On Friday, Jan. 15, animal rights activists demonstrated on St. George’s Bluff Street against Fur de Leash, a local pet store that sells puppies. Members of the national organization PeTA, the Humane Society, and the local organization P.A.W.S. (Providing Animals with Support) have been trying for nearly a year to stop what they say is an outlet for puppies produced by inhumane puppy mills. While Fur de Leash owner, Hayley Gardner, has maintained that the puppies they sell are coming from USDA-inspected breeders, not only has the question of USDA standards been called into question, but recent documentation has linked the St. George pet store to a breeder with multiple citations and conditions which match generally accepted definitions of a “puppy mill.”
The Independent has previously reported on the effort of local animal rights activist Corinne Nyman, one of the founders of the Southern Utah Animal Alliance. With support from Best Friends Animal Society, Nyman has been trying to persuade the St. George Town Council to pass a local ordinance banning the sale of puppies. Best Friends operates the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary and is the largest single employer in Kane County.
Currently, Best Friends lists 134 jurisdictions across the country that have enacted similar retail pet sale bans, ranging from Albuquerque, N.M. — which enacted an ordinance ten years ago — to an ordinance in Las Vegas, Nev., which was just enacted this month. To date, St. George has not taken any action on Nyman’s proposal, but she hasn’t given up. In addition to direct action like the demonstration on Friday, Nyman has created a petition at Change.org that currently has been signed by over 26,000 people. Nyman told the Independent that she is also getting support from the Humane Society of the United States for a new push to get St. George to take action.
Protesters at the Friday demonstration against Fur de Leash claimed that the store is an outlet for inhumane puppy mills. The Independent also interviewed the owner of Fur de Leash, Hayley Gardner. Gardner said that her business did not obtain puppies from puppy mills and that all of her suppliers were inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, which guaranteed that humane practices were followed and only healthy puppies were supplied to buyers.
“We get all of our babies from licensed and regulated breeders. … The USDA … every single month checks on [dog] mothers, health conditions, quality of parents, quality of living conditions, everything like that, to make sure they are not being overbred or kept in bad conditions.”
In an attempt to resolve the seemingly conflicting reports, The Independent also met with Nyman and checked the documentation that she said linked Fur de Leash with puppy mills. Nyman said that the same paperwork was presented to St. George Mayor Jon Pike as part of the effort to get a ban on selling puppies in St. George.
Nyman said that it was very difficult to get information about the sources that Fur de Leash uses for puppies since Gardner refuses to release it except to actual buyers. However, when a dog was received by P.A.W.S. — where Nyman does volunteer work — for placement with a new owner, she discovered that the original owner had purchased the puppy from Fur de Leash and gave the original paperwork for the puppy to P.A.W.S. to help them find a new home. This paperwork listed the name of the supplier from which Fur de Leash received the puppy as Lamar Reiff at Bramble Patch Kennel in rural Missouri. The dog was supplied through a broker named Pinnacle Pets who documented four generations of pedigrees for the puppy. The dog also went through a middleman supplier called Cold Wet Noses in Henderson, Nev. From there, the puppy went to Fur de Leash.
USDA records confirmed three active dog breeding operations in rural Missouri operated by persons with the last name of “Reiff.” Missouri leads the nation in commercial kennels with 678 such operations — over five times the number of kennels in the second place state of Iowa. In 2013, the Bramble Patch Kennel in particular — operated by Lamar Reiff — had “non-compliance reports” from the USDA concerning “attending veterinarian and adequate veterinary care,” “primary enclosures,” and “cleaning, sanitization, housekeeping, and pest control.” One report states that, “Many of the water receptacles throughout the facility had an accumulation of dark green, algae-like growth.” The Independent also discovered that the USDA only conducted annual inspections of Reiff’s breeding operation. Additionally, the Humane Society confirmed that Lamar Reiff was on their 2013 report of bad breeders.
This information directly conflicts with not only statements Gardner made to The Independent about the frequency of inspections but also to statements she made to the Spectrum that her dealers don’t have any strikes against them. However, as the Reiff kennel is still in operation, other statements that Gardner has made about people needing to take their gripes to the USDA instead of protesting at her pet store are well-founded.
The website USLegal.com defines a puppy mill as “a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs.” The site goes on to say that “The Office of the Inspector General even released a report detailing the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) lax and ineffective enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) against licensed large-scale dog breeders and brokers known as puppy mills.” However, even given the Inspector General’s concerns and the reported problems with the Bramble Patch Kennel, Reiff continues to breed and sell animals, including to Fur de Leash.
An additional concern to animal advocates in this particular case deals with the middleman supplier that provided the puppy to Fur de Leash: Cold Wet Noses of Henderson, Nev. Henderson is where Pet Pros — operated by Hayley Gardner’s father, Scott Gardner — ran into trouble when faced with seven counts of animal establishment violations. The charges included keeping puppies in cages that were too small, having sick animals in close quarters with healthy ones, and five counts of failure to provide adequate water. Nevada corporation records show that the officers of Cold Wet Noses are Charles S Gardner and Allison E Gardner.
Animal advocates argue that in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter whether it can be conclusively proven that Fur de Leash gets their puppies from a puppy mill or not. As protest organizer Eric Deardorff stated, “Every dog bred means a shelter dog dead.” Whenever someone gives a home to a dog from a breeder, it means that some other dog in a shelter won’t find a home. As animal activist Laurie Nelson-Barker wrote to the Independent, “Many healthy, well behaved animals end up at shelters through no fault of their own. Sometimes a death [of an animal owner] or move will cause an otherwise cherished pet to be surrendered to a shelter as a last resort. There are many well deserving animals that just need a chance to be the perfect companion. Everyone benefits.”
The Independent will continue to follow this story.