Iowa dog breeders make “horrible hundred” list


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

This year, 11 Iowa dog breeding operations made the Humane Society of the United States’ annual “Horrible Hundred” list of the worst puppy mills in the country. Only three states —Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska — had more inclusions. Iowa operations have been included in the “Horrible Hundred” list every year since the list began in 2013.

Facilities listed in the report were selected based upon a number of factors including, but not limited to, the number and severity of state and/or federal animal welfare violations (available via public records), Humane Society research and investigations, and whether or not the facility was believed to be in business at the time of publication.

The Humane Society describes a puppy mill as “an inhumane, commercial dog-breeding facility in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”


In its 2015 report, the Humane Society stated: “Dead or dying puppies, dogs with gaping wounds or infections, and dogs in the frigid cold with only solid ice in their water bowls, are just a few of the unacceptable conditions exposed in this year’s third annual report on problem puppy mills.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.” Pope Francis has shown compassion toward dogs during his papacy, including breaking the “no dogs in the Vatican” rule by allowing a guide dog onto the property in 2013 and subsequently blessing the dog.  On the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi each year, many parishes host pet blessings in honor of the patron saint of animals.

Mary LaHay, founder and president of Iowa Friends of Companion Animals and Iowa Voters for Companion Animals, said Iowa is a breeding ground for disreputable breeders primarily because of its rural landscape, which offers “many opportunities for people to run these businesses out of the public eye. They wouldn’t stand up to public scrutiny; they have to be hidden.”

Sue Dyer, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Houghton, runs a small dog breeding business on her farm in rural Salem. As someone who says she tries to do things the “right way” by prioritizing the health and happiness of her dogs, she finds the existence of disreputable breeders in Iowa upsetting, but not surprising. “Some people shouldn’t be doing it because they don’t do it correctly. Good breeders detest those amongst them that keep dogs in filth and don’t have good veterinary care almost as much as the animal rights activists themselves.” She added that disreputable breeders perpetuate a stigma that all dog breeders are abusive.

LaHay believe state legislative action is necessary to protect the dogs and help disreputable breeders come into compliance. Iowa Legislature did pass a bill, HF 2280, in 2010 to allow for inspection of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-licensed mills by the Iowa Department of Agriculture. State animal welfare advocacy groups hoped that law would cut down on animal abuse, since it would theoretically increase the level of accountability. However, Iowa Friends of Companion Animals believes that this law didn’t work as well as intended, since the state agriculture department often defers complaints to the USDA. Subsequent “puppy mill” bills have been proposed since then, but none have passed.

Regardless of the state of legislation, LaHay said buyers can help the situation by making informed decisions. “When adding a pet to your family, always try adoption first, but if you must have a puppy, go to a kennel, get a tour of the facility — at least see where the mom of the puppy lives — and if you’re denied for any reason, don’t buy the puppy.”

She said a defining factor of a good breeder is one who insists on making direct sales transactions. “When I talk to responsible breeders, they tell me they want to meet the people who are buying the puppy, so they know they are going to a good home. They would want to know as much about the person buying the puppy as the person buying the puppy would want to know about the breeder.”

The Humane Society states that a prospective buyer should be wary if the breeder insists on delivering the dog in a neutral location. To see a checklist of things to look for when purchasing a puppy, visit the Humane Society’s website,

LaHay hopes that, eventually, conditions in Iowa breeding facilities will improve, and that residents of the “proud agricultural state” will no longer need to be embarrassed by inclusion in Horrible Hundred lists. “Iowa can do better than this.”

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18 thoughts on “Iowa dog breeders make “horrible hundred” list

  1. There are a number of wonderfully caring and perfectly respectable dog rescue organizations out there, but unfortunately not all of them are what they seem. The newest scam is for rescuers to search shelters, Craigslist, The Penny Saver, buying pregnant dogs or pups from small breeders, even to the extent of stealing small dogs from yards, all to locate dogs which are in high demand and easy to sell. These con-artists will then obtain the dog, often seeking out purebred or family dogs, and then sell them. They will refer to this charge as an adoption or rehoming fee, and will turn around and make a pretty serious profit.
    The scammers will tell you that included in your re-homing fee is spay/neuter and shots, while in reality the animals had received these services from where ever the alleged ‘rescuer’ got the dog. They may even go on to tell you that they have to recover the costs of rescuing the dog and caring for the dog, but if this truly is the case, then they should be considered a dog broker/kennel, in which case strict rules and regulations would apply that they most likely do not meet. Some of these people actually con the true shelters/rescues into waving fees, taking money away from the shelter and putting it right into their own pocket.
    Any shelter or rescue that pays their “president, chairperson” a salary that is more than 35,000.00 per year should be avoided, as the money donated should go mainly to the care of the animals- NOT to line the pocket books of the rescues owners/chairpersons/presidents.
    Shelter fees are usually between $60-$150 for a dog, and this is usually the case across the board, unless another rescue is picking up the dog. No special exceptions are made for purebred dogs or dogs with a high likelihood of being adopted out; the rescue is looking out for the best interest of the animals, and wants to make it financially possible for these dogs to find their forever homes. So, in a nutshell, these people, under the guise of being a friend to animals, make a $200-$400 profit for each dog they obtain from the shelter or other adoption means – CL, local classifieds, etc. Do that a couple times a week and you can give up your day job! We see this especially when rescues only use “foster” homes, when fosters homes are used there is no cost to the shelter/rescues other than the vet care. Many times the vet care is greatly discounted or even free.
    Be careful of these people posing as rescuers/shelters when checking out an adoptable dog.
    You should always ask detailed questions about the shelter, ask about their non-profit status, ask if they transport dogs, ask to see the heath certificates and rabies tags (if dog is over 14 weeks). If they can’t find it or do not have it walk away….
    Avoid rescues that do the following:
    1. Avoid those that use manipulation to tug on your heart and wallet strings, Steer clear of rescues that have blogs that focus on a myriad of tragedies specifically geared to get you to DONATE NOW, but not to necessarily get the pet in the story adopted, or asking for hundreds of dollars to “save” the dog or dogs.
    2. Avoid those that refuse to be transparent and answer questions about anything regarding their rescue or question why they have done something.
    3. If on Facebook or on websites or blogs if they have specific questions and answers regarding facts about their rescue, IF NOT BEWARE!! OR, If they degrade or bash other rescues/shelters for ANY reason, shelters and rescue can work together and even “help” each other especially when putting the animal’s care first. If they do compline or bash other rescue BEWARE, That is a HUGE RED FLAG.
    4. Do they answer rescue related or specific animals in their care questions posed by others? If no then stay clear.
    – Ask for copies of their 990 (IRS tax return) and application to obtain the 501 c 3 status. If they refuse to give it to you – report them to their state Attorney General’s Office and the IRS.
    5. Avoid those that do not clearly report and identify how many they rescue and adopt out, how many are in foster care and how many are in shelter/rescues.
    6. Stay clear of rescues that on their Internet presence post pictures of those they claim to have up for adoption or is in foster care but not pictures of dogs with their permanent homes.
    7. Steer clear of those that do have an internet presence but mainly post pictures of “heroic rescues” and begging for donations. Or only allow out of state adoptions.
    NOTE. Real rescues usually have pictures only of the pets in their care and the only humans in their pictures are usually happy adopters.
    *A real rescue does not have time to for cutesy or heart wrenching blogs with many details that are irrelevant to specific pets they are trying to get adopted out, and or filled with the “horrors ” that all or most of their dogs have been through. We know that many shelters and rescues have dogs from breeding facilities or abuse, fighting cases. However, for a rescues/shelter to only have the majority of their dogs/pups coming from those types of situations, would be a cause for concern that they are turning away dogs that are in need or making up stories that will bring “more money.” A real rescues is not about shutting down others, it is about the care of the animals they have in their care.
    Ask details about the animal –
    1. Its origin (Stray, owner surrender, transport, bought ect)
    2. Temperament and written temperament testing by a professional or by the “foster” or vet.
    3. How long it has been with them.
    4. be sure to visit the dog in person before agreeing to any money being exchanged.
    5. Ask to see vet reports and information before, money exchanging hands.
    Be aware that non-profits are not allowed to charge fees, but they may ask for voluntary donations. Ask for a discount, if the rescue is a scammer and is in it for the money you can often tell by the tone of their voice when you ask for a discount. If they reply with, “I have laid out so money to save the dog and want to recover my expenses” ask for receipts and proof before continuing with the adoption.
    There is another class of rescuers/rescue organizations who are equally harmful to animals, they are the ones who ask invasive questions or demand inappropriate access to your life in order to adopt the animal. There is a fine line between inspecting someone’s home to be sure that the dog will be placed in a safe environment and asking for 10 letters of recommendation, a contract signed with blood, and the threat that they can take your dog back at any time. A well-publicized case of this sort of incident is what happened to Ellen Degeneres’ rescued dog. If you pay for a dog it’s yours, irregardless of what they say or make you sign.
    Now that you are aware – do not make it easy for them. High fees should be suspect, especially when it is in excess of $75-150.00, Begging for money daily or even weekly to “help” or buy dog or pups , if the rescue/shelter has pups available more often than not, if they “buy” dogs, or transport dogs from other states and counties without requiring a quarantine period of 10 to 14 days, (many illness have a 10 day incubation period), in fact the recent dog flu came from dogs that were imported from Asia. If something does not seem right, take action – turn them in, call a legitimate animal protection agency for advice, take steps to help stop these “fake” rescue/shelters. These fake/retail rescues hurt true rescues and shelters.

    1. Rescue organizations have to take care of all vet work that dogs need before adopting them out…and they have to pay their vet for this work. That care is not cheap. Once dogs are spay/neutered, brought up to date on shots, dewormed, and had dental care if they need that, most rescues do not end up even covering their vet care. Sometimes, when rescues pull dogs from kill shelters, that kill shelter will require a fee to pull each dog. Also, a lot of rescues charge a smaller fee for an older dog, so that adoption fee really doesn’t cover vet care.

      1. Our local rescue shelter also microchips all the dogs. Patriots for Pets Rescue and Shelter in Clear Lake IA is an all volunteer rescue shelter and they are they best in placing their dogs & cats in great forever homes. It takes them many hours of work to do this and all the vet work. Many of the animals they take in need extensive vet work because of neglect or abuse, they do not beg for donations, everyone just knows how great they are and donate to help the animals. So to Tara’s reply, not all shelters are bad shelters!

  2. Not to mention under the Iowa bill that lehay introduced all breeders with 3 females or that produce more than 30 puppies in a year would be “commercial” breeders.
    Lehay and her people have attacked and threaten legal breeders and I sadden to see that the Catholic church feels this is appropriate to publish.

    1. I am sorry if it seemed we were endorsing a bill, the intention was only to share Mary’s opinion. Some breeders ARE legitimately concerned about a bill, especially if it contains elements that involved added licensing fees, as they believe this could lead to good breeders going out of business. Also, if there are proposals to prevent breeders from participating in rescues, some breeders fear this could have an adverse effect. Some have special access to dogs from irreputable breeders that would have otherwise been euthanized, therefore, they may be in a special position to save lives. Because there isn’t a bill that is being seriously considered in the Iowa Legislature right now, I chose to save a more in-depth story for a time in which the legislature might be seriously considering taking a vote. Certainly, if there came a time for that, I would offer the facts and opinions about the details of that particular bill. And, certainly, if you would like to be a source for such a story, please e-mail me your contact information


      – Lindsay Steele

      1. Glad you are planning to do some research not just the hearsay posted here. Best Friends Magainze Jan/Feb 2015 page 16, “Tracking Animal Cruelty: The FBI added a new category for reporting Animal CrueltyCrimes. Previously, such offenses were labled as ‘Other’ now they are considered a top-tier felony. It is hoped this new classification will help prosecution of these crimes and allow investigators to identify young offenders before their level if violence escalates,”

    1. That is unfortunate to hear, but perhaps by us reaching out to her, we might be able to help her see Catholicism in a different light. – Lindsay

  3. As a Catholic Dog breeder in Iowa I can not believe you would post an article by HSUS and comments by Mary LaHay as facts. IT hurts my heart to think that my church would back this story or even allow it to be published. I have personally met Mary Lahay at one of her town meetings and ask her how she could hurt PEOPLE with her lies and information that was so far from the truth. Her reply was a smurk and comment, ” because it is more effective!”
    SO sad to see you share her words in this article without doing your research first.

    1. Are you saying that there are not puppy mills and bad breeders in Iowa? Because if that is what you are saying you ARE WRONG! There is nothing the matter with getting this word out to the public, Catholic or otherwise. I have never met this Mary LaHay but I applaud her for getting the message out there that there are BAD breeders and puppy mills and do your research before buying a puppy ! If you are not one of these mills, god bless you for being a decent human breeder!

      1. Deb Long I agree with you, she may come on strong but the way the laws are now (which are hardly none) they will never pass the strict laws that some breeders and farmers are afraid of. I live in Osage IA and 1 of the puppy mills on the Horrible Hundred puppy mills 2015 is right outside my town and it sickens me everyday to think of those poor dogs suffering right within my reach and not being able to do anything about it!

  4. Thanks to the Catholic Messenger for reporting the facts on the Terrible One Hunderd Puppy Mills. What a travesty for the people of Iowa to once again to be high on the list . Sounds like their are some commentors that do not like the factual message and would prefer to kill the message and the messenger. Noticed there is no documentation by those trying to dimish the issue. The courage, leadership and perseverance that Mary LaHay has shown to bring forth a much needed change in the lives of Iowa Puppy Mills dogs has been a ray of sunlight shown upon a long-time cancer in Iowa. It is not surprising those in oppostion are trying to dimish her message.

  5. I am saying I have been in several USDA licensed kennels and know several USDA licensed breeders and not one of them is a puppy mill. NOW you go ask MS. LaHay about any of these USDA licensed kennels and she will tell you that each and every USDA licensed breeder is a puppy mill. AND ask her how many of these USDA licensed kennels has she been in? Not ONE! The public is being brainwashed into believing that anyone and everyone who raises dogs is horrible and they need more laws and regulations imposed on them. I have listen to her speak. Public open your eyes. Yes do your research but don’t let someone who has no problem stretching the truth, brainwash you into following her HSUS ideas. Personally I don’t think coping HSUS , who just happens to be billion dollar business, Horrible Hundred list,
    needs to be published in a Catholic paper.

  6. Want to see some photos of some of Iowa’s famous puppy mills? Please visit: Iowa Animal Welfare Alliance facebook page. In addition, Iowa Voters for Companion Animals and Iowa Friends of Companion Animals have photos as well as other information. There is that old adage. A picture speaks a thousand words. and

  7. Judy Peterson….disagree with you on so many levels…..12 years of Catholic School here. Have you ever heard of St. Francis of Assisi…the Patron Saint of Animals?

    1. Just hope you understand her message and understand exactly what she is trying to do. .. I have been a Catholic for over 60 years
      and guess we will have to agree to disagree on HSUS(Mary LaHay) ,and their methods of treating people then George

      1. Judy, my family lines can trace their Catholic roots back to 1600’s, with many, many relatives who chose the Religious life. In addition, also have major strong farming background/connections. I do understand Mary LaHay’s message. Victoria Stilwell sums it well “People have an ethical responsiblity to raise and treat animals with respect.” Make note: Victoria mentions there are many documented cases of puppies being sold with serious diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Children are of particular risk if they come in contact with such pups and dogs. And then there is the Behavioral Science that makes clear what pups learn from their mom’s if they are allowed to stay with them during those learning times. Granted the mom dog needs to be properly handled. Pups are like little sponges, just like Dr. James Dobson said of children, they are like little sponges absorbing what is going on around them from the time they are born. The neglected pups are at risk for fear, aggression, nervousness. Hmm sounds just like something with the potential to hurt children. And Yes Judy know responsible breeders and love what they are doing.

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