by Pete Paxton with Gene Stone
$26.00 hardcover, 246 pages.
TarcherPerigree, c/o Penguin Random House
“Pete Paxton (a pseudonym to protect his identity) is nationally recognized as the leading undercover investigator and rescuer of dogs in peril,” the Rescue Dogs jacket tells us.
ANIMALS 24-7 hopes not, because if Paxton is “nationally recognized” despite his use of a pseudonym, he will no longer be an undercover investigator, a job at which he has excelled for nearly 20 years.
In Rescue Dogs, collaborating with veteran ghostwriter Gene Stone, Paxton describes his part in accomplishing some of the best-known investigations and prosecutions of alleged sellers of stolen dogs and cats to laboratories and “puppy millers” in the early part of the 21st century.
The importance of not being seen
The National Institutes of Health in February 2012 quit funding experiments using cats from random sources, including pounds, shelters, and “Class B” dealers, meaning those who sell animals they have not bred themselves.
The National Institutes of Health policy against funding use of “random source” animals was extended to dogs on October 1, 2014.
This may end the era of shady middlemen selling stolen animals to laboratories, but the other animal use industries that Paxton has made a career of investigating and exposing are still going strong, unfortunately, with no end in sight.
Therefore there is no end in sight, either, to the need for undercover investigations funded by nonprofit humane organizations, to augment in particular the work of the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) in enforcing the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Currently crippled by budget cuts and leadership with flagrant conflicts of interest, appointed by the Donald Trump administration, USDA-APHIS even at the best of times has never been fully staffed, meaning that the Animal Welfare Act has never been fully implemented in all the 53 years it has existed.
First undercover job was among the biggest
Paxton begins Rescue Dogs, after describing how he came to be doing undercover investigations for humane organizations, by recounting his part in bringing to justice C.C. Baird, former proprietor of Martin Creek Kennels, in Williford, Arkansas.
Chester Clinton “C.C.” Baird Jr. and his wife Patsy Baird, already in the laboratory dog and cat supply business, rapidly expanded Martin Creek Kennels after the 1990 incorporation of stronger anti-pet theft language into the Animal Welfare Act brought the exodus of more than 90% of the then-active laboratory dog and cat suppliers in the U.S. from the field.
USDA-APHIS first cited the Bairds for Animal Welfare Act violations in 1991. The Bairds continued to sell dogs and cats to laboratories, however, for another dozen years.
Judge threw the book at the perps––15 years later
Finally, in August 2005, the Bairds and two of their five daughters paid $262,700 in fines to settle civil charges against them, forfeited $200,000 cash from “ill-gotten gains,” paid more than $40,000 in restitution to the animal welfare groups who rehabilitated and rehomed 215 dogs and 145 cats seized from the Bairds in 2003 and 2005 USDA-APHIS raids, and turned over their home, land, and kennels, worth about $1.3 million, to the USDA.
On July 14, 2006, U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes gave C.C. Baird three years on probation, including six months of home detention, and fined him $7,500. Holmes gave Patsy Baird two years on probation, and fined her $2,000.
Apart from ongoing surveillance by USDA-APHIS, at least four national animal advocacy organizations investigated Baird over the years, with little evident coordination among them.
Initially working with former Last Chance for Animals investigator Steve Garrett, Paxton in 2001 found discarded paperwork which may have been instrumental in completing the chain of evidence that brought the Baird convictions.
Several years later, Paxton investigated the Hunte Corporation, then selling as many as 88,000 puppies per year, as his first assignment after connecting with Companion Animal Protection Society founder Deborah Howard, of Cohasset, Massachusetts.
Recounts the Companion Animal Protection Society web site, “When Deborah Howard witnessed the dreadful conditions at a Docktor Pet Center store in November 1989, she was appalled. The company had more than 300 franchises at that time. After learning more about the plight of pet shop and puppy mill dogs, Howard joined forces with Robert Baker, the foremost puppy mill investigator in the country. During 13 years as chief investigator for the Humane Society of the United States, Baker,” who now heads the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, “inspected over 700 puppy mills.”
Paxton was already an accomplished undercover investigator himself before he and Baker worked together, with noteworthy results.
Meanwhile, the Companion Animal Protection Society web site continued, “Howard, a former radio news reporter, lawyer and public relations professional, formed CAPS in 1990. The nonprofit became a 501(c)(3) in 1992. As a result of CAPS’ efforts, Docktor Pet Centers, Inc., which refused to do business without the sale of puppies, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 1993.
Howard and CAPS may have had the role of “closer” against Docktor Pet Centers, figuratively pitching in short relief, but quite a few people and organizations had already had big parts in that ballgame.
Docktor Pet Centers were independently owned franchises of a pet store chain taken over from founder Milton Docktor (1925-2009) in 1972 by entrepreneur Leslie Charm and two partners. While Milton Docktor had been in the pet business since his mid-teens, Charm et al reportedly had little or no animal care experience––and that soon showed.
500 criminal charges in barely five years
The archives of NewsLibrary.org document that Docktor Pet Centers were already frequent targets of allegations of animal neglect and abuse when three Docktor Pet franchises in San Jose, San Bruno, and Pleasanton, California were charged with offenses which in 1987 brought them fines totaling $150,000.
Cobb County, Georgia, in 1985 filed 72 criminal charges against a Docktor Pet franchise in Atlanta. After most of the charges were dismissed by the Georgia Court of Appeals, that franchise in 1987 won a $73,900 judgement against Cobb County and two county officials, but a U.S. District Court in 1988 overturned $60,000 of the judgement.
Cobb County dropped the last remaining charge against the store in June 1988.
Meanwhile, another Docktor Pet franchise, in Torrance, California, was hit with 27 criminal charges in 1987, had the charges dismissed on technicalities, and was then hit with 93 more counts of alleged similar offenses. Convicted on 11 counts of misdemeanor cruelty, the Torrance owner paid $13,000 in fines, court costs, and restitution to at least a dozen former customers.
A Docktor Pet franchise in Bergen, New Jersey, was in January 1988 charged with 314 counts of cruelty to animals for overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and not providing medical treatment for a dying puppy. That Docktor Pet franchise beat the rap a month later when a local judge held that the applicable law insufficiently defined “overcrowding.”
Company failed to enforce standards
Though Docktor Pet Centers owners avoided conviction on most of the charges brought against them, chiefly because of defects in old legislation, the parent company fell into increasing disrepute through failing to take effective action to address the recurring problems.
By 1989, when Howard became involved, Docktor Pet had become a national animal rights cause celebre. All fourteen employees resigned from a Docktor Pet franchise in Springfield, Virginia, for instance, in protest against alleged animal abuse.
Franchises had already been sued in several other states, sometimes in class action cases brought on behalf of multiple plaintiffs, for alleged poor animal care, selling sick animals, and allowing animals to infect and injure customers,
More than 50 animal advocacy organizations participated in boycotts, protests, investigations, and lawsuits that contributed to the 1993 Docktor Pet bankruptcy.
Even then, Docktor Pet was not finished. After the bankruptcy, the Docktor Pet name was carried forward by the 27-store United Pet Supply chain, founded in 1977. This remnant of Docktor Pet ran into trouble for alleged neglect of animals in 2007, this time in Tennessee.
The Docktor Pet trademark was re-registered in 2010. Some stores are apparently still operating as Docktor Pet, still selling puppies.
Through the Docktor Pet episode, Howard became aware of the importance of the Hunte Corporation as “buncher” for “puppy mills.”
Docktor Pet and other franchised pet store chains, such as the more recently controversial Petland chain, are able to operate efficiently because, instead of having to directly source animals from individual breeders, they can order whatever animals are in demand from companies like the Hunte Corporation.
The hunt for Hunte
Hunte maintains huge inventories of all popular dog breeds. Similar companies warehouse inventories of birds, reptiles, aquarium fish, and small mammals, such as rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, and ferrets.
Formed in 1991 by entrepreneur Andrew Hunte, the Hunte Corporation reportedly grew with the help of $4 million in loans from the USDA, making it not only a kingpin in the puppy industry, but a taxpayer-subsidized kingpin at that.
“Hunte had been on CAPS’s radar since 2003,” according to Paxton and Stone, “when state inspectors cited the company for illegally dumping more than a thousand pounds of dead puppies in a mass grave.”
The CAPS/Paxton investigation of Hunte produced an online video which presaged by nine years the May 2014 Humane Society of the U.S. report 101 Puppy Mills. Adverse publicity helped to cut Hunte puppy sales from 88,000 in 2005 to 34,000 in 2015, the year after the HSUS report appeared.
Convicting “Cruella De Ville”
A bigger factor in the decline than the exposés, however, may have been the transition of the puppy-selling industry from supplying pet stores to selling online, disposing of surplus inventory––at a discounted price––through bogus “rescues,” many of which profitably operate under nonprofit cover.
For Paxton, the Hunte investigation chiefly produced leads, enabling him to identify and infiltrate several of the reputed worst-of-the-worst breeding operations.
Three such undercover jobs are detailed in Rescue Dogs, including Paxton’s exposure of Pick of the Litter kennel owners Kathy and Alan Bauck, of Otter County, Minnesota.
Paxton likens Kathy Bauck to Cruella De Vil, the villainess of 101 Dalmatians, but Bauck inflicted pain on tens of thousands of puppies during her career, not just 101.
Identified as “Jason Smith” in court documents pertaining to the Bauck case, Paxton obtained video and other documentation which in 2008 brought Bauck four convictions for misdemeanor cruelty and animal torture.
This was just the beginning. While the wheels of justice turned slowly, and thousands of puppies suffered and died at Pick of the Litter meanwhile, the Bauck family in 2011 finally lost their USDA license to deal in dogs.
“Puppy-milling” & “rescue”
Paxton also contributed investigative help to a short-lived but memorable crackdown on “puppy millers” in Pennsylvania during the latter part of Ed Rendell’s term as governor, 2003-2011.
By halfway through Rescue Dogs, unfortunately, Paxton and co-author Stone are out of war stories, and turn to giving advice about adopting and rehabilitating dogs “rescued” from “puppy mills.”
To their credit, Paxton and Stone acknowledge and describe many of the scams operating in the name of “rescue.” As they point out, however, whether a dog is genuinely “rescued” or merely purchased from a “puppy miller,” the dog will still have suffered from neglect and under-socialization, and will arrive with a suite of behavioral issues requiring patience to remedy.
Their advice is sound, yet bookstores and web sites are bursting with dog care information. This is not where Paxton’s perspective might have been most useful.
Why “puppy mills” still exist
For instance, Paxton could have discussed in much greater depth why “puppy mills” not only continue to exist, but now supply more of the demand for pet dogs than ever before.
Expressions of hope that animal shelters might somehow capture adoption market share from breeders have been a recurring theme in animal advocacy for decades.
Yet no reliable study yet has showed breeders losing market share to shelters when actual pet acquisition behavior is investigated, as opposed to stated intent.
On the contrary, as accidental puppy births have declined, commercial breeders’ market share has predictably increased to just over half of all dog acquisitions.
Researcher Richard Nasser found 26% of dogs coming from commercial breeders in 1981.
More than two decades of increasingly ambitious shelter adoption promotion later, the American Pet Products Association found 29% of dogs coming from commercial breeders in 2002.
And why “puppy mill” market share is growing
After another decade of even more intensified adoption promotion, the American Veterinary Medical Association found in 2012 that although 47% of people who have dogs claim that a shelter or rescue would be their first choice for getting another dog, 54% of the dogs actually in homes came from commercial breeders, either directly or through pet stores.
Today, counting the numbers of puppies marketed through bogus “rescues,” upward of 60% of the dogs in homes likely come from commercial breeders.
Partly this is because, through the advent of near-universal spay/neuter among responsible pet keepers, far fewer dogs are born in private homes than ever before––except for pit bulls, among whom the spay/neuter rate hovers around 20%, compared to 70%-plus for all other dogs.
Pit bulls also constitute half or more of the dog inventory at most shelters these days.
If one does not want a pit bull, and does not want to take the risk of adopting a “rescue” who may be more a project than a pet, buying from a breeder is for most people the most accessible option.
How to reform the system?
But neither the humane community nor the dog breeding industry have succeeded in establishing any system of enabling pet buyers to quickly distinguish reputable, careful, reliable breeders from “puppy millers.”
Kennel club registries long ago became notoriously meaningless, since the majority of registered litters come from high-volume commercial breeders, while the major national humane organizations, and probably the majority of local humane societies as well, have forfeited credibility through their zeal to rehome surplus pit bulls, even to extent of misrepresenting their breed identity and concealing bite history.
So many rehomed shelter dogs, especially pit bulls, have killed and disfigured people in recent years that Virginia and California now require bite history to be disclosed, by law. Many more states can be expected to pass similar legislation.
The whole dog supply industry urgently needs reforming. The question is, how?
“Following the footsteps”
Paxton acknowledges “following the footsteps of extraordinary investigators such as Bob Baker and Gail Eisnitz.”
Paxton explains that Baker “was one of the first to investigate puppy mills.”
Eisnitz, a recent guest columnist for ANIMALS 24-7, “not only uncovered horrific abuses at slaughterhouses” for the Humane Farming Association, Paxton summarizes, “but also wrote an inspiring book on the subject: Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry.”
But Paxton might have delved further into the long history of undercover humane investigation, finding many other forebears worthy of recognition and discussion.
Casey vs. the Doggie Millers
The first campaigner against puppy millers of enduring note may have been Central New York SPCA founder O. Robinson “Bob” Casey (1859-1936), shelter superintendent for the organization from 1891 until his death.
For ten years a professional baseball player, who played nine games in the major leagues for Detroit in 1882, Casey was widely believed in his own time to have been perhaps the original Casey of the 1888 Ernest Thayer poem “Casey At the Bat.”
Casey vehemently denounced “Doggie Millers,” who like fellow former pro baseball player turned dog breeder Doggie Miller (1864-1909) bred excessive numbers of dogs in miserable conditions.
After Casey died on the job, on a cold late November afternoon while investigating an alleged case of horse neglect, the term “Doggie Miller” gradually metamorphosed over the next 20 years into the term “puppy miller” still widely used today.
Lucille Aaron Moses Scott
The first undercover investigator of the dog and cat traffic to laboratories, at least known to ANIMALS 24-7, was Minnesota humane educator Lucille Aaron Moses Scott, who died in Escondido, California, at age 90, in 1992.
A former schoolteacher, Moses Scott lived most of her life in Minnesota. Also long active in the civil rights and peace movements, she began doing political work on behalf of animals in 1948, shortly after Minnesota adopted the nation’s first law mandating that unclaimed impounded dogs had to be surrendered for biomedical research.
Among the former American Humane Association supporters who broke away in 1955 to form the Humane Society of the U.S., Moses Scott in 1957 initiated a series of undercover investigations of puppy mills and suspected dog thieves in and around Minneapolis. Her work eventually led to a landmark expose of dog bunchers by Stan Wayman of Life magazine, published on February 4, 1966.
The Wayman expose helped to secure passage of the Laboratory Animals Protection Act later that year.
Moses Scott continued to serve as Minnesota representative for HSUS through 1967. Among her proteges was Dale Hylton, who died in 2008, at age 77.
Hired in 1964 as first assistant to Frank McMahon, the first full-time investigator for HSUS, Hylton left a job in electric lighting sales to shed further light on the traffic in dogs and cats to laboratories. His work led to the introduction of kennel licensing in Pennsylvania and also contributed to the passage of the Laboratory Animals Protection Act, which in 1971 was amended into the present Animal Welfare Act.
Many other undercover humane investigators might be worth a nod, albeit belatedly, since most in their own time kept their identities and accomplishments quiet, in order to keep working. At her death, for example, only a small number of longtime close associates knew anything about Moses Scott’s undercover work. Today few people even know she ever existed.
Long investigation paid off
The reviewer, incidentally, also has some relevant investigative credentials, which contribute to appreciation of the work of Paxton, Baker, Eisnitz, et al.
Confirming leads gathered by ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton, during 13 years as a rural newspaper reporter in Quebec and Vermont, USDA-APHIS in mid-April 1993 sealed the Canadian border to imports of dogs and cats for laboratory use.
All Class B animal dealers known to have imported dogs and cats from Canada were advised in writing that since such animals cannot be certified as to origin in compliance with the 1990 amendments to the Animal Welfare Act, they cannot be sold in the U.S., period.
This put at least three Class B dealers out of business. Among them, they had imported as many as 2,000 dogs and 6,000 cats per year from Canadian bunchers, many of them private animal control contractors.