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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.

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