ODON, Indiana (KDKA) — These days, Jackson is a frisky little Jack Russell Terrier, but that wasn’t always the case.
Cindy Zeigler says after purchasing Jackson at Petland in Robinson, he would have died of pneumonia had she not spent thousands nursing him back to health.
Now, she wants to know why and asked KDKA to find out where and how he was bred.
And KDKA’s search led us here to Amish country in the southwestern part of Indiana, where 20 square miles are home to four dozen small farms where puppies are bred.
You can’t often see them, but the sound of barking puppies fills the air, emanating from closed barn-like structures that are off-limits to visitors and reporters.
Andy Sheehan: Can I take a look at it?
Woman: We don’t usually let very many people look at it.
You can see other kennels from the road, open-air corrals with two or three dogs to each and a small fenced-in run out front.
These outdoor facilities seem better than the shocking images of stacked, unsanitary crates that have been uncovered elsewhere by the Humane Society of the United States.
But it’s Senior Director John Goodwin calls this mass breeding of puppies abusive.
Sheehan: You’ll see dozens and dozens of farms and puppies. Puppies are the main livestock of these farms.
Goodwin: In these communities where there’s a lot of these puppy mills, that’s exactly what these dogs are. They’re just breeding machines, bred every heat cycle, pumping out puppies until their bodies wear out.
Indiana state veterinary records show this past summer, Petland stores in Robinson and Monroeville bought 129 dogs from this broker-distributor named Levi Graber.
Graber is the owner of a complex called Blue Ribbon Kennels, which is the main conduit from the local puppy farms to the pet stores.
Graber and the humane society have been at odds for years.
Goodwin: He’s just been notorious for sick puppy complaints. We have a number of sick puppy complaints that go back to Blue Ribbon Kennels.
CDC and Indiana State Health Department records link Graber and Blue Ribbon to a puppy-borne disease which made more that one hundred people sick and hospitalized others.
Sheehan: They say you sell sick dogs from puppy mills here in this Amish land. Is that true? Do you sell from puppy mills?
Graber: That is not true. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. But listen, I have some really, really important things to do here today. I understand what you’re doing here. I understand what your motives are. We love our puppies. We take care of them the best way possible.
In a statement, Petland defended the breeders and its procurement process, saying:
“Of more than 10,000 estimated breeders in the U.S., only about 1,700 are USDA licensed. Petland buys from the top percent of these breeders.”
It’s true most of the breeders listed are licensed and inspected. And after years of bad publicity, many have begun working with Purdue University to improve care and are replacing enclosed kennels with indoor and outdoor facilities.
According to records, a pen similar to that is where Jackson was bred.
No one was home, but KDKA saw more than 100 puppies and several Jack Russells in pens.
Zeigler: This is where Jackson came from.
Sheehan: I see a lot of little Jacksons.
Zeigler: I see a lot of little Jacksons and very extremely busy. And you see some of the puppy mills, it doesn’t look as bad. They’re not stacked up.
Zeigler found the place surprisingly open and sanitary. Goodwin called it a mass production facility.
“The video speaks for itself. Whether they have a tiny enclosure with a little more room or a little more room, it’s still huge numbers of dogs and you know they’re not getting the individual attention they need,” Goodwin said.
Now, the humane society is pushing for the passage of Victoria’s Law in Pennsylvania. It would prevent the sale of these dogs in PA.