12 Ohio puppy mills on Humane Society's list of the 'Horrible Hundred'

(Courtesy: Humane Society of the United States)

The Humane Society of the United States just released its 2017 list of some of the nation's worst puppy mills and breeders. Twelve of them are in Ohio.

Ohio is one of 28 states that regulates 255 registered "high-volume dog breeders." Critics have another name for these breeding operations: puppy mills.

"A puppy mill is like a factory farm for dogs," said John Goodwin, Senior Director of The Humane Society of the United States' Stop Puppy Mills campaign. He said it's a place where puppies are bred for profit.

"The mother dogs and the father dogs are treated like livestock, pumping out litter after litter until the mother dog's body wears down," he said.

The conditions are often overcrowded and unsanitary.

"Anyone who loves animals, anyone who moderately likes animals is gonna be horrified when they see the conditions that so many of these dogs are kept in, in puppy mills," Goodwin said.

"Puppies from puppy mills are generally sold through pet stores. Many are sold over the internet sight unseen. Many are sold at flea markets or at the side of the road and of course there are places that run ads in the newspaper or on Craigslist and they'll meet someone far away from their kennel so the people can't see the conditions the mother dog lives in."

Goodwin describes a recent visit to a puppy mill.

"There were 2 dogs who had such advanced dental disease that their lower jaws had rotted off beyond the point of where the tongue came down," he said. "Many of them were missing teeth, eye damage. There were several dogs that would just spin neurotically in tight little circles over and over and over again and wouldn't stop even when we tried to get their attention because they were in such a confined space this was the only way that they burn off energy."

The H.S.U.S. just released its 2017 list of the "Horrible Hundred." The group described this list as the nation's problem puppy mills and breeders. The list was compiled from state and federal Department of Agriculture inspection reports.

A dozen of them are in Ohio. Most of them located in Ohio's Amish country.

ABC 6/FOX 28 wanted to see the conditions at these breeders and sellers. So, we drove to Holmes County, where 132 high-volume dog breeders are registered. We dropped in on four of them. Although we were uninvited, we hoped to get a tour of their kennels.

One facility was located at an Amish farm on a gravel road deep in the countryside near the town of Charm. The family operating the breeding operation is still rebuilding after a fire earlier this year killed hundreds of dogs. From nearby, we could see what appeared to be new indoor and outdoor kennels containing dogs.

At first we were told the owner was there. But minutes later we were told he wasn't. Then his wife came out to meet us. When told they were on the H.S.U.S. list as a repeat offender, she told us we'd have to deal with her husband some other time.

It was much the same at another breeder, which was on the list for the third time. The woman who greeted us said her husband was at work.

"My husband has actually sold most of his dogs," she said.

Not far away, we visited a breeder who has both outdoor and indoor kennels. He was not happy to see our news crew.

"Oh, I don't want anybody in my kennels," he said. He said the Ohio Professional Dog Breeders Association told him not to show us his kennels. We offered him a chance to explain his being on the "Horrible Hundred" list for the second time.

"I don't want to share my side," he said. "I'm doing what the law requires on the state side. And if they (Humane Society) wanna put something else on, that's fine with me. It's not my problem, it's theirs...if they're lying."

Our final visit took us to what looks like a house. But the Humane Society said it's a major online puppy-selling operation. The woman who answered the door said she'd have to check with her boss before she could show us the kennels. She disappeared in the back.

While we waited, we noticed the house smelled like it had just been cleaned. A puppy and a cat played on the floor. There was a man filling out paperwork. Finally the woman returned.

"My boss said no, you would have to call him first," she said.

She gave us his phone number and told us that since calls to his phone get transferred to her, we should text him.

We did text him and he responded. He said his company had just passed a U.S.D.A. inspection, but he refused to show us around that day and he declined an offer to show us around the next day.

The Humane Society just recognized State Representative Jim Hughes for his efforts to curb puppy mills. He was the primary sponsor of the Ohio Commercial Dog Breeders Act. It's a bill that passed in 2012 requiring high-volume dog breeders to register with the state and pass inspections. It took effect in 2013.

"It took me eight-and-a-half years to get it through, which is a very long time for a piece of legislation," he said.

He believes the law is making a difference.

"I believe this bill has helped combat (puppy mills). Are we 100 percent rid of puppy mills in the state? I'm not gonna say that," he said.

He and the humane society agreed, there will be puppy mills as long as there's still a demand for puppy mill dogs.

John Goodwin said it really begins and ends with the dog lovers themselves.

"When you see that cute puppy in the window at the pet store, or see that puppy advertised on the internet, ask yourself, where's that puppy's mother?"

Goodwin suggested when you look for your next pet, don't visit a pet store and don't order a dog over the internet without seeing the mother. He said you should either adopt from a shelter or rescue, or find a responsible breeder who's proud to show you the conditions in which the dogs live.

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