Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Amish Puppy Industry Draws Charges of Cruelty

Wow. Terrible stuff. Puppy mills are bad, plain and simple. Who would have known that this was going on in such a degree? So basically, the Amish are into making money off of animal cruelty. Here’s a quote from one Amish man that describes his view of the world – “…out here, we're farmers, and our animals are animals."

They call them mills for a reason. See this quote - "The worst puppy mills, according to Williams and Humane Society investigators, pen up young females and force them to mate from their first day in heat. They then mate every time they're in heat until they grow too old to produce litters."

More information on puppy mills can be found at: and

Read on...

Amish Puppy Industry Draws Charges of Cruelty

c.2005 Newhouse News Service

LANCASTER, Pa. -- A few scattered pumpkins dot the muddy fields where bearded men in wide-brimmed hats lead teams of shaggy plow horses tilling the soil.

It is autumn in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania's Amish country, and the fields that sustain the simple lifestyle are mostly bare.

But one crop -- the most important crop to some -- remains: Puppies.

"They're more expensive now because of Christmas coming up," said a bonneted young girl, barely 10, who cheerfully greeted visitors to her picturesque dairy farm in Ronks last week. "You want a better price, you come back in the summer when things are slower."

She disappeared into a large red barn and emerged with three squirming puppies, each a different breed. One spilled from her arms, tumbling over her white apron to the edge of her long, gray skirt.

"That's a Boston terrier. This one is a bichon," she said, motioning to the pups still in her arms, "and this is a Yorkie. ... He's going to cost the most. You can probably have him for $1,300."

Bred for bulk and retail sale, puppies are a growing cash crop for hundreds of farmers in and around Lancaster County, where Amish and Mennonite settlers from Switzerland and Germany arrived in the early 1700s in search of religious freedom.

For farmers, a big crop of dogs can gross up to $500,000 annually, with successful operations netting six figures.

For critics, the men in the suspenders and bushy beards are masking a cruel form of factory farming behind the quaint and pure image of the Amish culture. They so badly want the kennels shut down, they have taken their fight to Congress, where a Senate subcommittee heard testimony two weeks ago.

"Amish country is synonymous with puppy mills, and Lancaster County is the capital of Pennsylvania puppy mills, with more than 200 kennels," said Libby Williams, founder of New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse. "Dogs ... should not be treated like chickens, penned up in coops for their entire lives just to breed." Lancaster County sits just 70 miles from the New Jersey border.

"Pennsylvania is the main source (of dogs to New Jersey pet shops), and farmers in Amish country are the major suppliers," said Stuart Rhodes, president of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

At a Parkesburg pasture known to authorities as Betty's Boxers, the pups last week were out of sight at what otherwise operates as a dairy farm.

"They're only 4 weeks old," said Betty Stoltzfus, showing visitors around her small operation. Her puppies, she explained, are still three weeks shy of the age when they can legally be sold. But, she added, "they'll be ready before Christmas."

The little ones make this a downtime for her breeding stock -- 10 yapping, growling female boxers in wire pens at the front of the property. They now are the concern of Betty's 10-year-old son, Marvin.

A few miles away, the little girl in the bonnet and her family have a much larger operation.

Activists contend more than 200,000 puppies are churned out annually in and around Lancaster County. The farm where the little girl greets visitors had hundreds of older dogs secluded behind the main barn last week.

Perhaps 60 fluffy white dogs were tucked in rabbit hutches stacked a story high and several dozen feet across.

Scores of others filled dozens of pens stacked two-high on both sides of an alleyway. The sight of human visitors ignited a fury of yelps, and the dogs pawed their mesh cages.

Some were bichons, others Malteses. All were the small, playful and popular breeds that bring the farm -- known as Clearview Kennel -- a steady income.

The Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement lists 243 kennels in Lancaster County, and about 50 hold federal licenses to sell entire litters to brokers. Hundreds more are scattered in surrounding farm counties.

"The vast majority of kennels, and we have about 2,500 in Pennsylvania ... go through a year without receiving citations, but there are those where we do find violations," said Mary Bender, director of the dog bureau.

Puppy Love, a kennel at the southern end of Lancaster County that sells more than 1,000 puppies a year, was labeled one of the most notorious by the state Attorney General's Office earlier this year. In a lawsuit, the state charged customers bought dogs that died within 48 hours of purchase.

The case was settled in May, when owners Joyce and Raymond Stoltzfus (no relation to Betty Stoltzfus) agreed to pay more than $75,000 in fines and restitution. The money reimbursed 171 customers in seven states for veterinary bills.

Under the settlement, Puppy Love, now known as CC Pets, must have every dog tested and treated by a veterinarian -- a measure that exceeds existing state law for other kennels. (Pennsylvania law requires only that kennels be inspected once a year, and that the dogs be keep "healthy and free of disease," Bender said.)

The worst puppy mills, according to Williams and Humane Society investigators, pen up young females and force them to mate from their first day in heat. They then mate every time they're in heat until they grow too old to produce litters.

That means churning out litters twice a year, maybe for up to seven years, and often with some unhealthy results, said Bob Reder, who conducted undercover puppy mill probes for the Humane Society throughout the 1990s.

"To breed a dog properly requires a medical checkup to see if the animal is healthy enough to give birth to healthy litters. That is never done by these breeders. They breed every dog, so you get sick offspring," said Pamela Shot, a Morris County, N.J., veterinarian and activist.

She cited congenital defects, such as bad hips and poor eyesight, and allergies that develop years later. Temperament problems also occur.

In response to problem breeders, New Jersey and Pennsylvania adopted "Puppy Lemon Laws." The lawsuit against Puppy Love was based on such a law.

The lemon law requires anyone who sells a sick dog to cover costs and veterinary expenses of buyers, according to Nina Austenberg of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the Humane Society of the United States.

But she said the laws do little to solve health problems that develop a year or more after a purchase, and they do not address the proliferation of unwanted pets caused by puppy mills.

"The point is, we don't need more domestic pets; we don't need people churning out hundreds and thousands of dogs," Austenberg said.

Whether labeled kennels or puppy mills, the driving force behind dog farms is money.

"It's a good income. It's a great income, no doubt about that, and it helps a lot," said John Stoltzfus, Betty's husband, as he leaned inside the doorway of his barn.

He offered no apologies for the reddish boxers that barked and darted around his wire dog-runs. They turn out most of the 100 to 150 puppies he and Betty sell annually, for $600 apiece.

"But this is no puppy mill. You can't call this a puppy mill," John Stoltzfus said. "These dogs have human contact, they are out in the open air, they can run. They aren't penned up all the time in chicken coops, and they have names."

Of course, he added, not every kennel here is run this way.

"Some places ... may have a little going on in a field, something planted. Maybe a few dairy cows. But you go there, and you see those real puppy mills -- dogs in cages stacked up high. Hundreds of them," John Stoltzfus said.

Reder, the Humane Society investigator, called the dogs a "cash crop" for farmers.

"Why work from dawn to dusk plowing 50 acres every day when you can make the same money just by setting up an old trailer on half an acre and raising hundreds of dogs?" he asked.

More Amish breeders are treating it like a volume business and selling entire litters to pet shops or brokers who act as middlemen. For the biggest breeders, Williams and Reder said, a dog's average price can drop to $50-$500, depending on breed and the broker's cut.

John Stoltzfus, who prefers selling directly to the public, wouldn't reveal his overhead costs. But he did say it wasn't much -- just the price of dog food and an occasional veterinarian visit when a dog gets sick.

Most dog farms are tucked away on winding country roads. But the kennels do advertise in newspapers and on the Internet.

Yes, the farmers of Amish country are online -- or at least working with outside partners who advertise their puppy crops on Web sites.

Daniel and Verna Esh, whose daughter greeted visitors at Clearview Kennel last week in Ronks, declined to be interview for this story, but photographs of their puppies grace several Web sites touting "cute Yorkies," "cute bichons," "cute pugs" and "cute Maltese."

Like the Eshes, most farmers didn't want to talk about their dogs, particularly now that protests have forced their operations to be licensed and inspected for health and abuse violations by county, state and federal agencies.

"Folks really don't like to talk about it much because there just doesn't seem to be any point to it. Some of these animal people drive through Lancaster County and call everything they see a puppy mill," said John Stoltzfus.

The pressure for additional reforms continues.

Two weeks ago, during the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on a bill introduced by two Pennsylvania senators, animal rights advocates told horror stories about breeding operations across the county.

The legislation would add retail dog operations to the licensing and inspection authority of the federal Department of Agriculture, which already regulates wholesale dog sales.

Nancy Perry, vice president of government affairs for the Humane Society in Washington, D.C., said the "legislation has tremendous support on both sides of the aisle." A new draft, which will incorporate modifications recommended by activists and kennel operators during the hearings, is expected to be presented soon to the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The commotion has sent most large kennel operations into their barns, or behind them, and out of sight.

Nathan Myer's farm in Lititz is no exception.

His golden retrievers are tucked into stacks of rabbit hutches and secluded in a two-story cement building at the end of his driveway.

While out of sight, his operations are hardly out of mind.

Just a mile down the winding road, a large lawn sign offers a protest: "No More Puppymills."

It is posted outside an upscale cul-de-sac of stone houses. It is the work of a new local organization called It was formed in March by new residents.

To the farmers, it is one more intrusion into a world where dogs are viewed no differently than cows, chickens or any other livestock.

"They (the outsiders) see their animals like people, give them the run of the house and let them jump on the bed at night -- and that's fine," John Stoltzfus said. "I've nothing against that. But out here, we're farmers, and our animals are animals."

Nov. 25, 2005

(Brian T. Murray is a staff writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He can be contacted at

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