It's hard to believe, but a Missouri dog breeder described as "one of the worst puppy mills in the country" by the United States Humane Society, could make thousands of dollars selling its dogs, even though it has reached an agreement with the Missouri Attorney General that forces the breeder to go out of business by the end of the month.
More on that, later.
In a series of scathing inspection reports filed during the last 3 years, inspectors with the United States Department of Agriculture found repeated examples of sick and neglected dogs kept in terrible conditions at S & S Family Puppies. State inspectors also found many violations in recent inspections. According to the consent agreement, the owners are Charles and Diana Stephenson of Milan, Missouri, but USDA records also identify Brandi Cheney, the Stephenson's daughter, as one of the principals in the operation, although the Stephensons insist Cheney owned her own kennel and was simply listed as a co-owner of S & S on the USDA reports.
How bad was S & S Family Puppies?
During a routine inspection on April 13, USDA inspectors found a thin three week old puppy laying on its side shivering. They found an "abnormal soft spot" on the puppy's head that was 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide. The owner told them that its head was too big for its soft top. QA veterinarian had not seen the puppy, instead the Stephensons were "letting it run its course."
During another USDA inspection 6 weeks earlier, inspectors found 8 dogs needing immediate veterinarian care. Many of them were thin, looked sick and had prominant bones that looked like they were sticking out. Several sdogs had exposed skin that had turned red.
I could continue, but the issues with many other inspections also reflect the poor care and filth found by the USDA this year.
I talked with S & S owner Charles Stephenson this afternoon. He told me "48 or 49" dogs will be auctioned off on Saturday, and that he will be able to keep some of the profit from the sale, though it's not clear how much. Mr. Stephenson claimed the USDA was "picky on little things," and that "we didn't feel like we neglected the dogs." He told me the violations looked worse on paper than the dogs did in person.
Mr. Stephenson said he and his wife had owned the kennel for 28 years. Under the consent agreement they will be forced out by the end of the month. He emphasized that they were "voluntarily getting out," but he later admitted that they felt like the state was going to force them out anyway. So, why not agree to it, then pocket some of the profit from the sale?
The Stephensons will be able to collect profit from the sale, but the consent agreement prohibits them from running a commercial kennel for at least 8 years. That means they will not be buying back any of their dogs. The same rules didn't apply to notorious dog breeder Jewell Bond in 2007. After she "surrendered" her dogs, the state agreement allowed her to pocket more than $28,361 from the sale. She spent $3,442 buying back some of the same dogs she had just surrendered to the state. Two years later, there was a raid on Bond's property, and investigators seized more dogs. She was not allowed to buy any of them back. Here's a link to the story we did on Bond 2 years ago.
When we broke the story about Jewell Bond's auction buyback, the new Agriculture Commissioner, Jon Hagler, called it "unacceptable." He told me nothing like that would happen on his watch. It's clear after reading the consent agreement that if the Stephensons can't run a commercial breeding operation, it won't benefit them to buy any of the dogs up for auction. However, their daughter Brandi, who runs her own kennel, has the right to buy her parents' dogs.
Charles Stephenson insists he wasn't treated fairly by inspectors, but it looks like S & S Family Puppies had more than a few opportunities to clean up their act and provide better care for their dogs. They failed repeatedly. Now, the dogs will get another chance at life, though it may very well be in a different puppy mill.