|YES, THEY SURE ARE CUTE, BUT THEY HAVE A BIG SECRET|
They practically leap off the page at you: Gorgeous golden retriever puppies that can't wait to lick your face, cuddle in your arms and snooze at your feet before the fireplace when you take them home. But all is not sweetness and light, because the people who want to sell you Pandora, Tulip, Banner and their kennel mates have a secret: They are a front for a notorious network of Amish puppy mills in Millersburg, Ohio. And here's another secret: That may be fine with Donald Trump.
I stumbled on MY GOLDENRETRIEVERpuppies.com by accident. Or I should say they stumbled on me when a ham-handed employee of the webmaster who runs that site spammed two of my popular blog posts on the cancer epidemic in golden retrievers with advertisements for "Golden Retriever Puppies For Sale in Ohio." When I complained, webmaster and "kennel" operator Galen Kaufmann replied with an apology. That was unusual because most blog spam cannot be traced back to its source.
My curiosity piqued, I took a look at the website and quickly concluded that it was what is called an English front house for Amish puppy mills.
The term, used by people trying to eradicate puppy mills, refers to the Amish habit of referring to anyone who is not Amish as "English." An inordinate number of puppy mills are run by Amish farmers. Because the traditional Amish lifestyle rejects modern-day conveniences like electricity and telephones, let alone the Internet, these unscrupulous businessfolk sometimes need a front through which to sell their puppies.
These puppies often live in squalid conditions in group pens sequestered in dark corners of unheated barns with only a few people to care for a large number of animals. Female dogs are repeatedly bred without concern for their health and wellbeing, and interbreeding is common, increasing the incidence of ailments like hip dysplasia, eye problems and fatal diseases that result in decreased longevity and huge veterinarian bills.
The MYGOLDENRETRIEVERpuppies.com website threw up several caution flags that were indicators it was not what it so brazenly advertised itself to be, according to several knowledgeable breeders. These indicators were that:
An unusually large number of puppies -- a "huge number," according to one breeder -- were born during the same month, which would require a level of care typically beyond the capabilities of a small kennel.
Some of the birthdates were in January when there was snow on the ground in that part of Ohio, but photos of the puppies with their supposed mothers were taken on grassy, summer-like lawns.
The prices for the majority of the puppies -- less than $900 for 13 of the 16 puppies on offer -- were far below what reputable breeders charge, which typically are double that amount.
The "kennel" is not a Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA) member nor were the puppies from American Kennel Club (AKC) parents, the gold standards for reputable breeders.
GRCA and AKC affiliations matter because these organizations maintain registries and require certain breeding standards, while puppy mills and their fronts are not regulated.
The "guarantee" to be signed by the buyer is unusual in that it is nullified if the buyer does not return a dog it is not satisfied with, something that buyers typically would not do for fear that the dog would be put down.
The "kennel" is located in the same 3,000-person town in which an extraordinary five of the puppy mills on the Horrible Hundred list maintained by the Human Society of America are located.
When I contacted Galen Kauffman, he refused to comment when asked if his "kennel" was a front for puppy mills and hung up. Click.
Kaufmann called back a few minutes later. He acknowledged that "we have a small network where we represent other breeders." He acknowledged that the photographs of puppies with January birthdates shown with mothers in grassy summer settings were not the puppies currently on offer. "We typically use the same photo," he explained. Kaufmann said that his website "needs updating," but had no explanation as to why his sale prices were low and there was no GRCA or AKC affiliation, let alone the coincidence of there being so many puppy mills in the same small town, and then hung up a second time. Click.
So what about Donald Trump?§
In the wake of Trump's inauguration, government agencies whose policies could be at odds with the new president scrubbed their websites of material that might be objectionable and therefore politically taboo for a man with fringe views.
The EPA mysteriously took down documents regarding global warming and the White House mysteriously took down links to LGBT and civil rights resources, while the Department of Agriculture mysteriously took down information detailing animal abuse, including documents on dog and horse breeders, zoos and animal research labs that had violated the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act.
The USDA disingenuously stated that its website had been scrubbed to protect the "privacy" of these violators and now requires people to file cumbersome Freedom of Information Act request to obtain once-public information, a process that can take months or years. After protests from animal welfare advocates, the USDA partially relented and again posted certain reports, but not those pertaining to animal breeders.
Trump also has railed against the "FDA food police."
He complains that the Food and Drug Administration makes things difficult for pet food manufacturers by regulating the quality of their products through purity and minimal nutrition standards. Never mind that because of these regulations, there are pet food recalls -- about 25 in the last year alone. Some 11 recalls involved dog foods contaminated by listeria and salmonella, and one contaminated by a euthanasia drug.
For what it's worth, Trump is the first president since forever (Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841) to not have a dog or any other pet in the White House.