According to a recent USDA report, Iowa now ranks second in the country in the number of commercial dog breeders. Only Missouri has more. In this Channel 13 investigation, we're taking you inside the facilities and showing you some of the animals coming out of them.
Their tails wag, their brown eyes beg and their feet dance. A group of dogs inside a pet store in Des Moines' East Village is clearly happy. But they haven't always had it this good.
"People weren't always good to them," says Jennifer Kluesner, the Owner of Jet and Monkey's.
They're all rescue dogs. They know what it is like to be hungry, cold, bought and sold. Victor, a Yorkie, is the newest addition to the bunch. Kluesner tries to coax him towards her with a calming, caring voice.
"He’s still scared of sudden movements and loud noises."
It's not surprising considering what he's been through.
"His jaw was just hanging straight down and his tongue was swollen and he couldn’t shut his mouth," says Amy Heinz, the owner of A Heinz 57 Pet Rescue and Transport.
Heinz purchased Victor at a dog auction in Mahaska county last April. When she got him home, she noticed he was seriously injured. Veterinarians confirmed, Victor's jaw was broken as the result of blunt force trauma.
"His jaw was literally just dangling," says Heinz. "The only thing holding it on was his skin."
Heinz focuses on rescuing shelter dogs, or as she calls them, dogs on death row. The Mahaska county auction was her first.
“It’s just horrific," says Heinz.
While walking on the grounds she noticed a small tuft of hair on the ground. When she took a second look, she realized tiny bones surrounded it.
"It was the remnants of a little dog body, where somebody just discarded this little life, like it was a piece of trash."
The facility is owned by Debra Pratt. She auctioned off more than 300 dogs last April. Many showed signs of abuse and neglect, like missing eyes and facial deformities. The Mahaska County Attorney says deputies who recently visited the property described it as filthy, so filthy, they called the sanitation department.
According to inspection reports, it's nothing new. In 2010, Pratt was cited for inadequate veterinarian care, like eye problems and skin irritations. Housing facilities weren't up to par. In one instance, three Pugs were kept in an enclosure measuring just 18 inches. The minimum requirement: 12 square feet. The inspector also noted a large number of flies and a noticeable ammonia odor.
As recently as March, inspectors found significant health problems in more than three dozen dogs.
"They’re breeding for profit," says Nancy Peterson, DVM.
She's caring for three Golden Retrievers recently purchased from another commercial breeding facility in Southern Iowa. When they arrived at the clinic, Peterson says they were covered in ticks and fleas. They also had tapeworms and dental wear.
"He's chewed on some hard surfaces," says Peterson as she strokes an 8-year-old Retriever named Buddie.
But Buddie doesn't seem to have the emotional scars often seen in dogs from large, commercial breeding facilities.
“He’s very friendly, where the other male that came in was a little worried about walking around.”
Omar is the other male. He quivers and cowers when removed from his kennel. He is still scared of us and his surroundings.
"You can see he’s just not comfortable with life yet."
Peterson says little by little, Omar is coming out of his shell, but it will take time for him to trust humans.
"Socialization is so important between five and 14 weeks of age. It is really the big time for them and in a commercial setting that is just so, so difficult.”
Many commercial breeders liken raising dogs to raising livestock. Peterson doesn't see it that way.
“That’s not why I’m in veterinary medicine. For us it’s the emotional bond. It’s what they give back to us in our lives that make the quality of my life so much better."
For unscrupulous breeders, it's all about profits - profits driven by uninformed consumers.
"If they’re buying from those types of facilities we just keep them going," says Peterson.
And it keeps dogs like Buddie, Omar and Victor imprisoned in a never-ending cycle of breeding, abuse and neglect.