Violations at Georgia puppy mills highlighted in annual report

Just over a half-dozen Georgia kennels were highlighted in an annual report from the Humane Society of the United States for problems ranging from unsanitary conditions to animal cruelty.

Just over a half-dozen Georgia kennels were highlighted in an annual report from the Humane Society of the United States for problems ranging from unsanitary conditions to animal cruelty.

Representatives for the organization said they are particularly worried about the condition of puppies since enforcement agencies have suspended on site visits during the coronavirus pandemic. “(During the pandemic) there have been even fewer inspections of the mills. An inspector can identify a small problem and order it to be corrected before it festers and becomes a bigger problem,” said John Goodwin, Senior Director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills campaign.

State officials said while they had not been conducting routine investigations during the COVID-19 lockdown, inspectors worked on any complaints that were called in and did make site visits in urgent cases while practicing social distancing. Monday marked the start of the second phase of their COVID-19 response with routine inspections expected to take place three days a week, said spokeswoman Julie McPeake.

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The Humane Society’s 2020 Horrible Hundred report released last week included seven Georgia breeders. The Humane Society’s report is based on inspections of dog breeders conducted by the federal and state Departments of Agriculture.

State inspectors issued a stop order to owners of Weatherford’s Pampered Pets in Claxton last year when it was clear the owners could not manage 133 dogs on the property, several of which seemed to be in need of medical attention, the report said. When inspectors returned for the most recent inspection in December, the owners, who could not be reached for comment, would not let them inspect the property.

One breeder in Fairburn who has appeared on past Humane Society lists and was ordered to have no contact with animals seems to be back in business, according to organization’s report. Leslie Ayo performed surgeries on rottweiler puppies without a veterinary license and pleaded guilty to five counts of animal cruelty in 2015. In March, she was promoting puppies for sale on a website, the report said.

Courts determined that James Godfrey of Godfrey Chow Kennel in Luthersville, which was cited in the 2019 report, had renewed his license based on false information. The Humane Society’s report notes that Godfrey has since closed. He surrendered his license in August, state reports show.

Recent developments in animal welfare transparency at the federal level have made violations more accessible to the public, but locally, some breeders have taken issue with inspection reports. One breeder said she has corrected all violations but has been unable to get in touch with a state inspector.

State inspectors made several visits to Jerrie Cobb of Jerrie’s Pet Place in Fort Valley, Georgia after giving the breeder 90 days to reduce the number of dogs, improve the enclosures and make sure the dogs were groomed. Cobb, who has been licensed since the 1990s, made all of the improvements including hand building custom dog houses with two-way openings.

But when inspectors returned in November, Cobb was given a violation for inadequate temperatures. Inspectors reportedly found puppies shivering. The heated space was too small for the number of dogs present, according to the Humane Society report. “I clean my kennels every morning. (The inspector) came out in the morning when it was cold,” Cobb said. She has since downsized to about 40 animals though she is licensed to house up to 100 dogs.

Cobb’s violations came just after the arrest of Reason Craig Gray who operated Georgia Puppies in Berrien County. Last year, after Gray was charged with multiple counts of cruelty to animals when more than 700 small breed dogs were rescued from his property, the state began tightening its enforcement.

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Through its Companion Animal Division, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, is charged with regulating anyone who produces, sells, boards, grooms, offers for adoption, or exchanges pet animals. Last year, the department had about 15 full-time companion animal and equine inspectors and three field supervisors. After Gray's arrest, the department conducted an internal audit and terminated one employee.

As a result, Georgia’s enforcement efforts have improved, said Goodwin. “One reason you have a few more entries in Georgia is because the state went out to some of the worst actors,” he said.

During the pandemic, state inspectors filed 176 inspection reports from mid-March to mid-May, said McPeake. The department has also made or attempted to make contact with all 4,000 licensed establishments to conduct surveys on how the pandemic has effected their businesses, she said.

Lynn Henning, owner of Simpler Times Farms in Concord said business has not suffered during the pandemic but she is concerned about being featured as a problem puppy mill. “Nobody was more surprised to read a report like this than I was,”said Henning who has eight breeding dogs for her Morkies (Maltese and Yorkie) and Malshies (Maltese and Shih-Tzu). The violations in the report — excessive trash, accumulation of excrement, and a previously cited pathogen in the water that caused some dogs to become ill — have been addressed, she said. She also obtained a county license after being told in January that she needed one. “My Department of Agriculture report is picture perfect,” Henning said, sharing a copy of the most recent March 4 inspection report to prove it.

Goodwin said offenders often have a pattern. “They may have a clean report and then another of bad violation,” he said. “It is a pattern and it is an industry that has the bare minimum regulation to begin with.”