9/1/2014

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Loophole lets accused puppy mill operator sell dogs online

Loophole lets accused puppy mill operator sell dogs online
SEATTLE -- A controversial commercial dog breeder who has been repeatedly fined, had her license suspended, and served jail time near Seattle for animal-related violations continues to sell dogs over the Internet because of a loophole in federal regulations, a KOMO News Problem Solvers investigation has found.

In fact, Wendy Laymon, who has since moved to Missouri and opened a commercial breeding facility with as many as 100 dogs, according to government documents, also runs a website that purports to be a "non-profit, rescue adoption agency" for dogs in puppy mills. However, several sources say she’s selling her own dogs and others for $1,000 or more.

The Problem Solvers chronicled scores of unhappy customers from coast to coast who say they bought dogs from Laymon that were sick or genetically defective, a more common occurrence in large commercial breeding operations, say experts. Some say they spent thousands to keep the dogs alive. KOMO News contacted dozens of law enforcement and government agencies, animal welfare groups, dog rescue organizations and individuals for this story.

"The most petrified animal I’ve ever seen in my life." That’s how one angry dog lover describes Frankie, a French bulldog she found on the "adoption" website for $900 plus shipping.

Jennifer Izzi, of Selbyville, Delaware, says when Frankie arrived in a rickety van filled with 50 other dogs nearly a year ago, he was "skin and bones," afraid to walk on grass or on the stairs, and scurried under furniture whenever human feet came near. Her vet said Frankie had incessant ear infections, severe kennel cough and was malnourished. Izzi believes it gave her a glimpse into Frankie’s past.

"I was looking to rescue. I was looking to adopt," says Izzi. Now that she believes Laymon’s website was deceptively portraying itself as a traditional dog rescue charity, she feels completely duped. "I’m glad I have him, but she needs to be stopped. And people like her." Several leading national dog rescue groups agree with Izzi.

The Humane Society of the United States calls Laymon’s operation a puppy mill, a term generally describing large commercial kennels where dogs rarely touch the ground, live their lives in cages, and are rarely fully socialized. Animal welfare experts say puppy mill dogs have a higher propensity for illness and genetic defects.

"They’re literally dog-breeding machines," says Dan Paul, of the Humane Society of the United States, "and it’s just not right."

The Humane Society called Laymon’s operation in 2010 and 2011 one of Missouri’s "dirty dozen" puppy mills and describe a long list of animal care violations.

Missouri state inspectors have repeatedly found serious violations of animal care regulations, including a period of nearly two years where they found no inspections by an attending veterinarian as law requires, cages and grounds in shabby condition, outdated medicine with some labeled for cows – not dogs.

Laymon failed to show up for scheduled inspections and, in one case, flatly refused to let an inspector look inside one of her out buildings. The State of Missouri still issues her a commercial breeder’s license but a spokesperson said they have no record for a special dog rescue license under her name or company. She often used aliases.

Laymon signed a federal consent order admitting to willfully violating the Animal Care Act. As part of that agreement, she lost her USDA license to sell to pet stores, was fined and ordered to improve conditions.

Several new kennels were built on her property near Rogersville, Missouri since that consent order that appear to include heating and cooling. When KOMO News visited her property, Laymon refused to show us a number of out buildings behind her home that could be clearly seen from nearby.

So, even without a USDA license – which requires inspections – federal regulations do not prevent her from selling directly to dog buyers via the Internet.

"The law was written before the Internet. So now there’s a giant loophole for sellers that want to sell directly to the public via the Internet," says Paul. "No inspections. And the Internet is the 'puppy miller's' best friend."

Laymon initially agreed to an interview but abruptly cancelled. In conversation, she is courteous, proud of her kennels and says she has lots of happy customers nationwide.

She blames animal welfare groups for harassing her for years.

Cydney Horne of Sammamish, Washington, and Julie Hallan of Stanwood, Washington, beg to differ. In 1999, they lead an impassioned news conference at a Lynnwood, Washington animal welfare facility after they bought Mandy and Betty from Laymon when she ran a dog selling and breeding operation near Arlington in Snohomish County.

Eyewitnesses describe "horrific" conditions, with dogs matted with feces, the stench of urine everywhere, and "cages and cages and cages stacked on top of each other.

That news conference lead authorities to raid Laymon’s operation, seize hundreds of mistreated dogs, and sentence Laymon to several weeks in jail.

Fourteen years later, Horne and Hallan were stunned to learn Laymon remains in business. "I was appalled," says Horne, "to say the least."

"I thought that when she left Washington," says Hallan, "I don’t know why, I thought that she’d stop."

Back then, Laymon told KOMO she blamed her accusers for her problems. "Of course they’ve lied about me," she said in 1999. "It’s their job."

Last Friday, the State of Missouri issued Laymon yet another formal warning letter for violations found during the most recent inspection.

All major animal welfare groups urge people considering a pet to never buy online. They underscore that hundreds of thousands of pets are euthanized each year at shelters when not enough people opt to adopt.
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