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The problem with puppy mills in Michiana

Published: Nov. 12, 2020 at 6:33 PM EST
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LAGRANGE COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - It’s a polarizing topic here in Michiana. Some call them super breeders and some call them commercial breeders, and others say they’re puppy mills.

Whatever name you use, the story is often the same a lot of mother dogs and their puppies packed into tight spaces, not always well taken care of. For some, cranking out pure bred puppies is a cash cow for breeders, to others its abuse and mistreatment; a life of terror for man’s best friend.

“Then when people are finished with them, they shoot them. I’ve heard of them being drowned, just all kinds of horrible ways to die," animals rights advocate Kristy Sipress says.

Rural LaGrange county is home to generations of farmers, quiet roads, and serene landscapes. However, beneath the beauty exists a certain type of business, a business some would like to see banished.

“My opinion on puppy mills is they should be extinguished.” Dr. Aarie Szuba says. She is a veterinarian who used to work in LaGrange County and saw a number of dog breeding operations while there.

“Basically they’re just money makers to these people,” Sipress adds.

Puppy mills, or commercial breeders as many of them prefer to be called, have a USDA license. That license means instead of being a pet, these dogs can be treated like farm animals.

“The USDA standards are so minimal," Sipress says. “They can leave them out in the extreme heat or cold. They only have to feed them when they deem it necessary. Sadly there’s just no protections for these animals.”

To learn more I visited the breeding operation of Lavern Whetstone in LaGrange County. He did not want to appear on camera or allow me into his facility but says there are protections for animals.

He says he has a state and USDA license, passes inspections of his facility, takes good care of his animals, and is a member of the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare. Even if the animals are well taken care of in this case, some believe there’s no need for these type breeders. A veterinarian I spoke with describes her experience at a different breeder.

“These puppies were all kept in one small confined area. I don’t know if they were allowed to go in and go out, but not, I would say, to the standards to what I would consider to be able to take care of a dog," Dr. Szuba says.

“So usually it’s the mother dogs that are mistreated, they’re not cared for. If they have puppies and they get sick there’s no requirements for them to see a vet," Sipress adds.

“Sometimes we would see them and they would be extremely dehydrated, extremely sick, a lot of times we would see them with really preventable types of viruses or diseases such as Parvo virus," Dr. Szuba says.

Pure bred puppy mill dogs can go for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Those I interviewed pointed to one group behind the breeding boom in LaGrange County.

“There’s definitely and increase of puppy mills in that area, and it has to do with a certain demographic," Dr. Szuba says.

“You know, between LaGrange and Elkhart I know there’s a lot of Amish population, I know that’s a big part of it. To a lot of Amish people, I think that they feel like dogs are livestock," Sipress says.

“Its a huge, huge industry. One of our many concerns with all of it is, this is what LaGrange County is becoming?" Jean McKibben says. She lives near the Whetstone breeding facility in LaGrange County.

“LaGrange County is known as the puppy mill capital of the upper-Midwest," Gary Litke says, he lives with Jean.

I’m told the mother dogs are bred over and over until they are of no use and then, they’re discarded. Their puppies might be big money but to some these puppy mills are a big problem.

“I think personally if you have hundreds of dogs, I don’t think that you could sufficiently take care of that many animals properly," Gary Litke says

“I do not like the idea at all," McKibben says. "It’s kind of disgusting, I guess that’s the word, where do you draw the line?”

“There’s no way that they can take care of that many dogs properly," Litke adds.

There is legislation at the state and federal level to create tighter controls on commercial breeders, to make sure mother dogs and their puppies are treated with care:

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