Animal Writes
21 February 2001 Issue
The Politics of Puppies

by Reporter: Craig Cheatham, News 4 

Near Rolla (KMOV) -- Missouri is the puppy mill capital of the United States. Every year tens of thousands of Missouri puppies are shipped to pet stores all over the country. News 4 has uncovered disturbing information about the way Missouri inspects those kennels.

"The expressions that you see on the faces of some of these animals are haunting," says former USDA inspector Marshall Smith.

The front line in the war on puppy mills keeps moving from backyard kennels to cyberspace. Kim Townsend uses the internet to collect tips and trace records then posts them on her website "It's almost become an addiction," says Townsend.

Her addiction is attracting unprecedented attention from the Department of Agriculture. At a meeting of the Missouri Pet Breeders last year, G.A. Salmon, the head of the state inspection office challenged 300 breeders to not let one woman ruin the industry.

"Now you know our friend on the internet and I use that term loosely... this is a lady who says she's going to put you all out of business. Let us not let a few people put you out of business," said Salmon. At the same meeting people distributed letters with Kim Townsend's phone number, address and a map to her home. Salmon's boss, Dr. John Hunt, the Director of Missouri's Animal Health Division, sees nothing wrong with Salmon's actions. "I've got full confidence in G.A.. I hired him and I take full responsibility for hiring him," says Hunt.

Missouri has more than one thousand animal breeders licensed by the Federal government, one out of every three puppy mills in the entire country. Why do we have so many? Former federal inspector Marshall Smith says puppy mills are easy to run, can be very profitable, and the state does a poor job policing them. "I've seen dogs covered with mange at kennels that had flawless inspection reports," says Smith. We examined dozens of the worst cases in Missouri history. The state Department of Agriculture never fined the owners a penny, never took away their state licenses.

In the same cases, the USDA suspended or revoked the federal licenses and handed out thousands of dollars in fines. "They have twice as much time and manpower as we do," says Dr. Hunt. Marshall Smith says they're protecting the industry. Smith says inspectors often overlook repeated violations.

One kennel, owned by Glen Wilson, is licensed by the USDA and Missouri Department of Agriculture. "The kennel has no shelter for the animals, the metal cages are rusty and have sharp edges," says Smith. The dogs appear to have no protection from the cold. One of the men on the property drags a dog by the neck and slings it into a pen.

Four months before our visit, Missouri inspector Tom Hawley made only one observation: all dogs needed to be identified. No mention of eight-foot tall weeds, or any other problems identified by Marshall Smith.

Breeding is in the blood of Tom Hawley and G.A. Salmon. They owned kennels before becoming inspectors. Now, the same facilities are in their wives' names. Hawley is also a regional President of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association.

The USDA calls that a conflict of interest, Dr. Hunt does not.

The state's growing interest in Kim Townsend intensified last year. Investigators accused her of buying and selling dogs without a license. They never charged her or required her to get a license. But in her eyes the message is clear.

Based on information uncovered by News 4, Dr. Hunt has reassigned G. A. Salmon and Tom Hawley to jobs that no longer allow them to inspect puppy mills. In our interview Dr. Hunt promised to checkout complaints about the Glen Wilson kennel "quickly." Hunt told us he has the utmost confidence in
Marshall Smith's observations, but the Department of Agriculture still hasn't found the time to visit the kennel.

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