no way of seeing the puppy's breeding premises or meeting his parents. And those who sell animals on the Internet are not held to the Animal Welfare Act regulations, and so are not inspected by the USDA.
Share Your Puppy Mill Story with the ASPCA
If you have—or think you have—purchased a puppy-mill puppy. Every bit of evidence gives us more power to get legislation passed that will ban puppy mills.
Inform your state and federal legislators that you are disturbed by the inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills, and would like to see legislation passed that ensures that all animals bred to be pets are raised in healthy conditions.
Some other tips: Ask to see the puppies parents and the conditions it lives in. If the breeder says no, there's probably a reason. Never agree to allow the breeder to meet you in a parking lot.