Sunday, December 10, 1995
Breeding Dogs -- and DiseasePennsylvania's prolific kennels have spawned viruses and genetic defects. Some buyers get puppies that die within days.
It was Christmas morning at the Krupinsky home in Shrewsbury, Pa., and the video camera was catching the exultant faces of Daniel, 6, and Mandy, 12, as their mother set out a last, climactic gift. Barks were coming from inside the box.
Mandy's mouth opened wide with wonder as the lid was lifted. Out bolted a tan Labrador puppy just like the one in a doggie calendar her mom had given her. The dog they named Cooper chased Daniel through the living room before he tuckered out and settled on Mandy's lap in a heap.
``Oh, Daddy, look,'' she's heard saying as she strokes its woolly head.
As sweet as that moment was, no one in the Krupinsky family has wanted to relive it. Cooper got diarrhea the next afternoon, then he started vomiting, and the dog died within the week at the local vet's.
All over the United States, people buy dogs for the holidays. They invest money -- and love. For thousands of them, the experience is wrenching when the puppy dies.
``We were all devastated,'' Sharon Krupinsky said. ``What I thought was going to be a merry Christmas with the dog running in the snow turned out to be a total tragedy.''
The Krupinskys' experience is a common one for people who deal with one of the state's great growth industries: dogs.
Pennsylvania now breeds more dogs than any state on the East Coast; it ranks seventh in the nation as a source of dogs.
``The breeding industry is basically ruining the pet dog,'' said Scott Barnes, chief humane agent at the Chester County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
An Inquirer investigation has found that many dogs are being poorly bred, or raised in unhealthy conditions that promote viruses. Some breeders do not properly vaccinate puppies for such fatal diseases as distemper and parvo.
The industry, centered in Lancaster County, has become so large and problem-plagued that State Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) calls Pennsylvania ``the puppy-mill capital of the East Coast.''
Thousands of puppies in Pennsylvania are crowded in locked buildings that used to be barns, chicken coops or trailers -- crudely converted into kennels.
The floors of many kennels are covered with urine and feces, and the kennels are sometimes contaminated with viruses. At times, waste is allowed to collect for days. The dogs' hair grows matted. The animals receive minimal human contact, which they need at an early age to make good pets.
State Sen. Gibson Armstrong, who represents part of Lancaster County, said of the unhealthy conditions: ``It's a huge problem. . . . If you were running an operation for cows and you had them in these conditions, the milk people would shut you down.''
``I think we should go in there and fine them,'' he added. ``They're just getting away with it and they know it.''
The three largest pet-shop chains in the country have stopped selling puppies and often have invited animal shelters to sell dogs at their shops. Some pet-shop owners say they are unfairly blamed for problems that breeders cause.
In California, a state-funded survey found that nearly half of 6,200 puppies sold by pet shops were sick or incubating diseases at the time of sale. In Connecticut, a survey of 165 veterinarians found a similar rate.
Other surveys -- including one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- had similar findings. There are no definitive figures on the number of sick dogs sold in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
Over the last decade, a huge growth in the dog business has contributed to a deterioration in the quality of breeds. Many commercial breeders do virtually no genetic testing, which can detect serious conditions such as hip dysplasia, before they are passed to the next generation.
``They're not being careful,'' Barnes of the SPCA said. ``They're not being selective in what dogs they breed. The idea of breeding a dog is to create a good example of that dog, not only physically but mentally. . . . A lot have been bred to the point where they don't do anything. The brain is gone. We're seeing nasty golden retrievers and Labs a lot more now. They used to be loving and easygoing, but it's changing.''
Many dog dealers question the wisdom of mass breeding. ``You can't mass-produce dogs on a grand scale and get quality animals,'' said Jeremy Belli, who with his brother runs Jack's Dog Farm in Bucks County. ``It's not possible. This is a living, breathing animal. You can't be pumping out dogs and not expect problems.''
Nowhere has the scale of dog breeding been as large as in the rolling hills and storybook homesteads of Lancaster County. In the heart of Amish and Mennonite country, where horse-drawn buggies jostle with cars, more dog breeders are operating than in any other county in America.
In interviews, farmers and kennel owners in Lancaster County say they breed and sell dogs to make money. For many, dog breeding has become more profitable than pig breeding and other farming business. And, several kennel owners say, they treat dogs as farm animals, not as pets.
Daniel H. Kauffman, a dog breeder in Chester County, said, ``We country people do not look at dogs that much different from the other animals.''
``When you have livestock, you have deadstock,'' Kauffman added.
Melvin Nolt, one of Lancaster County's longtime breeders, said he's mystified by the ideas that city people have about dogs.
``If a person gets emotional when his dog dies,'' Nolt said, ``that seems crazy to us. Some people believe in a dog heaven. That's why they get so irrational with dogs dying.
``It's an animal. It's just like any crop that comes along.''
Most kennel owners in Lancaster County do not allow visitors and prohibit photographs. Nolt, for example, would let Greenleaf and a reporter look at his facility only from a doorway; he did not permit photos.
Many Lancaster-bred dogs are sold to pet shops up and down the East Coast.
The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, which represents many of the nation's 12,000 pet stores, says surveys such as the ones in California and Connecticut are biased against pet shops. A study funded by the council found high percentages of sick dogs in pet shops but it concluded that most of those dogs were not seriously ill.
The council's spokeswoman said that in the last decade, the number of pet stores selling dogs has dropped from 6,000 to 3,000.
Some shop owners say conditions are improving. Veterinarians and dog inspectors say conditions vary greatly from kennel to kennel and from pet store to pet store.
For example, King Kennels, which sells puppies in Concordville, Delaware County, has a contract to accept stray dogs from the city of Chester and houses the strays in a facility near the kennel.
Peter F. Jezyk, a professor of genetics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said this setup invites trouble. Viruses in strays can be carried on people's clothing and infect the dogs for sale in the other building, he said.
Numerous customers said that King Kennels sold them sick dogs. Kennel owner Kathy Arroyo acknowledged that strays could infect her dogs. But it's not a major concern, she said; sick dogs represent only a small fraction of her sales.
Even well-known breeders sell puppies with genetic problems. Kimbertal Kennels in Kimberton, Chester County, is a nationally known breeder whose customers include Phillies pitchers Curt Schilling and Danny Jackson. Kimbertal customers don't complain of parvo or distemper or of unclean kennels. While there are satisfied customers, there have been numerous complaints about genetic problems.
John LePere of Swedesboro, Gloucester County, paid $350 for a purebred rottweiler puppy from Kimbertal that was so wild LePere gave him away after six months. LePere said he later learned the dog's parents were brother and sister -- inbreeding that experts say leads to genetic problems. Kimbertal owner Robert G. Yarnall Jr. said the inbreeding was accidental.
No state or federal agency is charged with monitoring genetic problems. The state Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement has responsibility to ensure that dogs are raised in good conditions. Agriculture officials and legislators say the agency has done little to stop problems.
The reason, they say, is that the department has conflicting responsibilities: to help farmers economically, and to inspect kennels. The department's priority is to support the economic health of farmers -- which comes before protecting the health of dogs, inspectors say.
Agriculture Secretary Charles C. Brosius told a group of state senators at a hearing last April: ``Dog-law enforcement is an embarrassment, not only to you, I'm sure, but certainly to me.''
``They're supposed to regulate and fine the very industry they're supposed to foster,'' Greenleaf said in an interview. ``It's clearly a conflict. . . . It's clear that they're not doing their job.'' The Agriculture Department never has gone to court to close a kennel for bad conditions, state officials and inspectors say. Brosius recently launched a 10-point plan to improve enforcement. It is too soon to say if it's working.
Christian Herr, deputy secretary of agriculture, says dog breeding helps keep farming viable in Lancaster County: ``This little cottage industry keeps more of the Amish and Mennonite families in this area.''
Sharon Krupinsky saw an ad for a dog seller called Puppy Love and was excited to learn over the phone that they were selling the breeds she wanted: yellow Labradors and golden retrievers.
Owner Joyce Stoltzfus was in a hurry when Krupinsky arrived at the kennel in southern Lancaster County three days before Christmas last year. The kennel had crates and crates of dogs, Krupinsky recalled, and people were milling about, eagerly snapping them up.
Krupinsky regrets not looking more carefully before paying $265. ``I was so caught up with getting a puppy for Christmas.''
The day after the holiday, she took the dog to Elizabeth K. Ricklefs at Leader Heights Animal Hospital. ``As soon as the vet looked at him, she knew something was wrong,'' Krupinsky said. ``She asked me where I got it. Her first reaction was, `Oh, no.' I said, `What's wrong?' She said, `That's a real puppy mill.' ''
In an interview, Ricklefs said: ``Puppy Love is a name that is known around here'' and ``these puppies are not well-bred.'' Many of Puppy Love's puppies come from Lancaster-area breeders, records show.
Federal inspectors found that Puppy Love was selling dogs to pet stores in 1985 and 1986 without the federal license required for wholesaling dogs. Stoltzfus then attempted to obtain a license but failed because of deficiencies including poor sanitation, lack of pest control and unsound kennel structures, according to inspection reports. Stoltzfus paid a $10,000 fine in January 1991 to settle charges from the mid-1980s.
The Pennsylvania SPCA lists Puppy Love as one of the state's top three sources of dog complaints. State inspectors say some cages have been improved recently.
In an interview, Stoltzfus said she didn't know there had been so many complaints. ``Nobody contacted me about it,'' she said.
Regarding the Krupinskys, she said she gave the family a refund. She said she has a policy that customers can return a sick dog and get a new one, or receive a refund.
In the Krupinsky case, the vet found that Cooper had ``an overwhelming viral infection'' and gave the dog antibiotics. The puppy's symptoms worsened. He was vomiting and lethargic.
Krupinsky tried to give him water with a dropper, but Cooper wouldn't take it. ``He just lay in my lap,'' she said.
The vet put the puppy on intravenous feeding. He died five days after Christmas.
``The other night, when I watched the tape, I cried,'' Krupinsky said. ``At the time, I was in tears. I was really, really upset. ``Even in that short a time, we bonded. It's the same as with a baby. It was just absolutely devastating.''
Breeder Daniel H. Kauffman tilted back his straw hat and narrowed his gaze when asked about a visit by Richard F. Hess, director of dog-law enforcement, last September.
``They caught us with our pants down,'' Kauffman said. ``I didn't clean out the kennel that day.''
An affable Amishman, Kauffman has been a controversial breeder. He was convicted of cruelty to dogs in 1990. The American Kennel Club took away his privilege to register purebred dogs.
Kauffman has continued to work the dog trade. He had 54 dogs on the premises during the inspector's last visit in March, and reported selling 81 dogs the previous year.
Hess, the dog bureau's new director, who had no experience inspecting kennels, asked his inspectors to take him to some troublesome kennels. Inspector Paul R. Hallman chose Kauffman's place and that of a neighbor, Benuel J. Stoltzfus.
``It was quite shocking,'' Hess said of both kennels. ``It's got to be
Hess said he saw several inches of feces under the cages and cramped conditions at the Stoltzfus kennel that could not be corrected without building a new facility. The kennel will be reinspected soon, he said.
Kauffman's farm and kennel sit just off Route 10 near Honey Brook amid a picturesque checkerboard of farms in western Chester County. The relatively small kennel is typical of the farmer who engages in breeding. Kauffman, 42, often employs his six children to clean the kennel, a long row of cages behind the barn.
The Kauffmans have difficulty keeping the cages clean. When Greenleaf and a reporter stopped by in September after Hess' visit, the kennel had a pervasive smell of feces and urine.
Much of the concrete flooring was smeared with waste. The cages were rusting, the paint was peeling. Several dozen animals were crowded together in cages.
In another cage, Greenleaf noticed a sickly Dalmatian with infected-looking eyes. Whenever Greenleaf approached, the dog cowered and whimpered in the corner. The dog showed signs of a vaginal discharge.
Kauffman acknowledged that he produces some sick puppies. Still, he said, he couldn't stay in business if his puppies were often ill. ``I have to stand behind my dogs,'' he said.
Kauffman said he couldn't understand why city people worry so much about the treatment of dogs. ``Why is this such a big issue?'' he asked.
Fred Heller's converted barn kennel in Lititz is humble by Lancaster County standards. But his dogs are sold to dealers from Pittsburgh to Massachusetts.
In a visit by a reporter in September, feces had built up under the cages; cobwebs had grown in corners; some food was moldy; and several shelties had maggots beneath their coats. The odor was inescapable.
In an interview, Heller called the conditions that day ``unusual.'' He said he had many other interests, from poultry production to pastor duties, that sometimes kept him from cleaning the kennel, which housed 40 dogs. ``I have too many irons in the fire,'' he said.
Anne Marie and Jim Staskel held their Norwegian elkhound in their arms as the vet prepared to put him to sleep.
``He just closed his eyes,'' Anne Marie said. ``We both were petting him and talking to him. We were just telling him it was OK. He wasn't going to hurt anymore.''
``When he died,'' she said, ``his eyes came back open and his tongue came out. It was like he was accepting the end. We had to stay in there for a few moments and compose ourselves.''
It had been a long seven days for the Staskels, who lived in Jeffersonville. The couple bought the puppy from King Kennels on March 13, 1994, to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, and their dog -- Rockne, named for the legendary Notre Dame football coach -- lived up to his billing for a time. He was rambunctious for about a month until the Staskels noticed that he was twitching in his sleep.
They thought he might be dreaming, but the twitching worsened overnight. The puppy started crying in pain and could not lift his head by the following morning.
Tests eventually showed that Rockne was suffering from distemper, which had reached his brain. ``It had gotten so far that we couldn't help him,'' Anne Marie said.
King Kennels owner Kathy Arroyo burst into tears upon hearing of the dog's death, Anne Marie said. The $400 check Arroyo wrote to compensate the Staskels for vet bills and the dog's price bounced.
In an interview, Arroyo said the dog got sick because the Staskels let him run in the park. She said that the bounced check was a mistake and that she eventually paid the $400.
After Rockne died, Arroyo offered another Norwegian elkhound to the Staskels. They chose Greta, in part, they now say, to rescue her. ``Part of us didn't want to leave her there,'' Anne Marie Staskel said.
They were extra careful with their second puppy; they wouldn't let her run in the park for fear she might contract something.
Still, the dog soon got violently ill. Greta couldn't keep water down. Her temperature reached 106 degrees. She vomited until nothing but foam came up.
This time, parvo virus was the culprit, veterinarian Elizabeth L. Delomba found. Greta's white-cell count had dropped to 800, compared with a normal level of 10,000.
The Staskels couldn't take watching another dog die. They asked for a refund.
Arroyo again gave the Staskels a check, this one for $692.50. That check bounced. Arroyo made good after the Staskels threatened to bring charges against her for writing a bad check.
After the Staskels arranged for Greta to be put to death, Delomba wrote to other vets, saying that two King Kennels dogs had died from preventable diseases. ``I am concerned that the vaccination practices at King Kennels are not adequate,'' she wrote.
Fourteen people have won small claims-judgments against King Kennels since 1988; most involved sick dogs.
The Delaware County Consumer Affairs office placed King Kennels on a list of businesses that failed to cooperate with the agency. The Pennsylvania SPCA also identified King Kennels as one of the state's top three generators of dog complaints.
Arroyo said she could see nothing wrong with her vaccination program or with the way she cares for dogs in general.
She said that every year she sells 250 dogs, which come from out-of-town breeders. ``If [ complaints ] were a big part, I wouldn't be in business,'' she said. ``I'd be shut down.''
Benuel Stoltzfus' kennel was so dirty when dog warden Paul R. Hallman showed up in September that he said the breeder's son quietly tried to tidy the place during the inspection.
``The damage was done already,'' Hallman said. ``I did not imagine it was that bad.''
Hallman toured the kennel just outside Honey Brook with his boss, Hess, who called the conditions ``outrageous.'' Hess said he doubted Stoltzfus could come into compliance without rebuilding. ``As nice a chap as he is, he's in trouble,'' Hess said.
In a brief interview, Stoltzfus praised the dog-law officers. ``They're doing a great job,'' he said. When Greenleaf and a reporter asked to view the facility in September, the Stoltzfuses declined.
Most of Stoltzfus' dogs are held in a couple of converted trailers with holes for ventilation, Hallman said. An old chicken coop has been made into a birthing area. Some dogs are in elevated wire pens. The cages' wire-mesh bottom can injure dogs' paws.
When Hallman recently returned, he found that conditions had not improved. His main criticism was of a pervasive lack of sanitation. Stoltzfus had put down shredded paper in the birthing area; Hallman said two or three days' worth of dog feces had built up there. State law requires that dog waste be removed daily. Hallman said the area had become soggy and unhygienic. ``The place smelled like heck,'' he said.
Hallman found that dogs had chewed off the roofs of some cages. Dog cages must be water resistant, he said.
Stoltzfus had 216 dogs on the property -- the highest he has ever had, Hallman said. ``He just can't handle all these dogs,'' Hallman said. ``He even admitted he was out in the field and he didn't have time. I said you've got to make time. If you want dogs, you have to follow the regulations.''
Hallman cited Stoltzfus for 18 violations. Stoltzfus pleaded guilty last month and paid $450 in fines.
John LePere said he didn't know the reason for his rottweiler's wild behavior until he got a copy of Buster's family background.
The papers showed what LePere and his vet had suspected: Buster was the product of close inbreeding. His parents were brother and sister; his two grandparents produced both his father and mother; his great-grandparents included a female bred to her father and a male bred to his half sister. LePere bought the dog for $350 from Kimbertal Kennel, which assured him that the puppy was well-bred. ``I could tell all along that he wasn't right,'' said LePere, who bought Buster on Feb. 17, 1990, and named him for James ``Buster'' Douglas, the heavyweight conqueror of Mike Tyson.
The dog was skittish, LePere said, and would flare up with no provocation. LePere said he gave up on Buster at six months of age when the 110-pound rottweiler bit his father-in-law in the hand.
``The dog knew my father-in-law,'' LePere said. ``He was leaving, and all of a sudden Buster growls at him and bites him on the hand. He just freaked out.''
LePere's vet, Mark F. Magazu, had suggested that inbreeding may be causing Buster's erratic behavior. For months, LePere pressed Kimbertal Kennels to send him the pedigree. LePere got it six months after he gave Buster to a shelter.
In an interview, Yarnall, Kimbertal's manager, said the inbreeding was ``an accident.'' He said much of it occurred at Kimbertal before he became manager in 1984. Inbreeding used to be encouraged, he said, though it isn't considered good practice now. Kimbertal at first offered to exchange the dog for another. LePere refused because he believed Buster would be put to death. He said he also didn't want to have a similar experience with another Kimbertal dog.
``I've never seen an animal as hyper and wild as this one,'' LePere wrote in a complaint to the Tri-State Humane Associations. ``I'm not seeking any compensation for my poor misjudgment of Kimbertal.''
The Pennsylvania SPCA lists Kimbertal as one of the state's top three sources of dog complaints. The agency compiles its data by asking vets statewide to identify their clients' most serious complaints. Those customers fill out and return complaint forms.
Kimbertal, which rejects such criticism, styles itself as the nation's largest kennel of show-quality Dobermans and rottweilers.
Yarnall, a leader among kennel owners, said he has sold dogs to 274 celebrities, from boxer Muhammad Ali to singer Chubby Checker. Yarnall said complaint files don't show the majority of customers who are happy. Among Kimbertal's satisfied clients is Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling, who bought Slugger, now a 185-pound rottweiler. ``He's been completely healthy,'' Schilling said.
Channel 6 reporter Dann Cuellar said his family has two dogs from Kimbertal, and both are healthy.
Kimbertal's critics say that while the kennel is clean, it breeds many dogs with genetic problems that end up in shelters. Sharon Schiele, president of Delaware Valley Doberman Pinscher Assistance, said at least 25 percent of dogs reaching the rescue group have been Kimbertal dogs or had Kimbertal bloodlines.
Barnes, of the Chester County SPCA, said of Kimbertal: ``I see a lot of their animals with hip dysplasia, especially rottweilers.'' Kimbertal raises its dogs by placing pregnant females with families; they get to keep the dog after giving the kennel two litters.
Kimbertal starts to breed females at 18 months -- too young to detect genetic problems such as hip dysplasia, experts say.
Yarnall said he does preliminary X-rays, which he considers reliable. He also said the breeder arrangement with families helps socialize puppies because they are raised in a home instead of a kennel.
``Those who condemn us happen to be our competitors,'' he said. ``They'd give their right eye to own this place.''
Aaron H. Zimmerman said it was unusual that his dogs were drinking slimy green water in leaky cages stained with feces.
``You ought to come visit when I have everything cleaned up,'' he cheerily told state agriculture officials and Greenleaf when they toured his kennel on Linden Grove Road in New Holland last summer.
The agriculture officials told Zimmerman he didn't have to allow any outsiders, including Greenleaf and a reporter, to see the kennel -- only dog inspectors. Zimmerman agreed to admit the entire party.
He had 35 dogs that day. In the heart of Lancaster's dog-breeding country, Zimmerman is a relatively small breeder.
His kennel sits behind the horse-drawn buggy in the driveway, between the barn and house. It comprised fewer than a dozen wire-bottom cages in poor repair.
Several inches of waste had collected under the cages. Feces hung from most cages' wire bottoms. Much of the concrete was stained, officials said.
The dog bureau's then-acting director, Rick Burd, didn't mince words. ``Get some scrubbing done,'' he told Zimmerman.
Sanitation wasn't Burd's only concern. The roofs were rickety and leaking. The wire was old. Some dogs' drinking water was green. Burd told Zimmerman to have his helper do a better job. ``Have him get on that stuff,'' Burd said.
After Richard F. Hess became director Aug. 8, he visited Zimmerman's kennel. Hess said the breeder needed to further upgrade his cages, which he found had leaky roofs. Hess said Zimmerman would be given a chance to improve and would be cited only if violations continued.
By September, Zimmerman had erected some new cages.
One pet store in New Jersey, the Pet Depot in Point Pleasant, has been besieged repeatedly in the last decade by protesters waving placards with statements like ``Ban Puppies From Pennsylvania.''
Dogs sold in this Jersey Shore store often originate in Lancaster County.
``It's a matter of stopping the trade,'' said Bunny Riddick, who has protested against the store for seven years. ``People who have had problems come back to protest. They're still upset, even from years back.''
Authorities have fined the store's owners, Nat and Paula Sladkin, three times in the last nine years. The attorney general made them pay $17,500 in fines and costs, and ordered them to put $16,000 in special accounts to reimburse consumers.
In 1993, Superior Court Judge William H. Huber ordered the Sladkins to reimburse more than $1,000 to four dog buyers and pay $4,000 in fines and costs.
In an interview, Nat Sladkin said the legal actions were unwarranted. Sick dogs represent only a fraction of those he sells, he said. He called the protesters ``sad people.''
``They are just a bunch of vegetarians starved for a good steak,'' Sladkin said. ``They all need mental help.''
Sladkin said he personally buys dogs and has a vet check them. ``We do what we have to do to take care of them,'' he said. ``We try to be conscientious.''
A review of 15 sales in which customers complained of sick dogs showed that all but one dog originated from Lancaster County.
Luis and Tammie Garcia of Paterson bought a rottweiler puppy from Pet Depot on July 5, 1991, for $412. The dog soon grew to be testy. The rottweiler bit five people over the next two years, the Garcias said.
The 110-pound dog also started limping and yelped in pain when he tried to get up. A vet, Adel Hamdan, found that Zeus had hip dysplasia and would need hip replacement. Even then, he might not be pain-free.
So the Garcias decided that Zeus had to be put to death. The big dog had to be sedated before the vet could administer a lethal injection, the couple said.
``We were so heartbroken,'' Tammie said.
``People in the waiting room thought I was crazy,'' Luis said. ``I cried like a baby when I walked out.''