Dogs in danger – A Target 11 investigation into puppy mills

by: Robin Taylor Updated:

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PITTSBURGH - A Target 11 investigation discovers puppy mills are still churning out dogs, even after a state crackdown. The operations are being hidden in barns and basements. Investigator Robin Taylor uncovers the dirty little secrets of this ugly business.

For the breeders, it's all about the money. They don't care about the dogs or the puppies. They're making hundreds of dollars for each puppy sold online or to pet stores. And it's all under the table, unless they get caught.

Buddy was an adorable puppy, but he was also very sick. He came from a kennel in Fayette County that's been shut down. Chances are, that without proper care, he wouldn't be the happy dog he is today.

"I spent probably over $600 on just vet bills within three months of having him," said Sue Ellen Breidenbach, Buddy's owner.

Four years ago, Pennsylvania began cracking down on unsanitary conditions in kennels and puppy mills.

"You hear stories of stacked wire crates, where they're stacked one on top of another.  Certainly they don't get exercise. Nutrition, who knows?" said Dr. Todd Blauvelt, a veterinarian with the Humane Society.

In 2008, there were 300 commercial kennels in the state. Now, there are just 51. But, puppy mills haven't completely disappeared. What Taylor discovered is that some are still operating behind closed doors.

"If there's money to be made, people, unscrupulous people, are going to find a way to do it, unfortunately," said Blauvelt.

To find out more, Taylor paid a visit Safehaven Small Dog Rescue in Forest County.

There, Taylor met another dog named Buddy who was rescued from an illegal puppy mill. When he came in, he was a matted mess, covered in fleas.

Taylor also met Chloe, a 7-year-old female, who limps from walking on wire her whole life and goes around in circles from being confined to a cage. She was bred again and again until her health failed.

"She came in, in pretty bad shape. Every tooth in her mouth was bad. It's very bad for the female. They get worn out. They don't have time to recover. They start throwing small litters. They start throwing puppies with birth defects," said Teri Walters, of Safehaven Small Dog Rescue.

Calvin is one of those sick puppies. He was born in a mill with a heart defect.

Walters tries to rehab these discarded dogs.

"A lot of times, they will just take them out and shoot them," said Walters.

"And this is going on all under the radar?" Taylor asked.

"Of course," Walters said.

"Where are these places? Are they in barns? Are they in basements?" Taylor asked.

"Take your pick," she replied.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a new rule requiring federal inspection of nearly all dog sales operations, including online operators.

Animal rescuers say licensed kennels aren't a problem anymore. It's the illegal ones they're after.

"We've actually had dogs that have been debarked. They damage the vocal cords so when somebody drives by, these dogs can't bark," said Walters.

It's really sad. More than 70 percent of puppy mill dogs have a serious illness or a congenital defect. According to a Humane Society report, 15 percent die within the first three months.

If a breeder wants to meet you in a parking lot, and won't let you see their dogs' home or the puppy's parents, that should be a red flag.