Caged: How Ohio Politicians Keep the State's Puppy Mill Business Booming with Little Regulation

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Living conditions – cage sizes, food and water quality, opportunity for physical activity—are the elements closest to the minds of animal protection advocates. Most acknowledge that the business isn't going away anytime soon, but the decade-long push for regulations on some things has kept those concerns pretty static. An independently filed business-impact analysis reports that the cage sizes were based on USDA measurements, which were treated as a "starting point for development of the standards in the rules."

And none of these rules even have to go into effect until Dec. 31, 2016, according to a current draft proposal, leaving more than three years of stasis. In that interim, there's no method to really push breeders on the bill's specs. An ad-hoc committee has been meeting (at least once, to be clear) this spring to hammer out the details of the law.

Despite the six months since passage—and the years of work prior—there hasn't been an opportunity for the public to digest the law. The ODA has been promoting a roomier lifestyle for dogs bred in these Ohio kennels. A widely distributed Associated Press article takes no cues from the actual bill as it was passed; rather, the supposed intent of the ODA is championed as real change.

Here's the nut 'graph of that particular story: "The rules bolster the standards for treatment of animals housed in puppy mills and force the facilities to obtain state licenses. They were drafted by the state Department of Agriculture, but their implementation is being delayed for at least two weeks." Approximately none of that is true. But its circulation in newspapers across the state paves the way for a broad misunderstanding of the new law.

It's a plain case of bowling over the opposition, though the ODA is even more brazen and opaque than typically.


Dog breeding has been a booming business in rural Ohio for more than a decade, though its peak years have come and gone. In 2004, a contingent of businessmen from across Amish Country organized and opened the Buckeye Dog Auction, signaling a high-productivity turn to puppy trafficking. Much like the hemming and hawing of a livestock auction in various corners of the country, northern Ohio staked a massive foothold in the burgeoning business of puppies.

Springing from the auctions and the kennels and the general culture of the trade has been a grisly showdown between the proprietors and oppositional activists. Even with what seems to be a monumental and relevant law on the books, that confrontation is far from over.

The Puppy Mill Project, based outside Chicago, knows Ohio's breeding operations very well. Cari Meyers, the Project's founder, explains that a nearly unimaginable number of puppies are trafficked out of Ohio and into, for instance, pet shops in suburban Chicago.

Last month, the Puppy Mill Project helped bring about a class action lawsuit in LaSalle County Circuit Court against Chicago pet store chain Furry Babies, Inc. The lawsuit cites consumer fraud, per Illinois law, since it wasn't made clear to purchasers what the source of the puppies was. One of the central figures named in the suit is Abe Miller, a puppy mill magnate based in Fresno, Ohio, who was funneling puppies toward Chicago and many other cities.

Miller held major influence in Senate Bill 130's refinement and passage. He runs House of Pets, which brokers deals directly with in-state and out-of-state buyers and sellers. He's also the president of the Ohio Dog Breeders Association, a major contributor to politicians handling the bill. He spoke to a Senate committee in 2011, decrying "arbitrary standards written by people not experienced in animal husbandry." The meeting was, yet again, a public consolidation of puppies with farm-bound livestock more traditionally overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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