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Wisconsin Humane Society Buys Dog Breeder

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Wisconsin Humane Society Buys Dog Breeder

U.S.

Wisconsin Humane Society Buys Dog Breeder

Wisconsin Humane Society Buys Dog Breeder

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93131606/93273834" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A matted cocker spaniel watches from his run. Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR hide caption

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Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR

A matted cocker spaniel watches from his run.

Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR

Puppy Haven, a kennel in Markesan, Wis., houses more than 1,000 adult dogs, in runs each holding five or six adult animals. Some 4,000 puppies a year have been born there. Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR hide caption

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Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR

Puppy Haven, a kennel in Markesan, Wis., houses more than 1,000 adult dogs, in runs each holding five or six adult animals. Some 4,000 puppies a year have been born there.

Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR

Two pups arrive at the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee, where they'll be matched with owners. Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR

Two pups arrive at the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee, where they'll be matched with owners.

Ann-Elise Henzl for NPR

Last month, the Wisconsin Humane Society purchased a mass dog-breeding operation — labeled a "puppy mill" by its critics — in order to shut it down. The amount was not disclosed.

That means the animal welfare group has to find homes for 1,200 dogs that have spent their entire lives at the facility.

It's not uncommon for environmental groups to purchase desirable property to make sure it doesn't get developed. But, according to Stephanie Shain of the Humane Society of the United States, this deal is the first of its kind.

The facility, called Puppy Haven, is tucked amid Amish farms in rural central Wisconsin. It was the state's largest commercial breeder.

Groups of five or six dogs are kept in hundreds of enclosures, which are made of a gravel surface surrounded by metal fencing. Pens stretch clear across the 19-acre property.

"It's stunning ... when you see these outdoor runs almost as far as the eye can see," says Mike Schnitzler of the Wisconsin Humane Society. "The sound is just amazing, also. I've never heard that much barking, and I've heard quite a bit of barking at Wisconsin Humane."

Schnitzler and his colleague, Jill DeGrave, have come to the facility from the society's base in Milwaukee — about a two-hour drive — to pick up a few dozen dogs.

Dogs moved from Puppy Haven are getting adopted within a couple of days at the Milwaukee shelter.

They're focusing on adult beagles, cocker spaniels and other breeds that have spent their entire lives here turning out one litter after another.

The dogs have access to a small indoor kennel which have food and running water, but no beds or toys.

DeGrave calls the conditions stressful and inhumane. "The dogs really are isolated ... here in a setting that doesn't provide them with any enrichment and anything to do really but to bark," she says.

Some are so bored, they've ground their teeth down from chewing on the fence.

Those with new litters get a cage to themselves and their puppies in one of three long, low buildings. Their enclosures don't offer secluded places for protective mothers.

Wallace Havens, the former owner of Puppy Haven, knows animal rights groups call his facility a puppy mill. But the former cattle rancher says that term isn't an accurate description of his breeding operation.

"They can go outside anytime they want to," Havens says of the animals. "They don't have to ask a person to open the door, and they can come in and eat and drink any time they want to."

He agreed to sell his facility to an animal welfare organization because he was ready to retire, and he wanted the dogs to go to good homes.

The national Humane Society's Shain says overcrowded breeding facilities exist in every state, producing as many as 4 million puppies a year.

She says she has seen far worse conditions than those at Puppy Haven.

"Dead puppies on the property, the water covered in green slime — I mean, these animals thrive on human companionship and we have this business operating that is treating these animals as an agricultural crop," she says. "They are no more than an ear of corn to the puppy miller to produce."

Shain says there are federal rules for breeders who sell to pet stores, but she contends they are not strictly enforced. Some states have considered tighter regulation of breeders, though Wisconsin's governor vetoed such a measure five years ago.

But the debate over the state's largest commercial breeder is now over.