lifetime to eight; banned the practice of keeping dogs in small, stacked cages; made smaller breeding operations subject to regulations and imposed other changes.
The rule changes are prompting breeders to surrender female dogs approaching the litter limit or to downsize their operations in general, said Ervin Raber, a Holmes County breeder who was involved in the negotiations that produced the law.
Raber, a founder of the Ohio Professional Dog Breeders Association (opdba. org), estimated that last year breeders transferred 2,000 dogs to rescue groups, most of them after September. During negotiations over what provisions would be included in the new law, the breeders made an informal agreement to surrender animals no longer useful to them, which is why rescue groups are finding themselves so busy, he said.
Breeders drop off the dogs at a small number of veterinary offices. The vets examine the animals, treat them if necessary and then release them to the rescue groups, who pick up the tab for the medical care.
It’s a sensitive operation. No vets contacted by The Dispatch would comment on their involvement for fear of offending breeders — many of whom are their clients.
Puppy Mill Rescue allowed The Dispatch to follow along on a recent day on the condition that no vets — or even the small towns where they are located — be identified.
West, 72, had driven from his home in Champaign County to the Amish country area around Holmes County, a two-hour trip.
After collecting the 17 dogs from vets’ offices, he drove to Buffalo, New York, where rescuers were waiting to take the animals to foster homes. (Some Ohio dogs go to New York and Pennsylvania because finding homes for all of them locally can be a challenge.)
West was going to drive back to Champaign County the same night, then arise the next morning for another run.
“It helps that I was a longhaul trucker,” he said.
He wasn’t the only rescuer doing a lot of driving that day. Keegan Murphy, a restaurant server who lives in Columbus and volunteers with Purebred Rescue Organization of Ohio (purebredrescueorganization. com), drove to the same area to pick up a young “beabull” (a beagle-bulldog hybrid), an older cocker spaniel, a Yorkshire terrier puppy and other dogs.
When she found out in a phone call there were more dogs available than she expected, she called her friend Jennafercq Morris, who hustled to the area from Columbus to help with the transport.
“This is kind of my selfdecided purpose in life,” said Murphy, who works as a server because the schedule gives her the flexibility to make rescue runs.
“I’m still working on trying to find a job where I can use my passion,” she said. “At least in my free time I can use it. It makes me happy.”
Murphy picked up four dogs from a vet’s office, then added a fifth — a 75-pound
poodle-st. Bernard mix — that didn’t come from a breeder but was a stray picked up by the Holmes County dog warden.
Murphy has a rescue dog of her own and is providing a temporary home to two others. One is a female who, based on telltale physical signs, probably spent her life in a wire cage giving birth to successive litters.
“She walked so weird,” Murphy said. “Even now she doesn’t walk like a normal dog. But her tail has started wagging, so that’s good.”
Ohio still has a puppy-mill problem, animal advocates say. With 286 licensed operations in 2018, it’s estimated to be second only to Missouri in the number of commercial dog breeding operations, with thousands believed to be small enough to still be untouched by the stiffer regulation.
Corey Roscoe, Ohio director of the Humane Society of the United States, said it’s still too early to say how well the new regulations are working, but the fact that rescue groups are reporting more pickups is encouraging.
Although breeders such as Raber still say they are unfairly villainized and rescue groups continue to press for more action against puppy mills, both sides say they are pleased they have at least managed to cooperate enough to make the rescue runs possible.
John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign run by the Humane Society, said the bottom line is dogs that might have been euthanized after their breeding value diminished are now being placed with loving owners.
“I think that’s a positive development.”
Keegan Murphy hugs a dog being rescued after making a pickup at the Knox County Dog Shelter.
George West of Champaign County drives his van loaded with dogs from Holmes County to meet with rescuers in Buffalo, New York.