Axne Introduces Legislation To Combat Iowa’s Puppy Mill Problem

By Nikoel Hytrek

December 2, 2021

Puppy mills have been in the news for months as one Wayne County operator was fined, surrendered more than 500 dogs, had his business shut down, and his license suspended.

Maple Hill Puppies was owned by Daniel Gingerich who was a licensed breeder through the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In response, Rep. Cindy Axne introduced legislation Wednesday to close loopholes for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which has declined over the past few years.

Goldie’s Act would require the USDA to conduct more frequent inspections and to make those inspections meaningful by requiring inspectors to document and report all violations, confiscate suffering animals, impose penalties for violations, and share information with law enforcement in a timely manner.

“If one breeder can rack up nearly 200 violations of the Animal Welfare Act with impunity, then it’s clear there are loopholes in current law that need to be addressed,” Axne said in a press release. “We must ensure bad actors are held accountable by USDA and that our law is crystal clear on what should be done to promote animal welfare.”

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Goldie’s Act was named in memory of one of the dogs abused at the Wayne County puppy mill owned by Gingerich. Goldie was extremely malnourished and her conditions were never officially reported or noted as a violation of the AWA. She was ultimately euthanized by state veterinarians when she was found emaciated and without water.

Photo of Goldie, released by Axne’s office

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa removed more than 500 dogs from Gingerich’s operation.

“The Animal Rescue League of Iowa calls on the USDA to address the issues within their system that allows dogs to suffer like they did in the Gingerich case,” said Tom Colvin, CEO of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. “Local law enforcement with limited resources shouldn’t be expected to step in to stop the suffering in a facility that conducts business under USDA regulations.”

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According to the Humane Society of the United States, Iowa has the third-highest number of puppy mills in the country behind Missouri and Ohio at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

A puppy mill is a commercial dog breeding business that prioritizes breeding over animal well-being. They typically practice quick breeding and keep the dogs and puppies in bad, neglectful conditions.

In recent years, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service changed AWA guidelines, which USDA data suggest weakened enforcement of the act.

The bill is bipartisan and is supported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and the Humane Society of the United States.

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Goldie’s Act is co-sponsored by Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), and Susan Wild (D-PA).

“Goldie was left to endure prolonged and extreme suffering, and her tragic death is a direct result of the USDA’s failure to fulfill its responsibility under the law to protect dogs who are bred and warehoused for the pet trade,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “Thousands of other dogs are still living in horrific conditions without adequate access to food, water, veterinary care, and exercise, while the USDA stands idly by, allowing violations to go unreported and unpunished. We are grateful to Representatives Axne, Fitzpatrick, Quigley, Malliotakis, Wild, and Buchanan for introducing Goldie’s Act to restore welfare to the Animal Welfare Act.”

Axne has also requested an investigation into the USDA failure at the Wayne County puppy mill.


UPDATE (Dec. 3, 2021, 9:18 a.m.): Update to include statement from ASPCA.


by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 12/2/21

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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